October 02, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

Wanna Ski Wanaka 

New Zealand’s winter home away from home


James Riddell, British Olympic skier and winner of the 1929 Kandahar downhill, wrote; "To ski, however well or poorly, is a reminder-whatever one may for a long time have suspected-that one is alive, and that living is tremendous fun. There isn't any other game to compare with it in the world."

And alive is how you will feel when you reach the top of Treble Cone in New Zealand's Central Otago region. Zen-like vistas await from its 2,100 metre summit. The mountains rise straight up from Lake Wanaka and valley floor ,beginning with lush green fields rising through numerous angelic waterfalls and culminating in snow capped peaks that look like the hand of god has turned upside down and dunked, gingerly, in a bowl of icing sugar like snow. When you reach the top of Treble Cone you realise how lucky you are, lucky to find yourself in one of the world's most beautiful places.

Treble Cone (TC as it's known locally) is considered "The Skiers' Mountain" by its boosters because it boasts what is considered New Zealand's best terrain and the most vertical of any New Zealand ski resort. I can testify that the terrain is awesome. It has super big and long natural half-pipes, big mountain chutes and powder.

TC also provides for the novice with a four kilometre run of gentle terrain to its base lodge. It does not have the kind of lift capacity you might expect as a Whistler rider. There are only two lifts, unless you include the Button lift and the Magic Carpet, but one of the lifts is a "Six Pack" - that's right, a six passenger chair which makes for some interesting lift lines. Amazingly, for the normally well-mannered Kiwis, they haven't figured out the alternating lift corral etiquette we seem to have mastered in Whistler. ("After you." "Oh no, after you.") It's more reminiscent of the crazy free-for-all Rugby Game and shoving match you might find at European resorts, except without the Germans in fur headbands shouting some variation of "lipshun warten bitter" - which means something like "wait for me darling" - to their bratty kids that just stomped across your skis.

In New Zealand they call the ski hills "ski fields" because runs and resorts are marked by fences (just like sheep fences) instead of trees. The entire ski area is above the tree line which is beautiful when it's sunny but murder when fog sets in and there's nothing to use for contrast.

Not only is the riding at Treble Cone truly world class, but you'll see some excellent freesking and freeriding going on as well, and you can also witness some of the world's best ski racers as the Austrians and Americans frequently use TC as their summer training facility. This year Canadian alpine, ski cross and snowboard athletes were based at Wanaka for three weeks or more, sharing facilities with the same athletes they'll be competing head-to-head with in Whistler and Cypress at the 2010 Games.

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