Wanaka: Cold play

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright finally graduates off the bunny slope, with the help of a bicycle on three skis.

Snow bikes are an easy way to get up and down the mountain. Photo / Supplied
Snow bikes are an easy way to get up and down the mountain. Photo / Supplied

As I reach the top of the chairlift at Cardrona and look down the steep white mountain, my first question to 3Ski Snow Bike developer Jason Buckley is: "Where's the brake?"

"We'll get to that later," he replies as we zigzag across the snow, easily steering our snow bikes. Even as a complete snow-sport novice, on the bikes, I'm about the same skill level as my husband, Gavin, who's a good snowboarder.

We swivel our hips left and right to gracefully cruise down the mountain, carving into the snow as we go. We're the envy of awkward-looking skiers making "pizzas", and one particularly annoying snowboarder yelling, "I'm just a Perthy, waheee" as he slides down the slope waving his arms and barely missing everyone in his reckless path.

It makes me glad we're on snow bikes, a kind of BMX attached to three short skis, with no brakes or gears. They're fun, fast and really easy to use. It's also a chance to finally make it up the mountain with Gavin, who normally leaves me on the bunny slope while he heads off snowboarding.

"I wanted to get people up the mountain quicker," says Buckley, taking us to a spot where we can see the tops of hotels in Queenstown and smoke from chimneys in Arrowtown. "Being up the mountain, it's like being on the moon, isn't it?"

If you're serious about learning a snow sport and live near a mountain, the harder-to-learn traditional options offer a challenge, but for out-of-towners just wanting a bit of winter wonderland each year, the snow bikes are the perfect solution and suitable for people with injuries that might prevent them from the more jarring snow sports.

"Hopefully this will keep people in snow sports for longer," says Buckley, "Snow bikes are easier on ligaments, knees and hips. Anyone can ride one and head to the top of the mountain within a short time, there's no need for extensive lessons or expensive gear."

The bikes have taken six years for Buckley and his team to create and are now sold to some of the world's best ski resorts. The only slightly difficult thing about them is mastering getting on and off the chairlift.

After a few runs, we skid to a stop at the bottom of McDougall's Quad, just in time to see our children finish their snowboarding and skiing lessons. We sit in Mezz Cafe, warming up with hearty soup and crusty bread, watching proudly as they master it much faster than we could.

Next year, we'll definitely be heading straight for the snow bikes and I'm surprised how much there is to explore on the mountain, having been limited to the beginner's slope for so long. Trails with names such as Heavy Metal Trail, Last Shot Bowl, even one called Paradise, are calling my name.

And the brake? I didn't need it. Unlike skis, if the worst happened, I guess I could always have just jumped off. Knowing that, somehow, made all the difference.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

What to do: The 3ski Snow Bike Experience is available at Cardrona Alpine Resort.

Where to stay: Dine poolside at the Grand Mercure Oakridge Resort's seven spas and four rock pools.

Where to eat: At Lone Star, Johnny Cash's songs were playing so it seemed rude not to order the Johnny Cash Stash. There's also a cinema downstairs.

Danielle Wright was hosted by Lake Wanaka Tourism with a hire car from Avis.

- Herald on Sunday

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