More to Skiing than Express Lifts and $10 Pies by Nathan Fa'avae
Snow sports, my wife Jodie and I probably have a similar story to many others our age. We grew up skiing as teenagers in the 80’s. We didn’t come from ‘ski families’, skiing was a treat and quite a big occasion. In our later teens with independence we skied more, and crossed over to snow boarding when that was considered much cooler.
Through our 20’s we snowboarded regularly, did some work in the ski industry, did a season as ‘ski-bums’ in Wanaka before it was colonised , and generally had a bounty of fun thanks to the white stuff that falls from the sky and settles on the mountains.
But things changed. Our kids came along, global warming became a news item and a trending lack of snow meant that the ski buzz melted. We lost Mount Robert ski field and Rainbow barely stayed operational, losing a T-bar and chairlift, both items sort of important for a ski area you could say.
So for a decade we practically forgot about snow sports. Until one winters day on a whim we decided to take the kids to the snow, after all, it was a sport we did once love. But the trip was unsuccessful, our kids were too young, it was too cold and we agreed afterwards that they would have had more fun playing at the beach.
Not being quitters, we tried again a few years later with better weather and voilà, a new family sport was added, with a 4, 6 and 8-year old. For a few seasons we dabbled visiting various fields around the South Island and in 2012 we got serious. We wanted to be close to the slopes so we moved to Queenstown for a year, the main motivator was to give our children the opportunity to build a solid skiing platform. We had such a good year we returned for the following 2-winters. Living under the mountain enabled our children to ski a minimum 4-days a week with regular coaching. It was excellent, but after 3-consecutive seasons at the resort fields, we felt it was time and of value to expose the kids to the other opportunities of New Zealand skiing, we were worried they were being corrupted by 6-seater padded express chairlifts and $10 pies at cafe lunches, plus our Toyota didn’t qualify for the preferential car parking.
In 2016 we signed up for the Chill Pass. We wanted freedom to experience the ‘club fields’, an education of sorts for our family. Living back in Tasman for winter we were thrilled that Rainbow ski area was included in the Chill Pass, this essentially provided us a season pass to our local mountain plus access to ample amazing places throughout the South Island.
Taking the kids to Rainbow for the first time as ‘real’ skiers, after 3-full seasons in Queenstown, it was pleasing that their reaction to Rainbow was that of excitement and wonder. It was a blue bird powder day, the towering snow laden rocky peaks providing an awesome alpine atmosphere, they asked us genuinely bewildered “why have we been going to Queenstown to ski?”
Rainbow is our home hill but combined with road trips south the options for adventures are wide open. In 2016 we started the season at Mount Dobson and then logged some superb days at Porters, Mount Cheeseman and Lyford. Rainbow had outstanding snow that year so we made the most of that. By the end of the winter we agreed the highlight of the season was a ski week at Cheeseman, the on tap Raro a hit with members of our group. It was the first time our children had stayed on a mountain and lived the lifestyle of ‘ski-in ski-out’. For those that stay, or have stayed in the mountain lodges, you’ll know that there is something exceptionally unique about it, something very ‘kiwi’.
It is a social occasion and everyone is happy to be there, essentially on a holiday of sorts. There is community camaraderie based on the shared experience, and I think there is a sense of care and compassion that mountains often demand of people, which is encouraged through the duty roster where everyone chips in to get the daily jobs done. One massive advantage and one that my children will repeatedly say is the best thing is ‘No Driving’!
As you know skiing can equate to long hours in cars, and often on rough or wintery roads. Staying on the mountain and being able to ski consecutive days without driving is a big bonus.
We got excellent value from the Chill Pass and signed up again for 2017.
The goal for the season was to master the nut crackers. It was time for the rope tow. Friends suggested we start at Broken River because the tows there are the easiest to learn on. We took their advice and had a superb week at BR, and the kids dialled the nutcrackers without any issues.
Now that we've been rope towed on all the fields, I’m not so sure that the Broken River tows are any easier, but you have to start somewhere, so why not there. We did have an entertaining hour on our first visit when the tram broke down with us in it. We couldn’t get anyone on the radio but we had phone coverage, so we looked online for a contact phone number and called them, we spoke to someone in Christchurch who then called the field, who then managed to radio us with the instructions to move our gear to expose a trap door where we could get out of the tram. They said to get out and hike up for a cup of tea, they’d get our bags later. This was exactly the kind of experiences we were after!
The lodge in the native bush creates a lovely setting and we enjoy the hiking involved in skiing at Broken River, we’ve done a few trips to BR now and always have a wonderful time. In 2017 we also skied Dobo, Lyford, Porters and Cheeseman. It’d be difficult to single out a highlight of the season but we had some very memorable days at Temple Basin. We tried a few times to ski Hanmer Springs but never quite lined up a weekend where we could go and they were open.
One of the big benefits of the Chill Pass we treasure is the ability to choose where to ski based on weather and ski reports. We’ve done a few trips where we simply stay in Arthur's Pass and choose the field on the day, based on what we know and can see.
Entering 2018 we had doubts if we’d get the Chill Pass, we skied in Japan in January and it’d be fair to say going into the NZ winter that the general enthusiasm to ski wasn’t what it normally is, so we thought we’d have a quiet winter and just snatch a few selected days at Rainbow. But then we came to our senses and signed for Chill Pass again!
Any by Jove we’re glad we did because it’s been such a stellar winter. We kicked things off at Mount Lyford for their opening weekend and then clocked up 8-days in the school holidays at Porters, Cheeseman, BR, with most of that time at Craigieburn. Skiing the different mountains makes everyday fresh and exciting, and from a development point of view, I think the variation in the terrain, tows and snow conditions strengthens a skier, you don’t have time to get comfortable with familiarity.
Jodie and I enjoy touring so being able to hop out of a field for a few turns in the side country is an added benefit and we’ve found the smaller fields (except Lyford) very accommodating and encouraging of touring. In between our road trips south Rainbow has provided everything we’d want. It is one of the South Islands most majestic landscapes, when you’re at Rainbow, you really do feel like you are in the mountains, it’s a stunning place and worthy of a visit if you’ve never been there. I honestly think it has the highest quality cafe food too, with coffee to match. My son Zefa was really lucky one day to ski with my mate Richard Ussher and get some jumping tips at Rainbow. Rich was a professional and Olympic skier competing in Nagano in 1998. It was his first day on skis for 20-years but he was still pulling off some dynamic aerials and Zefa learnt heaps.
In August we booked for Truants Week at Mount Olympus, and for our needs, I’d feel justified saying that we’d saved the best for last. It was the lone one of the Selwyn 6 fields we hadn’t visited and we’d heard rave reviews about so it was with eagerness we made the trip south. We knew we’d enjoy the 7-days on the mountain but it exceeded our expectations. It’s often said, but can be said again, the meals were incredible. We have always enjoyed the food on the mountain lodges but Mount Olympus take things to another level.
The same could be said about the lodge and facilities, we’ve always been comfortable and happy with the lodgings, but Olympus notched it up again, the hot tub scoring bonus points. So the grub and beds are good, what about the skiing? Being first time Olympians, discovering the field was a pleasure, the snow and landscapes. We particularly liked the daily ski lessons which were included in the package, they were very useful. Like all the places we’ve been, the staff were brilliant and we met really cool people who shared similar passions.
As the 2018 season draws to an end, albeit a snowy powdery end, we’re planning a few more ski escapades and hopefully some more time on rope tows, the symbol of a fine field.
Skiing is one the best family sports for us, quality time, outdoor activity, fun and adventure.
We’ll be lining up a Chill Pass again for 2019, with the goal of skiing the fields we haven’t made it to yet, Hanmer Springs, a roadie to Fox Peak and Awakino … and more, always more.
We're stoked to have Nathan & Jodie Fa’avae & family exploring the ski areas with the Chill Pass! Among many achievements, Nathan Fa’avae is a five-time adventure racing world champion.