Justine Tyerman sets a new tradition on her best day’s skiing ever at Cardrona Alpine Resort . . .
Blood-curdling screams stopped me in my tracks as I came over the ridge at the top of Powder Keg.
We were on our first run on a pristine, blue-bird day at Cardrona, the day after a massive snow dump late in the season, and my heart was singing . . . until I heard the screams.
Below me lay a girl with her leg at a horrible angle, and a man in a tizz, not knowing what to do. I yelled up to a skier above me to raise the alarm at the base of the Captain’s lift, grabbed the man’s skis and erected them in a cross above the girl to alert others to the accident site while my husband skied down the slope to what looked like red-jacketed ski patrollers far below.
As I debated whether to try to relieve the pressure on the girl’s leg by releasing her bindings, Mr Red Jacket himself appeared out of nowhere. Whew!
Sam was one of those capable, outdoorsy Kiwi (New Zealander) blokes who are used to handling such dramas. Just the sound of his reassuring voice calmed the girl even before he promised her that pain relief was on its way. A minute later, Sarah, Cardrona’s mountain doctor, appeared followed shortly thereafter by another two ski patrollers with a stretcher.
With the professionals on the scene and situation well in hand, I skied off, marvelling at the speed and efficiency of the emergency response on the mountain. Having skied at Cardona since its infancy 36 years ago, I was mightily impressed with how far things had come since those early days. It’s the safest of mountains with an excellent safety record. It puzzled me how the girl had managed to injure herself on such an open, obstacle-free slope with perfect snow and few other skiers.
However, I skied a little more sedately than before but still had one of my best-ever days at Cardrona.
The mountain had a huge smile on its face that day – the sun was beaming down from a cloudless sky on slopes sparkling with late-season powder snow that squeaked underfoot and there was no wind, not even a zephyr, which is unusual for Cardrona.
The Eagles’ ‘Take it Easy’ was blasting from the PA system at Captain’s and the lifties were dancing while dispensing sunblock to over-excited skiers and boarders, in between sneaking off to take a run or two.
My brand new Dynastars, on loan from my old friend Kazu at Outside Sports in Wanaka, were humming, and my boots were supremely comfortable after their annual trip to Paul, the Scottish boot doctor at the Wanaka shop.
We even indulged in a glass of cider at lunchtime, breaking our long-held no-alcohol-while-skiing tradition. It tasted so good as we basked in the September sun, eating pizza and chips, we had another. Super-relaxed, I skied better than ever in the afternoon so cider at lunchtimes on sunny days with fresh powder will become the new tradition.
No doubt there would have been a high degree of absenteeism amongst Wanaka workers that day so I chuckled to see the café staff wearing T-shirts with the words ‘Cardrona – promoting sick days since 1980’.
Fresh snow creates a kind of mass lunacy in a community like Wanaka. At the mere mention of those magical words, snow-to-low-levels, people’s behaviour changes. They gather in groups to sniff the air and study the cloud formations, making wise prognostications about how much of the precious white stuff will fall, from which direction, what field will get the most, whether it will suit skis or snowboards best, and how early to hit the slope – before heading home to tune their gear.
That morning, keen to be among the first on the mountain, we left home ridiculously early. The notice to fit chains to all vehicles including 4WD was right at the bottom of the road so I fully expected a white-knuckle trip up the mountain, and even considered jumping on the shuttle bus.
But the road crew had been on the job all night and had the road in tip-top condition, graded and perfectly gritted. I was impressed to see a couple of Cardrona guys assisting people to fit chains which was an enormous help to some of the overseas visitors who were struggling with the notoriously tricky procedure.
While other resorts were still digging out their carparks and lifts, Cardrona’s facilities were cleared of snow and fully operational by 9am. We already had lift passes so we snuck into the lowest carpark at the foot of the Valley View lift which now has a little café and toilets in a smart converted container. It was a déjà vu of the early days when there was just a small day hut where the extensive base complex now stands.
The day was pure magic, the stuff of legends. We skied every possible on-piste and off-piste combination.
Our last run of the season was the re-enactment of yet another tradition – Queenstown Return – a scenic glide along the cat-track on the Cardrona boundary, with breath-taking panoramas of row-upon-row of the Southern Alps and the entire Wakatipu Basin. In the distance, we could even see Arrowtown where I spent all my holidays as a child.
As the sun set on a perfect day in the mountains, we had a glass or two of glühwein beside the roaring outside fire at the iconic Cardrona Hotel, another tradition after a day’s skiing. The blizzard returned overnight and it snowed heavily again. There were even wispy flakes falling to lake level in Wanaka. I went outside to watch the celestial pillow-fight and catch a few flakes.
Born a Southerner, I took lungfuls of pure mountain air and eyefuls of alps to sustain me in the tame, green North Island landscape I now call home . . . until the next pilgrimage to my turangawaewae, my homeland.
* In time for the 2017 winter season which begins on June 10, Cardrona is unveiling a new $10 million Doppelmayr ‘chondola’, McDougall’s Express Chondola a lift combining eight-person gondola cabins and six-seater chairs. The new McDougall’s Express Chondola will be the first cabin-style lift on a ski area in New Zealand, replacing the existing McDougall’s Quad chairlift. The Chondola will increase the lift’s capacity by 150 percent, with an hourly uplift of 2,550 skiers, snowboarders and sightseers.
Justine skied courtesy of Cardrona Alpine Resort
Outside Sports has shops in Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau. You can pick up your sporting gear at one shop and drop it off at another. So convenient.
Justine travelled to Wanaka in a JUCY Casa Plus motorhome, warm and cosy regardless of the weather.