Winter Starts – Best Snow for Years

It’s been a busy start to the season. Even though we got in to Queenstown a whole month ago now it seems like it was only last week! There was significantly more snow on the mountains and resorts on the flight in which was quite a relief. In previous years there hasn’t been any snow to speak of.

Early season snow falls in May, temperatures remaining cold and more early season snow has kept the buzz in town that this will be a great season for snow. This season seems to be defying the locals adage, ‘Snow in May never stays, Snow in June still too soon.’ We’ve even had snow to the valley floor before Opening Day!

I’ve been busy training the local high schoolers and new hire interns the ways of teaching at Coronet and how to be effective assistants and instructors. I am also getting my schedule organised for the school holidays and the season.
Some Australian school holidays have already started, or starting on Monday, with the New Zealand school holidays starting next week. For the New Zealand school holidays I will be working on the Ski Clubs Ski Weeks, then after the school holidays I’ll be working on the Wakatipu Ski Clubs 6 Sunday’s Programme.
Both of these programmes are rewarding, as the participants are either locals of Queenstown, or the greater region on the South Island, and are fun to ski with.
Night Ski officially started on Friday night with the Launch Party tonight with Aroha & MC Tali and Hedlok. First Tracks opens on the 2nd July just in time for the holidays.
In August, I have my Trainers Cert. Exam, which is a tough nut to crack. This will be the third season I’ll be attempting the exam, this time for sure!

Winter has arrived, again!

The first post of the season is a little overdue, but it’s here now. It’s been an interesting start to the season. When we flew in on the 22nd, May, we flew through a blizzard. The Remarkables and the Southern Alps were covered in snow, Coronet Peak opened on time and it looked to be a very promising start to the season. However, rain and constant warm temperatures slowly but surely reduced the snow pack, leaving the lower mountain and beginner areas bare.


Coronet Peak remained closed for two and a half weeks, from the 22nd June through to 9th July, re-opening just in time for the NZ School Holidays. During this time I was on the Trainers Cert workshop at Cardrona for the first few days, then worked across the valley at the Remarkables, which was nice for a change of view. I have worked there before on an ad hoc basis at the end of the season a couple of years ago.


The Coronet Express started spinning at 8:00 am on Saturday morning, 9th July for First Tracks pass holders, with the other lifts operating into the evening, including the beginner conveyors and the Meadows chair, providing access to the Big Easy.

The Greengates chair continued to run for sightseeing and tubing from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm, giving the chance to soak up stunning views from the Ice Bar.

Night Ski also kicked off for the season on Saturday from 4:00 pm and from all accounts it was an awesome night with the airbag on the deck, a DJ spinning tunes and warm braziers burning.


Unfortunately, we have no control over the weather, but, this should be the start of a Colder Low pressure weather system that has a few cold fronts and southerly winds later in the week. Hopefully, winter is here to stay!

Ski to Sea Change

A huge life-change has led to my first taste of summer since 2008. For someone who thrives on winter, has worked back-to-back ski seasons for eight years, and has largely been responsible for only myself, this change has taken some adjusting. Rest assured though, it’s been fulfilling: the catalyst bringing me to home territory, south of Sydney in the Illawarra region of Australia, was the arrival of my daughter.

Emira* was born last August, in the middle of the New Zealand ski season. Like many newborns, she had a few minor issues at the start, but after a couple of weeks managed to settle into a routine of sorts. Since then, Emira has had swim lessons (the youngest in the swim school!), participated in local library reading groups, been cruising the area in our bike-trailer, as well as pretty much melting the heart of everyone who meets her. The last 6 months have been an adventure that has changed my perspective and priorities! I am sure many of you can relate.


Bulli Beach Cafe

Currently I am working in a beach-side cafe as a chef and continuing training for the ski season in New Zealand. Having worked in kitchens before embarking on my career in the ski industry, this was a relatively easy change to make. It has been good to have skills to fall back on to provide a consistent and relatively stable income. The big advantage? A beach café is dependent on season and weather, allowing me to return to Coronet Peak for the southern winter!


Looking North from Sandon Point on the commute home.

Cycling along the coastal bike path between Thirroul and Bulli, provides a scenic ride to and from work. And the Northern Illawarra in general lends itself well to training and maintaining a respectable fitness level. As well as the undulating bike paths there are bush tracks that ascend the escarpment – great for high intensity running – and ocean-side rock pools to provide more variety for swimming. Rather than staring at a black line in a chlorinated pool, it can be more interesting to swim in salt water with fish and other marine creatures!

Coledale looking North

Coledale looking North

It is strange to have a summer after 15 winters, however, it has been fun and rewarding. My partner and I are embracing the changes, and this year are planning to introduce Emira to her first proper snowy winter – in Queenstown for the 2016 season!

*For Privacy reasons, I have used a pseudonym

The Scenic Route from CHC to ZQN

It’s curious when travelling in inclement weather how people blame a service provider for not providing the service as it should have been provided. I’ve travelled predominantly between Australia, New Zealand and Canada, arriving in the latter two at the start of winter. This is a time that is notorious for volatile weather and is prone to delays, cancellations and alternative means of transport.

I have fallen asleep on a plane in Vancouver, starting the last leg of my journey to Kelowna (this was after a flight from Sydney) and woke up thinking that we had landed. After all, it is a 45 minute flight from Vancouver to Kelowna and could be excused for making the assumption I had missed the whole flight. Alas, we hadn’t moved. There was a blizzard of sorts (yes, in Vancouver) that had dropped approximately a foot of snow on the tarmac and the airport staff were hard pressed to clear it to get flights moving.


A rare sight, snow at Vancouver Airport

Vancouver can be a busy airport and I was astounded at the blame a portioned to the airline for this. No flights were moving, from any airline, however, there were some that seemed to think it was all Air Canada’s fault. I wondered if they had looked outside and saw that ALL the planes at the airport were grounded. ‘I’ll never fly Air Canada again’, some harped on. ‘Worst airline in the world’, this line lost credibility, though, when they admitted they hadn’t flown with any other airline. Sure, I must admit that it was a less than desirable experience, but it wouldn’t have mattered which airline you flew, whether it be West Jet or United, even Yukon Air was grounded. And maybe it wouldn’t have mattered which airline they were on, they still would’ve said ‘I’ll never fly with this airline, again’. We did start to taxi though after 4 hours of stagnancy. Just starting to move seemed like we were on the final descent, the home straight. It was only a 45 minute flight, after all.

Christchurch Airport before take off.

Christchurch Airport before take off.

And if the weather prevails, however, either at the commencement of the journey or at the destination, an airline may use alternatives to air travel. Buses, or Coaches, are used if it isn’t too far, however, a 45min-1hr flight could turn in to a 5-6 hour bus ride. Again, not ideal, but better than sitting around waiting for the weather to pass. Most people, when travelling for whatever reason Need To Be Somewhere and sometimes it’s best to keep moving, regardless of how slowly.

And when the road closes due to snow and ice, you may be put up for the night in the nearest accommodation. And some times the closest accommodation is further than anyone would like. Driving by bus two thirds of the way to your destination, to then be told the closest accommodation is back where you started, leaves the driver of said bus the unenviable task of bravely dispelling potential mutiny by some, which is made easier by the good humour from others. The driver then keeps his professional cool, focusing on the humour and drives his passengers safely through the torrential rain. And it was Rather Good to have a hot buffet dinner and a couple of drinks at the bar of the hotel that put us up at the last minute for the night.

These inconveniences are compounded, though, by tight travel schedules. Missing Thanksgiving with the family or missing two to three days of that once in a life time trip to Queenstown at the opposite end of the planet are important enough to be frustrated about. So is the potential of missing out on signing up for employment. I did miss out on a dentist appointment, though, but that won’t get me much sympathy, more a shared sense of relief than anything. It’s merely delaying the inevitable. Which is my point I suppose, the destination will still be there when you get there, it’s just the experience of the journey that changes. And the views from the plane the day after were worth the redundant bus ride!

Lake Pukaki and Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana beyond

Lake Pukaki and Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana beyond

The Social Cycle of the Winter Ski Season

In a conversation on the bus with a new hire down from the mountain, the line came out, ‘The cast may be different, the characters remain the same.’

I have done 20 winter seasons, 15 of which back to back. Every season, every year there is a distinct social order and cycle of events which, given the nature of the industry, always remains the same. When back to back winters are involved there is the ebb and flow of seasonal workers, summer staff leave and there is an eerie calm before the storm that is Winter.

The first snow may fall in May and this sets the tone for the preseason. A buzz usually emanates through town in anticipation of pow days, face shots and some great all mountain skiing.

Snow in May, never stays (although it does some years!)

Winter staff will start to trickle in. Those that have been coming for a couple of years will get here early, hoping to secure themselves a decent or affordable place to live. Rarely do they get both. Or an evening job to either supplement their seasonal income, or tie them through to the start of the season. Both are beholden to the laws of time and place and rarely do they coincide.

Middle management are usually the first to arrive as their contracts generally start first. This sets the scene for subsequent staff to have their welcoming parties, catching up and telling stories of the season just had or the summer they’ve grown accustomed to not having.

Snow in June, still too soon.

The weather at this point plays a major role in the tone for those flying in. If the mountains are white with a lot of snow, then this gets subconsciously noted and people are excited to have finished their between season travels and start work. Or, if there is minimal, if any snow, then the mood is subdued as getting on snow not only means having fun, but also the first pay check to back date rent or put a decent meal on the table. So much rides on the weather and snow conditions.

Welcoming parties/drinks continue, ‘So and so is in town. Let’s go and catch up!’ This continues for as long as there are visas approved and contracts starting.

Social hierarchical order is discerned early. Returners and how many seasons, new everyone has their pecking order. In previous seasons you may have had buddy in the tech shop that tuned your skis for a 6 pack, or your barista buddy for a cheeky coffee, or on the bus you may have forgotten your pass and the driver might let you on under the radar. All this for a few tips on how to ski or where the stashes are on a pow day. Unless they all return the reset button is hit and the new staff eager to please, play it strictly by the rules. At least until it gets busy…

The next excuse for socialising is school holidays. Again, how much snow usually dictates how busy the holidays are. The more snow that stays early on, the busier the school holidays tend to be. When the masses arrive, chaos increases and so to does the desire to have a post work beverage, or two. There becomes a mini cycle of work, drink, eat (maybe), sleep and repeat. There doesn’t seem to be too much else that fits in. We use this time to try to maximise our income as the level of patronage will eventually diminish. Make hay while the snow falls, or so the saying goes!

Relationships can be made or broken in the course of the season, there is a saying in some ski towns that ‘you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your place in line.’ Maybe it just shows the strength of relationship or where they are in life. Sometimes after the melee of the season, things get patched up and then they continue on life as normal. The doing a ski season urge sated, ‘what happens in the season, stays in the season.’

Then it’s birthdays and since everyone (mostly) survived the holidays there is a new sense of comradery, ‘They’re a legend, and it’s their birthday, we’ve got to go out!’ This occurs concurrently as school holiday contracts finish. ‘And so and so is going back to uni/school/ where they came from, and it’s their leaving drinks!’ No one seems to have any money, until they’re at the bar.

When the school holiday dust has settled, and a routine has kicked in, the beginning of the end is made evident by the trickle of ever increasing leaving parties. ‘Back to uni or school or travelling , my visa runs out in 3 weeks’ are the usual citations. These are the people on their once in a lifetime trip (or so they think) without the intent to return. They understandably want to capitalise on the opportunity while they can. Usually they’re back for at least one more season.

Leaving parties are attended by the saisonaires that are training for their next exam. Making sure that their com is traveling with their bos. Although since their money has been spent on the exam, they’ll only go out once they’ve completed the exam, hopefully, passed it. Then celebrate once they have their pay rise!

The snow storms subsided, the longer days disguised by inclement weather, are now noticeably getting longer. Sometimes, the dark starts to the day are a cold comfort of the season ahead. When the days get longer the time for making money to travel on, or save, gets shorter and the anxiety kicks in. ‘How can I make more money when we’ve been dropped to 4 day weeks??’ More time to ski or ride, go on road trips or play frisbee golf.

Conversations of post season travels are starting. Booking flights, accommodation and anything else starts happening. Decisions are made and locked in as the money becomes apparent. Another conversation is next season, this sometimes helps to determine between season travels. The winter staff tropical caravan making their way through various cost effective destinations that lend themselves to travel photographers and a disturbing amount of hash tags. It should also be noted for the first week the only tan they have is a goggle tan on an otherwise luminescent (Lumi-dermi-escence) and pasty lustre.

The winter population subsides, and the end of season staff parties are in full swing. The single twenty-somethings making a last ditch effort to hook up with their crush for the season (if they haven’t already) in the haze of the school holidays. ‘Serial monogamy’ is the condition of getting in to a relationship at the start off the season, remaining faithful for the duration of the season, and only the season. Sometimes stretching to post season travels, and rarely past that. Then the next season in to a new relationship again, remaining faithful for the season.

Departure parties have slowed and the final day has been done. Now all that is left is to finalise the packing. Deciding what gets left in storage, if it can be found, what comes with you and what gets discarded, either at the charity shop or landfill. Nothing compares to the friends you’ve made, experiences enjoyed or endured and the anticipation of the next season. Ready to start the cycle again.

Remember, the cast may be different, but the characters remain the same!

Let’s go ski!