It’s a case of now or never. If I don’t start skiing now, I never will.
Helpful Emily, at the I-Site bureau in Queenstown recommends an Easy-Ski beginners’ family package at Cardrona, “the easiest place in Queenstown for beginners”. I’ve heard this “easiest place” pitch before and I’m sceptical. Ski-ing from any viewpoint across my considerable span of years, always looked hard and that’s why I’ve never tried it before. But as I said, it’s now or never. So, with vouchers in hand we head to over to Quest on Shotover Street for waterproof jackets, pants, gloves, goggles and helmets. Oh the blessings of being average. Everything I try, fits.
Next morning, 7.45 sees us garbed in ski-gear, waiting in the dark at the bus-stop on Frankton Road. Our orange easy ski bus arrives and on we hop. Our driver, Sean is a cheery chap, with a repertoire of self-deprecating witty banter, interspersed with advice for the wise and well-behaved skier. During Sean’s silences, the radio pumps out current hits and two cherubs in matching blue helmets, goggles and overalls engage in a deep and lengthy battle of knowledge. The journey is long (45 minutes) but this background soundtrack helps to pass the time as we coast around the lake and wind up through the snow-dusted tussock and into the perfect white world on the mountain.
We descend from the bus into the aftermath of a pillow fight, or so it seems. Little white feathery flakes fill the air. “It’s snowing!” the cherubic know-alls announce. We hurry towards the sanctuary of a low, dark wooden building and in through a door marked rentals. I find myself at a screen, scanning in my mi-ski pass and then filling in onscreen details of weight (average) height (ditto) and age (a glance around the room tells me this is well above average) At the other end of the room room, I’m swiftly bundled into boots, and with skis and poles under my arm and voucher in hand, I clump out to class.
I’m relieved to find that while most of my classmates are children, there is one older couple. Our “classroom” is gentle 6-foot incline. Monika, our instructor is Swiss and from the easy way she lopes around in her skis, it’s clear she’s spent a lifetime on them. As soon as attach mine, I begin a backwards slide but, in a flash, Monika stops me. Step 1, she explains as she spins me sideways, is standing still on skis. From there, she marches me in crab-walk up the side of the slope – Step 2!
Once we’ve mastered standing, walking and stopping, we graduate to the beginner’s slope. This is serious stuff, with a “carpet” to carry you to a ledge at the top. Up here, we learn to turn and slow down. I suffer some spectacular falls, my skis fall off, I battle to snap my boots back into them, I drop my poles and whizz down the slope without them. But, by the end of the morning I can follow Monika in a cautious crocodile. By the end of the day, I can zig-zag down the slope and weave my way through a line of poles. I’m having such fun that I can’t believe I’ve never skied before.