The conversation, standing by the outside fire at the Cardrona pub drinking tummy-warming gluhwein and feasting on wedges with naughty sour cream, went something like this.
Should we have our fourth consecutive day at Cardrona… or ski somewhere else?
We knew the snow cover at Cardrona was phenomenal, the weather pattern was stable and there would be no melt-factor overnight because it was freezing cold… so the whole mountain would be just as perfect the next day as it was the previous three.
There was a bit of dissention in the ranks and the words ‘variety’ and ‘challenge’ were bandied around a few times but by the second gluhwein and plate of wedges, the vote was for Cardrona.
The consensus was: why take a risk when you know the whole mountain will be groomed to perfection with acres of squeaky corduroy, there will be no sheets of ice, the sun will be shining from a cloudless day, the chorizo on the pizza at Captains Cafe will be crispy, the cider will be chilled and refreshing, the lifties will be friendly and funny, offering sunblock to everyone… and you will have FUN.
The reward for our faithfulness was a couple of god-sent inches of fluffy, light powder from a quick southerly change that blew in from heaven overnight and had vanished by morning.
Such conditions create a degree of madness in skiers and snowboarders. The whole mountain had a grin on its face – including the pink elephant in the lift queue.
We had timed our trip to perfection. It was the lead-up to the Winter Games so while we travelled up the Whitestar Express we were entertained by the world’s top skiers and snowboarders practising heart-stopping, death-defying aerials in the terrain park directly below us.
They never seemed to fall despite the flips and twirls they executed at great height and speed.
One day, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.
Overnight, an Audi Quattro had appeared in a triangular perspex case just below the top terminal of the Whitestar Express.
Snowboarders were leaping over it and scooting along a bar at the apex of the triangle, whooping with glee. Everyone was intrigued by how the vehicle got there. A brilliant promo for Audi, the sponsors of the games.
We witnessed la crème de la crème of skiers and snowboarders but did not have to battle the crowds that were due to descend on the region the following week. We had primo weather too… and they did not.
The long weekend was something of a first for us, the only time we have ever dared to take a risk and wait until the conditions were perfect before heading south rather than planning months in advance.
As soon as we heard those magical words: Snow-To-Low-Levels, we jumped on the Air NZ website, found some seriously-cheap airfares from Gisborne to Queenstown return, emailed JUCY Rentals to book us a 4WD with chains and a roof-rack, rented gear from Outside Sports and called our daughter and her fiancé in Sydney to meet us for a long weekend in Wanaka.
They managed to get even cheaper airfares and got to Queenstown before us on a direct flight from Sydney.
We skied the entire mountain from boundary to boundary and everything in between. It had been years since we’d skied the Secret Shute on the extreme right of the mountain (looking up) and it was brilliant – untouched powder and the whole piste to ourselves.
And our last run each day was the scenic Queenstown Return and Skyline track along the extreme left boundary with spectacular views of the Southern Alps, the Wakatipu Basin and my childhood holiday home, Arrowtown.
Riding Cardrona’s new Chondola lift
Just for fun, we rode the ‘Chondy’, Cardrona’s smart new McDougall’s Express Chondola lift – a chair and gondola combo – to the top of the mountain, and sat in beanbags in the sun at the Vista Bar.
We even had a glass of Mumm to toast Sophie and Doug’s engagement. It looked and felt like somewhere in the European Alps. We reminisced about the 35 or so years we had skied at Cardrona and the gentle slopes where our two little girls had learned to ski. Sophie was purring with pride to show off her mountain to her Sydney fiancé who graciously conceded Kiwi snow was far superior to Aussie snow.
These days, there’s a sophisticated new bar called The Lounge by the clock tower where you can sit outside and have drinks on a deck or ski in for coffee at the slope-side window.
Cardrona has certainly changed over the years we’ve skied there but it’s still the friendliest, safest of resorts where the philosophy seems to be to streamline things for skiers, snowboarders and tourists, not create obstacles or challenges.
The latest T-shirt says it all: Cardrona Loves You.