I venture a guess, and turn to my instructor. “Don’t eat yellow snow?”
From the audible tuts and disappointing paternal stares coming from my ski group I’m guessing that’s a no, then.With that and the small matter of clonking a passing child with my ski, my first ever ski lesson was not exactly going to plan.
Before this, the closest I’d got to winter sports was an unhealthy childhood fascination with Cool Runnings, but the ‘snow good’ approach to Queenstown life was infectious and I soon found myself booked onto a day at Cardrona Skifield.
A late night and offensively early start combined to see me sleeping through the coach trip, but after a quick snooze I found myself awakening to a radically changed landscape.
Expecting to see a beautiful sunrise breaking high through the clouds, our coach was now so high up that the sun was languidly resting just above them.
As far as I could see was a blanket of snow bright enough to burn the hungover haze from my retina and conjure up images of God tipsily unleashing a celestial fire extinguisher over the mountain top.
As we drove up to the plateau, a picturesque Swiss-looking chateau came into focus and topped off the mood. With a number of the previous night’s misdemeanours slowly coming back into focus, I surmised that this was probably as close to the heavens as I was ever likely to get.
Suiting up and heading out, I was soon dropping the skis on the floor for my first lesson. I clipped one foot in and started gliding around in a circle.
“Hard?” I thought to myself. Pfft. I was already one step away from backflipping my way down the expert path.
My cockiness growing, I soon realised it wouldn’t be quite so easy when I fell over trying to attach the other ski.
When I thought of skiing, my mind conjured up images of James Bond machine gunning his way through alpine forestry and parachuting over rooftops.
Seeing a four-year-old whizz past me as I struggled to stand was a mildly depressing realisation, but one that fuelled me with stubborn determination.
Increasingly frustrated, I felt like I was learning to walk all over again. That is, if I were reborn with clubfeet.
Still, I gradually learnt to manoeuvre around and with a couple of glides down shallow gradients, things started to come together.
After some fairly dismal flayling around whilst learning how to stop, I finally mastered it, carving sweet trails through the fresh snow and encouraging me towards the platter (a ski-lift for beginners).
Departing halfway up, I cruised down the slope and came to a perfect stop, high fiving my instructor and doing a little dance in celebration.
In the excitement (I don’t get out much) my skis crossed and I promptly fell straight on my face. Smooth.
A couple more practices and I’d regained a flush of confidence that convinced me to attempt skiing down the short slope to the lunch hall.
In retrospect, our instructor told me that even he would have taken his skis off.
Barrelling down the hill at a speed unmatched by most Olympians, I rather quickly realised that there was no way in hell I’d be able to stop before the group of women and children congregated under the entrance.
With a battlecry of “go go Gadget skis”, I selflessly flung myself at the floor, face planting the snow and skidding to a halt just a couple of feet from a group of cookie selling, kitten holding girl scouts (am I sounding suitably heroic yet?).
Despite a flurry of concerned hands and questions I was simply laughing too hard to care.
Trundling on out after lunch with a refreshed enthusiasm, I looked up to find a blizzard of biblical proportions sweeping in.
While you could just about make out the person next to you, heading on up the platter meant you were bombarded with a biting wind and snow so thick that you hopped off up top feeling like you’d developed cataracts.
Fellow skiers had become little more than black smudges, ants on a stark white background. I imagine it’s not too dissimilar to seeing heaven for the first time.
Showing off my snake
With a new instructor innocently unaware of my previous misdemeanours, I made the most of his advice. Lunch had provided a moment of self realisation that learning how to steer might prove beneficial.
Far more simple than I’d imagined, I was soon zig-zagging down the slopes, and while I’m not often eager to show random men my ‘snake’ when asked, on this occasion I was more than accommodating.
Swishing and swooshing down the mountain is a liberating experience and slowly reigns in any jealous murmurings your brain may offer to trip up the little children zooming past.
For the piste de résistance, I was instructed to catch the platter up to the pinnacle and draw a giant ‘C’ down the slope, proving once and for all that I’d mastered steering. I excelled.
So much so that I ended up going far beyond the call of duty and spelt out what could be seen from above as ‘CWNOOP’.
I argued my dyslexia to no avail.
The temperature had well and truly dropped to minus figures by this point and attempts to get photos instantly resulted in frostbitten fingers, so exhausted but happy I headed down to the bus and ended my day confident I’d learnt all there was to know about skiing.
That said, I never did find out what that first rule of ski club is.
The damage & the details:
Matt travelled with Kiwi Experience