Honestly, Skiing is not something I’ve ever been really interested in trying. In the UK, some of my friends are skiers and regularly go on week long ski trips to Europe, and others aren’t. The trouble is, it’s pretty hard to just give skiing a go for a day, so when my friend Hannah and I got into a conversation about skiing, we decided to give it a go.
After very little research and thanks in part to absorbing random information during our time in New Zealand, we decided to head to Mount Ruapehu in the middle of the North Island, for a weekend away. We chose Whakapapa’s (Wh is pronounced as an F, say it aloud and have a little giggle) ski slopes because Happy valley is the larger of the two beginner areas, Turora being the alternative ski area. Both sites offer a choice of beginner packages for both skiing and snowboarding from $115 including ski rental and a lesson, which sounded pretty perfect to our inexperienced ears.
On their advice, we arrived early and enjoyed a Mountain Muffin for breakfast at the bustling cafe overlooking the snowy slopes. The air felt colder and fresher than in Wellington, filling our lungs with anticipation (and a little anxiety). Arriving early proved to have been the sensible decision, as we only waited about 10mins after getting geared up to begin the first lesson of the day.
Our group awkwardly clambered up the slope in our ski boots (it’s impossible to stand with your legs straight when in them) carrying our skis and poles, avoiding other beginners on the slopes. Our instructor showed us how to out on a ski, and then walk across the slope with just one ski on. I figured this was taking it a bit slow, impatient to know how to ski, but once I started walking and felt the ski slide when my foot pointed even slightly downhill, i changed my opinion. Then we slid down the slope for a short distance, stopping by pushing our heel out to the right. with a spare foot, it was all to easy to put my left foot down to stop me, and instinct that was hard to ignore for all of us first time skiers. We swapped legs and repeated the ski class, on which most of us discovered we were much worse with our left leg. then came the challenging part. 2 skis.
Walking across the slope wasn’t too bad, and neither was side stepping up the slope although it was slow and laborious. But then it was time to head down the slope, stopping ourselves by pushing our heels out. I was top of the line, and therefore it was me who went first, 9 pairs of equally nervous eyes watching my first foray into skiing. I pushed off slowly, gaining a little speed and pushed my heels out. My skiis crossed at the front and I straightened again, crossed skis is not recommended. I gained speed and tried again, but I barely slowed, I could not be described as going fast but it felt fast to me, I felt out of control, expecting a pretty immediate stop from pushing my heels out. I skied past the instructor, and with a steepening long slope ahead of me, I decided it was better to fall over sooner rather than later. As it turns out, getting up while your feet are strapped into skis, rendering your legs pretty much unbendable, is pretty hard, and certainly not worth the fall. My instructor kindly yanked me up, and I began the awkward side step up the slope for round 2.
The next time was better. I pushed my legs out wider, and allowed the time for my momentum to slow. I barely made walking pace, but I successfully skied for the first time ever. The rest of my group were getting there too. Some fell also, and we all laughed in comradeship at our newness to the ski field. It was time for a proper run. we skied slowly to the conveyor belt taking other novices to the top. Nervously i slowly slipped onto the belt, and watched other skiers and snowboarders alternatively whizz past, fall over, or guide absolute beginners down the mountain. Some were even skiing while holding their small children between their legs! At the top once again I was worried about the slide off of the conveyor belt but luckily my nervous anticipation was unfounded; sliding off and turning proved fairly easy, and luckily kept me from worrying about my first slope.
I needn’t have worried. I may have been slow, with plenty of skiers going past, but I didn’t fall and made it to the bottom in one piece, even managing to avoid fearless children who didn’t understand that us ‘grown ups’ had little idea of what we were doing, and that they were actually our superiors. My muscles were tensed, my ski’s pushed out to brake me, my mind busy concentrating as i inhaled the cool mountain air and slid to a perfect stop. It was exhilarating, and Hannah and I immediately went again.
Our beginners ski lesson at Happy Valley culminated with a short explanation and demonstration of how to turn, something we all knew would wait until after a few more practises, unless needed to avoid a fallen novice or wobbly child.
Hannah and I did a couple more circuits, posed for the camera, and thirstily made our way to the busy cafe for a quick lunch before hitting the slopes again. This time, we decided we would go all the way down; the slope had 2 sections, one reached by conveyor belt, but further down the return was by chair lift. again, nervous excitement grew inside me, and slowly we descended, turning to avoid people, pushing our skis out more when our route steepend, breaking to avoid fallen snowboarders and those waiting at the end. We did it, without falling, or over shooting the end! Success! Skiing seemed easier than either of us had anticipated, and that was completely down to having the beginners lesson, teaching us the basics of administering the slopes.
The chair lift, however, proved more of a challenge. once the previous chair left loaded with passengers, we quickly, awkwardly, scurried forwards for the chair to sweep us up, skis dangling over the slopes below. we had time to take in the view, take pictures, and watch our fellow novice skiers below. As we neared the top, we swung the bar up and the assistant told us to ski to our left. instead I panicked, worried that the chair lift would be quicker than me on skis, and I went right. Mistake. I fell over dramatically, the chair lift was halted, our recently vacated seat swinging dangerous above me, while all I could do was laugh embarrassedly. The audience of people queuing for the conveyor belt lift watched the spectacle with amusement, and once again I was yanked to my feet.
The second time was partially more successful. This time, I did go left, but as Hannah was to my right I had little choice in the matter anyway. I still fell, and sat in the snow giggling to myself, while others expertly got off the chair lift. Eventually i clipped myself out of a ski, stood up, and clipped myself back, once more joining the queue for the conveyor belt, only to watch as another newbie to the ski lift also failed to get off, landing in a heap tangled with the rope used to cordon of the exit. I was definitely not the only one who struggled with that aspect. Third time lucky, I managed to vacate my seat without any fall or drama, chuffed that I finally got it. By now our legs were getting tired, our calf muscles aching from the tension, Hannah had fallen during the previous run, and we decided to have one last go before heading back.
the last run was brilliant. the top part was busy, but I avoided all obstacles, slowing and turning as needed, managing my speed for the steepness of the slope, Hannah managing equally well. We slowed perfectly for the end, despite our calf muscles protesting the tensing, and awaited our turn on the chair lift. Merrily we got on, needing no assistance, comfortable in the hectic awkward moment of forward shuffle and sit down. When it came to get off however, we were less successful. Once again I was to the left, but as we reached the end Hannah said ‘There’s a person’ as a previous occupant had fallen in the snow before us. with no time to think we stood and skied, but got tangled, we were at the wrong angle, and fell together in a mass of limbs, poles and skis, giggling with the ridiculousness of a silly, spectacular fall. luckily, no one joined us, by now most people had had a little practise at exiting the chair lift, and as we calmed down and released our worn legs from the skis, we cheerfully headed down to return our equipment, fully sated for the day, happy with joy of trying something new, looking forward to unwinding with wine, a warm fire, and a meal out, knowing that we were both keen to ski again.
The weather made our plans for us though, and as we woke to the sound of rain, and a view of the mountain obscured by fog, we had a much earned lie in before heading to a hot pool to relax our muscles, and our souls, content in the awesome experience of skiing for the first time.