Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Skiing Mt Ruapehu

It may have taken me two and a half months, but I finally made it up the mountain to try a day of skiing. Being a complete and total beginner I was dressed almost head-to-toe in borrowed gear- one of the perks of living in a lodge full of generous friends with opposite days off. This saved me from buying or renting: skis, boots, poles, gloves, thermals, waterproof pants and sunglasses.

In many social circles, reverting to talk about the weather is a safe and boring standby but in a skier’s life it’s absolutely essential. Too windy or cloudy and you can’t see five feet in front of you. Too warm and the snow turns straight to slush. I considered our ideal conditions of sunshine breaking through weeks of perfect snowfall an early birthday present and didn’t even bother bringing a jacket. I was, however, extremely adamant about applying sunscreen after working with walking cautionary tales sporting red faces and raccoon eyes.

Marc (more commonly known by his last name, Brooker) volunteered as my eternally patient instructor. An experienced skier and fitness instructor, he came up with different visualization techniques to help me with the various positions. Turning my toes out was “dancing”, going up hill was like “ice skating”, and turning toes in to slow down and stop was “pizza” (it makes the shape of a slice). Having trained in ballet my entire life, this last one was the most foreign to me, and unfortunately, stopping is a fairly important part of the process. I constantly had to remind myself to turn in, keep my weight on my toes and roll onto the inside of my feet.

Still determined, we skipped Happy Valley, the beginners hill, partially out of overconfidence but mostly because it gets overcrowded with kids and tourists and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of plowing over another human being. I took three runs on the basic rope tow to get the feel for turning and stopping, with Brooker giving me a new goal (follow his path, wide turns, stop and start) every time. Convinced I was a natural we moved up to Rock Garden to try some real runs.

This is where I fell in love with the sport. Despite my inability to instinctually stop (toes, Toes, TOES!), I did a few successful runs with only three major tumbles. I was fearless after discovering that rolling on powder is just about as painful as an overaggressive massage, nothing I couldn’t handle. That was, until on my next run I managed to fall into a backwards somersault and smack the back of my head on the hill. Swaying slightly as I stood up, I decided it was time for a break.

We grabbed a quick coffee and headed to the café at the top of the Waterfall run. I took one look and decided this one would be pushing my luck so, after enjoying some great views, I rode the chair lift back down to where I was comfortable. I fell in love with Tennants Valley, which starts with a step hill but drops into wide, open space so I could coast without fear. After the last possible run, I tramped back to the car with boots on my feet, skis over my shoulder, and a triumphant grin on my face.

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