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Skiing: Fields of dreams come cheap

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Skiing in New Zealand is cheaper than anywhere else in the world unless you want to hit the snow in Bulgaria.

That is the finding of an international survey by Canadian magazine Ski Canada comparing the costs of skiing at more than 50 alpine resorts in 16 countries.

The survey listed lift ticket prices, hectares of skiable terrain as well as the European measure of kilometres of piste. That measure converts to about 10 to 20ha of skiable terrain for every 1km of piste.

It found the cheapest resort was Borovets in Bulgaria where an adult one-day lift ticket costs $NZ54 to access 40km of piste.

The most expensive was the huge Colorado resort of Vail where a ticket costs $150 and accesses 4576ha spread over five different resorts.

Of the New Zealand resorts the survey listed only Treble Cone at $63 for 550ha of skiable terrain.

But using the same standard would put Mt Ruapehu out in front with a ticket price of $54 for a total of 848ha at the Whakapapa and Turoa fields.

Cardrona is close behind at $60 to access its 320ha, Mt Hutt $65 for 365ha and Coronet Peak $68 for 280ha.

The Queenstown fields rating would be similar to that of several well-known European resorts with considerably larger fields.

The Canadian resorts generally rated in the middle of the survey with lift ticket prices around $77 to $81. The most expensive was the huge Whistler resort at $108 to access its 2861ha.

Australian fields were generally expensive too with Thredbo listed at $102 for 480ha.

The Cardrona Alpine Resort has been named resort of the year 2000 by the New Zealand Snowboard Association.

Association executive director, Graham Dunbar, says Cardrona has pioneered snowboard competitions and facilities for snowboarders.

This season the Wanaka resort has an 800m snowboard terrain trail, a boardercross course and four, competition-standard halfpipes.

Treble Cone has introduced a five-day learner package that includes lift tickets, equipment hire and structured lessons.

The days do not need to be consecutive and if someone has major problems on any day they get a free day to reach the next level.

At the end of the course students get a five-day pass to use at anytime during the season.

Treble Cone's Hetty Van Hale says it usually takes people five days to feel sufficiently competent to carry on with skiing or boarding.

"If we want to grow the sport, we must develop more beginners," she says.

"This will be the basis of future growth in the domestic market."

The package costs $394 for adult skiers, $265 for children and $149 for children under 6. The cost for snowboarders is $449 for adults, $321 for children 6 years and over.

There is supposed to be nothing new under the sun and perhaps I can add, or on the snow.

There is nothing new about the notion of carving your ski turns, although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise in the past few seasons.

Downhill skis have been narrower in the waist than in the tip and tail for decades. This has helped the best skiers to carve their turns instead of skidding out the tails.

A learn-to-ski book I had 25 years ago illustrated the effect of this shape, the sidecut, with a drawing of a school ruler with one slightly concave edge pushed hard onto a desktop. Do that and, as the drawing showed, the ruler will curve.

So while most recreational skiers skidded their parallel turns, top skiers pushed hard on their skis and curved their way around. It was hard work requiring good technique because the sidecut tended to be minimal, even on slalom skis, in the belief that too much sidecut compromised straightline stability.

Length was also considered a factor in stability and speed. It still is. You won't find speed skiers or downhill racers on short, fat skis. But the advent of snowboarding - along with developments in exotic materials used in ski manufacture which have increased torsional stiffness and stopped fat skis twisting - drastically changed the shape and length of skis and allowed skiers of even modest ability to carve their turns.

Snowboarders demonstrated that a short, wide board with a fairly pronounced sidecut still has stability when it is held flat on the snow and is easy to carve when put on an edge. As well, novice snowboarders made the transition from beginner to reasonably accomplished more quickly than skiers.

Snowboarding boomed. Thank goodness it did because the reaction of the ski manufacturing industry has revolutionised the sport.

Skis are now wider at tip and tail, have a more pronounced sidecut, and are considerably shorter so that while they have a similar base area to conventional skis at the previously prescribed length, they are more manoeuvrable.

To turn them all you do is roll them on an edge like that school ruler and around you'll go.

Of course, it is never that simple but it sure is a lot easier to carve turns than it was on the skis of just five years ago.

There are several basic variations on the carving ski theme. Skis intended for tighter turns tend to be narrower overall and particularly at the waist which may be 4cm less in width than the tip and tail.

Skis designed for all mountain conditions - ice, powder and crud - are still hour-glass shaped but tend to be wider bodied overall, with a slightly less pronounced sidecut and a wider waist.

The only shape that varies markedly from the hourglass is a Y shape in some beginner skis. A straighter shape between waist and tail makes it easier for learners to skid out the tails as they conclude a turn. Skidding tails, particularly at low speeds, is still a necessary part of a skier's armoury of skills.

- NZ Herald

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