Pavel Sotskov is a recent Dartmouth College graduate who is training and working in New Zealand for the summer at the Snowfarm. He has been in New Zealand since mid June and will be returning to Presque Isle, ME to race for MWSC this coming winter. He has sent several updates on his experiences.
A perfect way to describe the wonder of New Zealand for skiers was best put by a quote from a ski film I happened to see at the Queenstown Winterfest on the first day I arrived on the South Island a week and a half ago. “Only in New Zealand can a two hour plane hop transform the world from a warm summer day to a perfect winter wonderland.” The quote of course assumes that your permanent residence is Auckland, but since the overall trip down under takes no more money and no more than the time it takes to get to your favorite summer ski destinations in Europe, the statement does not seem too far from the truth. Flying into Queenstown takes you over several ski fields and snow capped mountains, but there is no snow on the ground as you leave the airport terminal. In fact Wanaka, the town closest to the only nordic skiing area on the south island also does not have snow on the ground. To get to the snow, a 13km ascent out of the Cardrona Valley brings you to the snow line, and the pristinely groomed 30km of trails at the Snowfarm.
Around here, climate transformations not only occur between the north and south islands, but also between Wanaka and the Snowfarm. Even though a couple days have been overcast in the town, at the Snowfarm the days have been sunny and perfect extra blue kick wax weather. In these conditions, I can’t help but ski 2 to 3 hours in the morning, have lunch, and then add a couple more in the afternoon, as long as I remember to bring my sunglasses. If skiing perfect mid-winter conditions does not fall on the training plan for a particular day, the options in Wanaka include running, hiking, or ski walking, as well as Sticky Forest, a mountain biking trail system that I would say can rival the trails at Burke’s Kingdom Trails. Although I have not had a chance to rip it up on the mountain bike trails yet this year, I know exactly where I am going tomorrow afternoon once I get my hands on a full suspension beast. The trails were set up by riders who know how to put extreme into mountain biking – The one trail I chickened out on the last time I rode in Sticky Forest is set up in basically a figure 8 – when you’re climbing, you pass the center of the figure at about 10 feet lower level than when you’re cruising down. If you haven’t figured out yet, that means you better be going fast enough to shoot the gap in the trail on your way down. Now I haven’t seen that at Burke.
In addition to training, I am giving back to the New Zealand skiing community by helping coach anyone that needs some technique help. This means playing with the mini-merinos (5-8 year olds), the New Zealand Nordic Development juniors, the senior skiers, and even some masters as old as 70 years old. The age range does pose a problem, but the skiers are all so excited to learn and progress that coaching becomes rewarding and fun. Ski soccer, sharks and minnows, and even a little on-snow cricket have all come in handy to entertain the skiing masses, just make sure to not confuse croquet and cricket: the later is definitely not a casual party event!