nb for the non-Strayans out there a ‘sandgroper’ is another name for a West Australian. It’s quite an agreeable nickname really, considering we call Queenslanders “banana benders”, South Australians “crow eaters” and New South Welshpersons “cockroaches”.
I’ll never forget seeing snow for the first time. It was 1994, I was 19, and on my first trip overseas, visiting Mosey who was on Rotary student exchange in Gifu (Japan). Her lovely welcoming host family let me tag along with them to Nagano and we had a fantastic couple of days having snowball fights, careening down hills strapped to short planks resplendent in borrowed ski suits (Mosey was solid pink while I was head to toe red with a Snoopy beanie; from a distance I looked like a bloodstain), building snow geishas and scaring ourselves shitless climbing to the top of the ski jump in Hakuba. It was extra thrilling because four years later Winter Olympians would sit on the same seat before plummeting down the ramp and flinging themselves into the air.
On Christmas Eve we were walking to the car when suddenly these large, feathery white clumps started fluttering silently from the night sky. That was the weirdest thing for me, discovering snow drifts in absolute silence. I imagined being ever so slowly engulfed by it; it was cool… but a bit unnerving. Second weirdest was being able to stand out in it and stay completely dry. (Although come to think of it that was pretty much like our previous experience of precipitation back home in Carnarvon.)
I loved the snow. It was a magical, unforgettable experience, like something out of a movie.
But it’s still an alien landscape to me; cold, slippery, and full of hidden dangers: A thin crust designed to break if you step on it, potentially dropping you knee-deep in frigid water, or if you’re really unlucky, a crevasse. And while white-outs mean nice fresh snow it scares the crap outta me being in one. I found myself in this situation on only my second day of snowboarding, and was horrified to realise I couldn’t even see across the slope, never mind spot the chairlift or the lodge. I couldn’t see signage, or other people… with no points of reference I couldn’t even tell if I was moving! At one stage I stopped and bent down to tighten my bindings and was astonished to discover the slope still moving at a fair clip under my snowboard. All the way down I was petrified I’d blunder off the trail and sail over a cliff.
Alpine terrain is only slightly more familiar to me than what, say, the landscape of the moon might be. And as far as I’m concerned the hardware up there is about as user friendly as a space rocket. My biggest issues are a) getting off chairlifts, (b) riding with one foot out and (c) falling over, where generally a+b=c. I don’t like t-bar lifts or ropetows much either; one at Treble Cone dragged me lopsided up the hill before jerking hard out of my hands and dumping me down the slope. I only stopped when I got wedged under a fence. Preschoolers cruising past with offensive ease asked concernedly are you okay? Yeah I’m fine. Pride’s only slightly dinged.
I’m much more at home at the beach. However I want my boys to grow up feeling just as happy on the snow as they are on the sand. Being half Kiwi they’re in luck there! We went back just a couple of weeks ago, and rented a holiday house in Wanaka with J’s sister, youngest brother and their families. It was a lovely house with room for twelve – great view over Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring National Park, walk to town, the kiddies stayed downstairs (because of the foosball table) and the lovely lovely gravy; a hot tub on the deck.
The boys had seen snow once before, back in 2013 we took them to The Remarkables and Cardrona which they really loved. They still talk about ‘snow daycare’!
This time around Finn was old enough to try snowboarding, and Rory had a go at skiing. We got them the first timer’s deal at Cardrona which was absolutely brilliant; all rentals and lift passes plus two 2.5-hour lessons for each kid, for $100 each. *jaw drop.* And the boys were AWESOME!
I was so proud of them. Not because they were particularly good (though I think Roars only fell over once… well except for one other time when I threw a snowball at him, whoops) but because they just kept trying. They were feeling the heat, and Finn stacked it quite a bit (takes after his mother there) but they didn’t whinge, just kept on truckin’.
Even getting on and off the learner’s conveyor carpet (which *I* still find nerve-wracking, thanks to earlier experiences with twisted knees) they looked like they’d been doing it for years. And Finn routinely gets up on his heel edge, which I still can’t do! Meanwhile it’s a decade since I first took up riding and only now do I feel like I can call myself a snowboarder, as opposed to ‘someone who face plants all the way down a hill with a snowboard strapped to their feet’.
I hadn’t forgotten anything, had even improved a bit since last time! Possibly due to being a bit more fit. I only faceplanted once on the first run, no, twice cos there was a really steep narrow turn, all icy and shit, where I missed an easier detour. The first crash was at a fairly decent pace, just past a woman who distracted me just by virtue of being there. While I lay there laughing and yelling “But I was doing so well!” she called out “And where’s your helmet Missy?” Oh yeah I was going to use a helmet this time. So I went and rented one; I reckon my brain might be worth $13.
I was linking turns and steering properly, getting a bit more speed up, aiming more downhill rather than straight across it, and even doing fine on the flat bits. I finally feel like a real snowboarder! Though I still stagger around drunkenly when I have only one foot strapped in, looking, as Bill Bryson might say, “like someone being worked over by an invisible gladiator.”
Meanwhile the boys’ instructors told them they were ready for the chairlift so we tried to coax them onto the nice slow MacDougall’s Quad for a run down the Skyline beginner’s trail. They wouldn’t have a bar of it. I must admit to being somewhat relieved because it’s good to finish on a high and if everything turned to custard it’s not like I’d be any help. And I can’t blame them, chairlifts are scary AF. Second scariest is an icy car park/ the drive up the mountain. (Found out that by the time we come back Cardrona will have a chondola! ie a combined chairlift/gondola, to replace the MacDougall’s Quad. Perfect!)
By lessons’ end at 3.30 the boys were shattered, especially Roars. But they wanted one more run down the learner’s slope so we started trudging back up. Roars was soo tired after all the slogging along in those awkward ski boots and halfway up the hill he hit the wall and started wailing. I said if he didn’t want to ski any more that was okay, but he said NO, I want to but I’m just SO TIRED! Then J offered to piggyback him up, solving the problem, and they had three more runs. He did the last one so fast and in such a straight line down the hill that I shat myself and bolted over to catch him, but he steered around me. Totally fine.
On the way to the car Rory was so tired he walked his head into J’s snowboard. So he was already pissed off when I mentioned we were popping in to the Cardrona Hotel for a quick drink – I was upselling the shit out of it – and he instantly went into Chernobyl meltdown mode. He’d had enough. And as it happened I’d been videoing on my phone but had forgotten to turn it off, so the conversation went exactly like this:
Me: We’re gonna go to a place called the Cardrona Hotel. It’s very cool, it’s got a…
Rory (insistently): I DONT WANNA GO THERE.
Me: What’s wrong?
Rory (suddenly extremely peed off): I DO NOT WANNA GO THERE I JUST WANNA GO HOME!!!
Me: Aw, buddy, it’s our tradition, we always go there after a day on the snow. All we have to do is just sit!
Rory (yelling over the top of me): I WANNA GO HOME.
Me (doggedly): …and drink!
Finn (helpfully): And eat.
Rory (grumpily): That’s not what we wanna do. I wanna play!
Me: You wanna play? Oh, well, tell you what, there’s a beautiful playground and some really cool old buildings…
Rory: I DON’T WANNA GO THERE!!!!
Me: Well what do you particularly want to play with at home?
Rory: I wanna play with the foosball table.
Me: Ah. Oh well, don’t worry, it’ll still be there when we get home, we’re just stopping off for a little while.
Rory (getting flustered): It won’t be… the foosball table won’t be there, because we won’t be allowed to go on there, because it’ll only be big… big ones.
Me: You guys get to go on the foosball table whenever you like…?
Rory : Yeah but there might be someone else going on there!
Me: Like who?
Rory: Like some people else! (bellows) I DON’T KNOW!!!
Me (snorting just a bit – couldn’t help it, he was being so fucking ornery): Well, there’s only our family staying there… (noisy truck, unintelligible whingeing)…
Rory: I don’t wanna go there. I don’t wanna go there.
Me: You don’t want a drink?
Rory: No. I just wanna to go home and have a hot chocolate!
Me (seizing on an opportunity): Well we don’t have any hot chocolate at home. (BLATANT LIE)
Rory: Well why didn’t you buy any?
Me: Ah, they didn’t have any nice ones. They only had stuff that you guys don’t like. (BULLSHIT)
Me: They make really nice hot chocolates at um, the Cardrona Hotel… and there’s a fireplace, and there’s other kids there…
Rory: Is there something that is, that is, that is adventurous?
Rory: Yeah. Adventurous.
Me: Well you guys can go and find some adventure if you want, or you can sit with us and just chill!
Rory (over me again): No! I wanna go up… I wanna go… (muffled, running, swishing sounds, I had to do up my backpack then chase after the others who’d gone ahead)…
Rory (crying): I’m just really tired! I wanna go home! I don’t wanna go there!
(after a while calms down a bit) I wanna do the “I believe I can fly” – I wanna do that.
Me: But I thought you were so tired.
Rory: But I wanna do it.
By the time we got there I’d fed him a muesli bar and he was on a slightly more even keel, and a hot choccie and some chips helped him get his second wind. The pair of them had fun racing around the little playground with their cousins and some other kids while J and I caught up with everyone. Aah so nice…
Well as far as snow days go it couldn’t have gone much better. The next day the boys were fully recovered and kept asking when we were going back. We did so the following morning – still couldn’t sell them on the chairlift – but even so they still loved it and can’t wait to come to the snow again.
And from now on, neither can I!