Kids are fearless and quick to learn, writes Winston Aldworth
It's staggering how quickly your children get good at skiing.
With two lessons under her belt, 7-year-old Zoe is skiing alongside me on an intermediate slope at Cardrona just after we've exited the McDougalls chairlift, the skifield's main ascent. We're chatting and, suddenly feeling the urge to emphasise a point, Zoe swings around and skis backwards so she can look me in the eye while she continues the conversation.
If you see me going down a hill backwards on skis you can reasonably assume something has gone terribly wrong.
"Zoe," I say, marvelling at the audacity of her instructors. "Did the instructors teach you how to ski backwards?"
"No," she replies breezily. "I just saw them doing it, so I thought I would do it, too."
I didn't learn to ski until my teens, and then it was a mostly self-taught process of trial, error and injury. Skis were longer (today's carving skis are far more comfortable to use and infinitely easier to learn on) and helmets were rare. Kids these days don't know how good they've got it. Today, I consider myself a pretty decent bad skier, but skiing, I suspect, will be one of the first things my kids will do better than me. (Being able to name Teeny Tys doesn't count.)
Paying to put your kids in lessons buys you not just the peace of mind of knowing they're learning properly, it also gets mums and dads a couple of hours to ski properly themselves. It's a worthwhile investment. Earlier, we'd spied the kids in their group lesson — a little convoy of cuteness, rugged-up and helmeted with their pole-less arms raised to the sides — they followed their instructor down the slope. The kids move quickly from the baby-steps first lessons of the magic carpet at the base of the field, to the wider fields of the green runs further up. It never occurs to them not to progress.
It's easy to imagine that the fearlessness entrenched by skiing will serve kids well later in life. It's easy to see, too, that such fearlessness on the slopes comes more easily to them than to those of us with more years — and more bruises — to our name.
We'd be mugs if we didn't get more cautious as we got older. A lifetime of hangovers, broken hearts and sore joints teaches adults to take it easy. Kids don't know what it is to have sore joints and regrets. They have all that ahead of them.
In snow, kids can fall hard and bounce back stronger, better for the bump. They take tumbles on the white stuff that, had the same wipeout occurred on the lawn at home, would lead to howling, with parents considering a trip to Starship. The snow of course, is softer than grass, but the speeds are far greater.
After one early and particularly dramatic crash, I thought: "Shit! I've broken my kid!" When I reached the face-planted bundle of sprawled limbs and dislodged ski gear, I was greeted by laughter.
Recent investments at Cardrona have made New Zealand's most family-friendly skifield even easier for introducing kids to snow. That McDougalls chairlift is now a "Chondola", with one in four of the chairs ditched in favour of enclosed gondola carriages. No prizes for guessing which is warmer when a hellish cold gust blasts through. But kids are nothing if not perverse — even though we were skiing on a beautiful day with mercifully small queues, ours insisted on the chairlift.
Their confidence grows with big falls on easy slopes. But soon enough, there are bigger slopes to explore. We got our kids from green runs to blue, next year, perhaps, a red may beckon.
"Resist the urge to tell them there's nothing to be afraid of," skier and fear coach Kristen Ulmer told the UK Daily Telegraph. "Not only is that not true, but you are shaming them for having fear."
Fear? They haven't even considered it.
FROM SLOPE TO TABLE
Bite editor and Wanaka local Jo Elwin gives her tips on the best places to fill hungry bellies before or after a day on the slopes.
1. Take a short stroll or bike ride west around the lakefront to Edgewater Estate (54 Sargood Drive) and ask for the scone menu. From 11am to 5pm each day your choice of scone will be freshly baked to order. The kids can burn energy running around the sprawling lawn while you wait for your scones to arrive from the oven.
2. Kai Whakapai (Cnr Helwick and Ardmore Street) is as accommodating to children as it is ski bums and serves them and everyone in between very well — from coffee, through breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks beyond. It's very relaxed and well-priced with plenty of vegan options. Order at the counter and take a seat in this prime lakefront location to soak up the Wanaka vibe.
3. Share a pizza and carafe of Italian red at Francesca's (93 Ardmore Street) but book well in advance, this Italian Kitchen is popular with families carbo-loading for the slopes. Those preferring to vege-load will find plenty to enjoy too — a side of potato skins with truffle oil, porcini salt and pecorino is a must.
Look out for Francesca's foodtruck on Brownston Street for woodfired pizza to go or delivery to the local Wanaka area. Call 0800 go 4 pizza.
4. Also from the Francesca's team is Kika at 2 Dunmore Street where chef James Stapely is proving he's right up there with the big city hot shots. Choose from a menu of sharing plates or just say "feed me" and chef will serve you three hand-picked courses. This is food as beautiful to look at as it is to eat.
5. For coffee and a snack on the way to Cardrona pull in to Florence's Food Store and Cafe on the corner of Cardrona Valley Road and Orchard Road. Pick up some local goodies while you are there.
6. Enjoy a platter and a bottle of wine at Rippon Vineyard (246 Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road) as you soak up one of the best views in New Zealand. Look out for the Chef's Table pop up during peak ski season where you can enjoy hearty meals by the open fire or an apres ski drink and a bowl of fries.
3 WANAKA FAMILY ACTIVITIES
When the kids — or you — need a break from the snow, try one of these family-friendly attractions to keep everyone entertained.
The kids will have their minds blown by the optical illusions at Puzzling World. This unique attraction has been a must-see at the Southern Lakes region for over 40 years. Put aside 30 minutes to an hour to crack the Great Maze and challenge your perceptions in the Hologram Hall. From there, the Hall of Following Faces features 168 models of famous faces that appear to turn and watch you wherever you go. The Tilted House also provides some fantastic photo opportunities for young and old alike.
Where else in the world can you slide down the long neck of a dinosaur? This prehistoric playground will make kids go wild and is a real favourite of visitors to the area. As well as the famous slide, there's plenty of other equipment to enjoy for children of all ages. There's also a BBQ in the reserve, as well as a bridge to play 'Pooh sticks' from.
Take a trip down memory lane at one of the largest private collections in the world — it's the result of one man's dream and 50 years of preserving the past. Contained within its four buildings are over 600 vehicles, 15 aircraft and over 60,000 toys. Parents can even revisit their childhoods on the adult sized pedal cars — there's really something for the whole family. The museum is conveniently located next to Wanaka Airport.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Jetstar flies direct from Auckland to Queenstown. Wanaka is just over an hour's drive from Queenstown Airport; Cardrona is 20 minutes' drive from Wanaka.