Learning To Ski in Queenstown.. 

I lived in a town where people spent thousands of dollars to come on skiing holidays.. My house sat in the middle of two of the most popular mountains in the South Island.. Yet my plan was to save money and not ski! Had I lost my mind? Thank goodness my mind was changed. Two wonderful girls I lived with, ski instructors too, told me about this incredible deal NZ Ski were doing for those that had never skied before – ‘Intro To Ski’.
That had my name written ALL over it.. I’d dreamt of skiing since I was a little girl. We never went on those types of holidays when I was younger so I never had the chance to try my hand at it. Well this was my chance!! 
3 of us bought the Intro to ski lessons, 8 lessons, 2 a day to be done at what ever pace we pleased and once completed, for an extra $100 you could upgrade to a full access pass! It was so ideal and I couldn’t wait to get started! 

Day One

Friday, and the first day of Queenstown’s annual winter festival – Id been looking forward to it for weeks – town was going to be a buzz with life! We decided to make an incredible day of it and headed up The Remarkables to have our first ever ski lesson before the festivities in town kicked off..  

The sun was beaming, the three of us were super super pumped.. The drive up the side of the mountain was pretty scary, who knew you had to be so high to find the snow.. Winter season in Queenstown has had a bit of slow start this year with only one dumping of fresh powder since the start of the season. It was so bad that only The Remarkables were open at this time, the snow on the other mountain, Coronet had all but melted!! 

After an hour drive up the mountain we reached the top, as nervous newbies we looked lost and disoriented. Obviously sensing this we were pointed in the right direction and queued up to get all the gear we needed! 
That’s another incredible thing about this ‘Intro To Ski’ deal, during your 8 lessons ALL hire equipment is included – NZ Ski  really outdid themselves with this offer!! 

With our ski clothes (found in a thrift shop, jacket and pants for under $40) and now boots, skis and poles we looked the real deal!! 

 Our first morning lesson covered all the basic skills; how to put skis on, how to walk and very importantly how to stop! We all progressed at different speeds and by the end of the two hour lesson I was flying down the kids slope, zig zagging my way down feeling fully in control! It felt incredible! Ignoring of course the huge wipeout into the fence when I completely lost said control and just went full speed into the blue netting – pretty spectacular! 

We had a break for a couple of hours to re fuel and practice some more before our afternoon lesson. We hoped we would be given the same instructor as she was amazing with us but the chances were slim! After some food I was back on the baby slope trying to perfect that technique!

Onto the second lesson. Our instructor, the same lady as earlier, thought we were capable of moving over to the bigger training slope, less kids but more people and so much more of a run.. I was pumped to get going! She talked to us at the bottom, told us we were more than able to master this slope, it was apparently no steeper than the morning however more daunting it may have looked!! 

Then we were on our way, up the magic carpet to the top! The magic carpet is like those travelators they have in airports, it’s an odd feeling sliding on to one with huge skis attached to your feet but much more friendly when it kicks you off at the top compared to a ski lift (they say – it’s still horrendously scary). 

​At the top she spoke more about our control, stopping techniques and speed.. I really felt as if I was beginning to grasp this.. For the whole afternoon we were up and down the slope, using all different techniques for turning the skis, slowing down, speeding up and looking like absolute pros.. 

I was loving every second of it! 

For the last run of the day she took us to the steepest learning slope.. Told us that she could already grade us all at a solid 2b which is the grade you should be at after your 4th lesson.. We’re only on our 2nd! 
Feeling amazing we skied down together as a huge group showing off to everyone watching at the bottom and to our instructor whom we grew to love! An awesome teacher who has been skiing for 53 years and still so clearly loves it! It’s very cool being taught by someone who is so passionate in something – it definitely rubs off!! 

After an Awesome day up The Remarks we came back into town to the busiest I’ve ever seen it.. Winterfest had officially started.. We had the quickest turn around and just before 7pm.. Our whole house, all 12 of us walked to town and watched fireworks surrounded by live music.. Town was heaving.. You couldn’t walk through the crowds! WHAT AN INCREDIBLE PLACE I LIVE IN! And what an incredible day I had! 

I’m still feeling pumped, can’t wait to get up there again.. Can’t wait to have free reign on the slopes and feel comfortable enough to do it! 

Day Two
This time I was on my own, but eager to ski again I didn’t mind at all! Even with Coronet now being open I chose to head to The Remarkables again – I guess I felt pretty comfortable up there and knew where everything was! 

The day didn’t start well, the queues for the buses were huge and when I eventually got on a bus it was one not capable of making it up the mountain so a change before the climb up delayed us even more!! This made me way behind schedule and by the time I was in all my gear and out on the snow the lessons had begun and I was unable to join as my grade had gone up the chair lifts! 

Gutted, I made my way over to the training slopes where I was in my previous lesson and used the spare time I had to practice what I had already learnt! It felt good to be perfecting those skills and I spent the morning up and down the magic carpet building my confidence and my speed! I think I’ve cracked it! 

The afternoon lessons came around and I was able to join. I explained I had missed the morning lesson but described what I was able to do and feeling pretty confident agreed with the instructor that I was ready for the chair lifts! 

The nerves kicked it thick and fast, the instructor knew it was my first time on a lift so stayed with me the entire time. He talked me through getting on the lift and getting off the other end – the end was what I was nervous about – I was on the way up at this point .. fight of flight right!!?? 

I made it off without falling, all was going well so far!! The instructor and the class skied off in front to find some space to teach – I was quite clearly a level behind these people. 

He explained and pointed in the direction he wanted us to go, we would meet at the bottom and head up another chair lift to the top of the mountain! Then they were off, down the steepest scariest slope I had come across.. The step up from the previous classes was humongous and I didn’t feel I was ready for this! I fell so much, just out of pure terror – at least that slowed me down! 

I hated being bottom of the class, the confidence I had built up in myself, even from my practice runs that morning were shattered. Maybe skiing just wasn’t for me! I’d never be that good! I went faster than I had even been, and the way we had been taught to stop, using the plough, or the pizza slice just wasn’t good enough to slow my speed.. I didn’t know what else to do so I just fell time and time again! I was really angry at myself for missing the morning lesson – I now felt that excitement and love I’d built up for this sport was gone!! 

Feeling deflated and pretty sore after the lesson I travelled back to town! 

The girls I lived with lifted my spirits that night, they said there was no way I was ready for the slopes the instructor took me down! I needed to remember I’ve been skiing for all of 8 hours and to stop being so hard on myself!!

Day Three 

It was time to try out Coronet, the other mountain in Queenstown. At about half the height of The Remarkables, Coronet struggles keeping the snow, so after a few nights of light powder and the snow guns on continuously the mountain started to resemble a ski field! 

The journey was joyous. It takes no more than 25 minutes from the centre of town to the top of Coronet – this was more like it. There was no way I was being late for any more lessons!! 

I waited amongst the crowds of learner skiers to be sorted into our levels of ability. I was 3a and pretty happy with that! I still had a strong sense of apprehension from my last disaster of a lesson and didn’t want to get too ahead of myself again!! 

There was a lot of us so we were led over to the training slopes and watched on a single run and then separated according to ability again! Apparently the instructor didn’t see me on my run, so just put me in a group and hoped he guessed right! Don’t let this be another bad lesson please!!! 

We were straight up Coronet Express chair lift and with a short briefing at the top, after successfully getting off at the top of the lift (hooray), we were heading back down! It was steep and pretty icy, and it had happened again, I was bottom of the class and well behind there skill level – oh fantastic! I felt nervous and unable to understand the techniques he was trying to teach us! I tried desperately to keep up, but the nerves took over and I began falling more and more! I can’t even begin to tell you how aggravating that is, after thinking you’ve learnt so much to be knocked back a thousand paces and then not understand a thing! My morning lesson had not gone well! 
The final nail in the coffin was our last run, we started at the top together, as I watched the rest of the class pretty gracefully fly down the mountain I tentatively followed at a much slower pace. They had mastered a much narrower turn and were completely in control of their speed, I however was not there yet and my turns were so much wider which results in a slower but controlled run. I looked around at the bottom of the slope for my class and my instructor but they were gone..! No debrief, no grading, no signing off – I felt like, after being left behind all lessons I had been forgotten about at the end. Not a good morning lesson at all!!

Annoyed again but determined to have a better second lesson I joined the crowds in the afternoon! Thankfully a different instructor and a smaller class – come on Clarke you can do this! 

At the top of Coronet Express chair lift the instructor was clear with what he wanted us to achieve by the end of the lesson and we started with a few basic techniques! I was already feeling better, those in my class were of a similar level and we each improved with every run! All feeling good our instructor took us onto the Lower M1, no longer a training slope but the bottom end of one of the proper runs on the mountain! 

From the top I couldn’t even see the slope, the degree of the drop was the biggest yet – omg was I ready for this? He guided us down slowly, our turns wide and our speed slow and controlled. It felt amazing in parts, others I completely lost control and went to fast for my little legs to keep up! I did have one spectacular take out in which both my skis flew off and I ended up down the mountain a pretty solid distance away from my skis – no one was harmed in the making.. just my feelings!!

I felt my confidence improve throughout the lesson and I had started to master a new skill, the narrower turn.. I was so thankful the afternoon lesson was a success and started to find my love for skiing again.. 

Day Four 
My final day of lessons before I was able to have freedom on the slopes – that thought alone was pretty nerve wracking.

For the morning class I took myself to 3b – I felt pretty confident in being able to understand the techniques we would be taught in this lesson.. We were on the training slopes and the lower M1. I knew these well now. I was still a little nervous in myself but the techniques I had been taught were being thoroughly practiced and I felt I was constantly learning and improving. 

Some of the instructors explanations I did not thoroughly understand, which is difficult to rectify when in group lessons, however with mild confusion I managed to complete the lesson and feel better about my skiing – but im still not 100%. Something is yet to click with me, but what was that??

So this was it, my final opportunity to be guided down the slopes of Coronet and I felt in quite a dilemma! Do I push myself and go for the 4a-b class – the final stage in the ‘Intro To Ski’ lessons. A chance (my last) to go down the full M1 with an instructor! But was I ready for that yet? Did I want to risk feeling uncomfortable and at the bottom of the class for my last ever lesson. Or do I stick in my 3b class and fully understand the teachings from it, redo my lesson from the morning, probably with a different instructor and master the level three techniques. The decision was tough!
I decided the latter, I wanted to end these lessons on a high, feeling good about my skiing and how far I had come over a short amount of time!

We had a small class and an older instructor – I new straight away he was super cool and was going to be an amazing teacher – I knew I’d made the right decision!! 

His teaching techniques were so clear, his method so obvious and simple that even the basic skiing technique that I learnt back in my level two lessons were ditched and this new method adopted. 

He was slow, adaptive to our needs and just such a fantastic teacher – where has he been all this time? He told us that he’s been teaching for so many years that if there was an explanation of a particular skill we couldn’t understand he knew a thousand other ways to explain said skill..  

Thats when the ‘something’ clicked, that something that I’ve been unable to grasp all this time. All of a sudden my confidence grew immensely, I completely understood what my body needed to do to turn, to slow down, to speed up and to feel centred. I get it, I actually get it! My God I cant tell you how good that felt.. the lesson was a blast – I learnt more in those two hours than I did over 4 lessons!

Our final run was the best of the day, Coronet was near empty as the crowds were getting on the last buses back to town. So with our confidence sky high he told us to just go for it, trust the skis, trust our knowledge and let gravity take us. We absolutely flew down the slopes, the fastest yet.. feeling completely in control, my smile was from ear to ear..

This skiing malarkey IS for me.. Thank goodness for that final instructor – you made me love it again!!! 

From that moment on I was able to hit the slopes with friends, no longer needing lessons just reassurance.. which I greatfully recieved by the bucket load. 


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