My Life as a Ski Bum

September 2009

The ski season started in mid June, and it’s about the time I stopped sleeping as well. I had not intended on having two jobs, but I couldn’t give up either. My job on the slopes as a lifty was ideal because I got a free season pass as well as free lessons, and discounts on all kinds of stuff both in town and up the mountain. I couldn’t give up the Mint bar job though because I absolutely loved everyone I worked with and the place had been my home since I arrived in town, and it felt like a little family there. The hours I was maintaining seem impossible, I’m not sure how I survived. I worked a sched of four days on, two days off up the mountain, waking up at 6am every day to get ready and catch my shuttle in town at 7. The trip up the mountain took anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the conditions. Wanaka itself never got any snowfall in town, but it was like a whole different world up at Cardrona. Even though the lifts closed at 4, by the time we closed everything down and made the journey back down the mountain it was often 6pm before I was back. Then 3 nights a week I worked at Mint bar, starting at 10pm and not IMG_0736getting home til about 4 or 4:30am. Waking up 2 hours later to go back up the mountain was killer, but as soon as I caught that fresh mountain air it was all worth it. As a lifty we started the mountain going in the morning, so we’d catch fresh tracks each day to get to whatever lift we were working on, or if we were on Captains lift we’d get a ride on a ski-doo just as the sun was rising up over the mountains. Never once did the view stop taking my breath away.

Working a desk job with those hours would have been enough to make me hurl myself over the side of the mountain, but spending my days out in the fresh air was heaven on earth for me. I was working (though you can hardly call it that) with the coolest people from around the world, and with about 5 people working at each lift we just rotated “jobs” with someone always free to go on a ride break. We got hour lunches so we’d all just pop some bread and cheese into the toastie maker in the lift hut while doing up our boots, eat the sandwhich on the ride up the lift, then use the whole hour to ride instead of going to lunch. Having front row seats to the fashion show of pro skiers and boarders as they got on the lifts all day wasn’t half bad either. I definitely saw improvements in my skiing, and I learned to board over the course of the season as well. I still managed to mangle my body up quite a bit though.

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Since the mountain was pretty small, most of the lifts gave you a pretty good view of whoever was riding on-piste, which made it just that much more painful to have a wipe-out. Even worse was messing up in uniform. I once was speeding down a slope racing to get back in time from my lunch break and had to make a super fast stop and turn in order to get past the lines of people waiting to get on the lift I was working and maneuver through the corrals to the lift hut. Well, I came to a smooth stop right next to the HPC lane (high performance center, think instructors on steroids–these are some of the best skiers and boarders around) when I decided to look up at the crowd mid-turn and lost my balance and just fell over into the next lane. I then drew more attention as I ended up having to pop my skis off to untangle myself, only so I could return to work doing what? oh yes that’s right, guiding the people I just fell on into groups of four to help them get on the lift. I believe I said something like “and that folks, is how NOT to stop in line”. Smooooooth like butter baby.
But that was just Cadrona by day. Cardrona by night was a whole different story.

As the mountain was relatively small, all the different departments mingled quite a bit, and IMG_0729the people running the mountain loved to encourage that by hosting loads of themed staff parties. Judging by my pictures, it would seem like more of an oddity had we had a party where we just dressed like ourselves. One party was heroes and villains and I dressed as Captain wheat-a-bix (its a popular NZ cereal) and beat my friend Brigitte with a bag of white bread all night because she was gluten-free girl. Another party was a “C” theme so there were Christmas trees mingling with clowns, crayons, coat hangers, cougars and more. For another theme party I walked into the British brothers’ room and emerged as “my housemate Leroy.” The best was when they’d keep the mountain open for staff after hours. We didn’t have night skiing there, so the lifts would shut to customers (or “puntas” as they were so affectionately called) at 4, then the good folk at Cardys would provide staff with beer and barbeque food in the snow as we all got free reign of the slopes until the sun set too far below the mountains for ski patrol to let us continue in good conscience.

On the few nights when I wasn’t working at Mint bar or at some themed party or another, it was entertainment enough to just stay home. I loved coming home and sitting around the fire in the living room to warm up. Central heating and insulation seem to be foreign words to the people of New Zealand, so we spent a lot of time being very, very cold. As there were so many roommates there was always a good crowd around to make a night in just as fun as any night out. With a few musicians in the house and as friends there were many a fireside jam to entertain us as well. Having people around me playing all the time I made some huge strides in my fears of playing in front of people, and before I left town I did an open mic night at Mint. The bar was pretty packed, but so many of the people were my friends so I had loads of support. I had always promised myself I would do it in Paihia but I chickened out so this was a big obstacle for me to overcome. Granted I did leave the country a week later…

As the season came to a close, springtime was in full force in town. It was amazing to be IMG_1100sitting by the lake one day basking in the sun then up snowboarding on my lunch break the next day. Wherever (if ever) I settle in this world I am pretty sure I want to be somewhere similar to Wanaka with the best of both the snow and water. Before I left the country (and not without loads of tears, as immigration and the expiration of my flight said it was time to go more than my heart did) my house had a huge bbq. It started in the afternoon and went well into the wee hours of the night, and eventually even to another house as the police ended up shutting our party down. It was a great way to say goodbye to a year of great times as I left early the next morning. I was not a happy camper getting on that plane (nor a pretty sight to behold as I had hardly slept and was painfully hungover). But all good things must come to an end right?

Pshhhhh. Ya right. So I started out with a plan to do New Zealand for a year, maybe a bit longer, then come back and get my career going. Well, I’m just addicted to travel right now, so I got my visa and after my brother’s wedding January 23rd I am taking off again. I am going to San Fransisco to visit my friend Mari whom I met in New Zealand, then I fly to Sydney beginning of Feb. On the third I am meeting up with some of my fellow liftys from Cardrona and we are going to check out the powder in Niseko Japan. Apparently its some of the best in the world. Then after a few days in Tokyo I’ll head back to Oz with Katie, my Scottish friend and fellow lifty, to start another year of travel, work, and adventure. Who knows what after that, but I’ll still be blogging along the way!