Flying through the mountains into Queenstown airport, I was already exhilarated by the view from the plane window. I had already forgotten how beautiful New Zealand is.
In the passenger seat of Louise’s pick-up driving along Lake Ohau, past stunning views of Ben Ohau, it felt like I was coming home from a small holiday. Eight months in Niseko, Australia, and Bali felt like eight days.
Welcomed by many familiar faces I could not be more pleased to see my second family. Issy, Cam, Will, Nate, Eri, Tim, Jake, Jock, Cody and my two musketeers from the epic three-girls-one-car adventures, Lauren and Alex are back and I could not be more excited to start work.
Aside from an already awesome crew, Ohau Snow School has some great additions this winter. Five ski and snowboard instructors from New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Scotland and America, all with different instructor certifications made for a strong International team.
The other new addition to the family was our brand new van! Sure, we nearly slid off the road a couple of times in the snow but it was nice to have a conversation in the van without shouting over the sound of first gear screaming. Snow tyres sorted the problem out shortly after. Woop!
We had a Grottage van of our very own too! Well, Martina’s van… driven like a true (Italian) white-van-man, and capable of fitting a lot of things inside her; 9 people, 200 logs… Even space to strap a human to the roof if we so wished.
We had a pretty fun little crew at the Grottage this season, all with exceptional talents, and not afraid to share these with each other which made for some really fun evenings after work on the hill.
We had Martina and Kristyn, who were both really talented guitarists, sit down and start jamming together some sweet rendition of Learn to Fly, and before long had invited the whole house for a sing-a-long around the fire.
The house meals were second to none, with everyone having some sort of hidden talent in the kitchen we cooked up a Grottage feast weekly.
We learned the proper way to say Calzone… well… several ways. One of them involving Italian hand gestures… heh. The important thing was eating them ok?!
Sam was an incredible baker, so lucky for us having fresh cookies, muffins, pies and bagels was a regular occurrence. Nom.
We had an Americans-only bagel-making night where I got to punch dough, and knead Laurens sloppy apple-cinnamon concoction into bagels. Still tasted pretty good 😀
As the only fake-Japanese in the house, I was enthusiastic with preparing my new roomies for their experience in my favourite country, should they come and visit me.
It involved teaching Martina how to use chopsticks…
…and teaching the house how to make Gyoza. I totally succeeded! Until I managed to freeze them into a block. Stupid-randomly-unthawing-Grottage freezer!
Birthdays, Birthdays, Birthdays…
Baking came in handy when we discovered that everyone at Ohau’s birthdays were in the same two months! Living with limited supplies meant that we had to get creative with birthday cards. Alex used her artistic talents to make some beautiful cards this year 🙂
Issy was officially the fire-master this year. After a few weeks trial and erring, making little fires with damp wood, drying wood on top of the stove, and learning how to chop kindling, she successfully made a large roaring bonfire for Martina’s birthday.
Tribute to the Snow Gods
We were having a pretty dry winter with only a couple snow showers. Most of them were phantom-predicted half-metres by MetService which mysteriously shrank to 1cm just before hitting.
The winter tradition is to burn ski equipment as an offering to Ullr, which in my experience would bring about bouts of snowstorms. We did, and Ullr answered with a swift 45cm.
With snow came shovelling. A fond memory of last year’s continual powder dumps, was digging the magic carpet from underneath a 2 metre depth of New Zealand snow. Something that brought the team closer together.
It definitely came as a godsend to find windblown ice solidified onto the magic carpet at the beginning of the season. Usually I would gripe, but it turns out that smashing ice is a very therapeutic way to get over a broken heart, so I thoroughly enjoyed throwing the shovel down into it.
Besides, new snow means building epic sculptures, and my Ohau family helped me make a new man. Cooler than the last one anyway 😉
Teaching Kids ❤
Kids are a great way of cheering you up too, I had some amazing kids this season!
The 4 year old legend that is Alex (in Pink) went from learning how to put her own skis on to making parallel turns on green runs over the course of two weeks(ish). A smart kid that you could have an adult conversation with about believing in yourself. AND made me look good on the magic carpet, zooming around with my little pink shadow behind me!
A sweet Australian family invited me to make snow animals with them after their lessons, and I learned all about their quirky cat, Buttercup.
And if snow animals don’t fill you with happiness, real animals certainly do.
The Schools program we run at Ohau lasted for 8 weeks with various local schools coming up from the surrounding areas; Omarama, Twizel, North Otago, Papakaio, Totora, Waiho Downs, Five Forks and Waitaki Valley. The goal is to run a ski race at the end of the season. I was so proud so see so many of my kids having improved enough to participate in the race, as some of them were only just beginners before.
My favourite class of the season was a group of four 5 year olds (something I never thought I would be saying!). Early in the season, I unfortunately had an incident where I became blind in one eye, and had to make weekly trips to the Eye Department at Dunedin Hospital. Spending every day off I had there, and the rest struggling to teach skiing with only one eye, playing pirates in my lessons with these kiddos was the highlight of my week. “Aye Aye Captn’ Brawni!” was our affirmative.
Death of Subalou 😦
Bad luck comes in threes though eh? It came in the form of my beloved car Subalou, billowing steam from the engine and severely overheating. Goodbye radiator. It took me a good hour and a half to intermittently drive 30 minutes to the nearest car hospital. I can’t thank Terry enough at Mobil Omarama to getting Subalou back into ship-shape again in time for this pirate’s next eye appointment.
Going Blind and The Rescue Mission
So the eye thing basically happened overnight. I was wearing contacts, they got sore so I took them out, but the burning and swelling wouldn’t go away, and kept me up all night. I knew something was wrong, and even though it was a busy Saturday, and all hands are usually on deck, Nate let me have the day off to run to Oamaru A&E.
Driving alone with one eye is not recommended. But it was the only choice I had, and I eventually made it to the Hospital.
…Only to be referred by the doctors there to go to Dunedin Hospital immediately. I had already driven 2 hours alone trying to stay on the right side of the road, I now had to drive 1.5 hours more to reach urgent medical help.
Without a change of clothes, a towel, toothbrush, or anything to stay the night, I checked in to a nice hostel in the city, ready for a morning follow-up exam.
Meanwhile in the Grottage, these two devised a 6-hour rescue mission to come and get me from Dunedin. As technically I found it a struggle to stay on the road, I probably shouldn’t have been thinking about driving back with my eye now looking like this:
Yeah-nah. As kiwis would say.
I was relieved to see Martina and Sam in a parking lot in Dunedin. I was super super grateful to have such compassionate friends there for me when I needed it the most. We had a pretty funny road trip on the way back, involving Disney karaoke and racing each other on the road. Subalou won obviously 😉
A New Home
Ohau is a beautiful, quiet, intimate place.
The trade off for staying in this stunning nature haven is being alright with being by yourself, but also living, working and partying with many different characters, which can on rare occasions can become a little claustrophobic. Especially during the rollercoaster I had managed to find myself on.
Mike and Louise are like my second mum and dad, and very kindly offered to put me up in their home for the rest of the season. And honestly, I felt like I had the space to breathe again. I owe them a lot for taking me in! Thank you ❤
It also meant that I could focus on my season’s goal – to teach yoga at the Lodge.
We started with classes in Alex’s beautiful log house, at the foot of a crackling fire under a deers head and by candlelight.
Once the girls moved house, yoga classes moved to this bright open, stunning place in view of Mt Cook. Timed perfectly to watch the sky turn from blue to pink to dusky purple, ending with Savasana in the dark.
I was so thankful to my friends for staying keen and supporting me by coming to the classes, some of which had guests from the Lodge come to practice with me too. I think my fangirl-moment was when one of the Canadian Ski Team joined in one of my Yin classes.
US Ski Team at Ohau
Talking of fangirl moments, Martina and Issy spent an entire week in August weak at the knees when Ted Ligety came to train at Ohau. The US Ski Team legend, with a transition between his turns as smooth as butter, it was a joy to see him flow down The Boulevard run with impeccable grace (so yes I too melted when I saw him ski, it’s unavoidable!).
He’s also a really nice guy. Martina spend the most part of a week trying to get onto a lift with him, so that she could get a video with this world-class racer suggesting that she was a better skier than her boyfriend Peter. She succeeded too!
Martina was incredible. Her and Nate competed in the Freeride World Tour at Mt. Olympus this season. Martina’s goal was to go fast… and oh boy did she go fast!! Straight lined it from the top, off a cliff, landed it, and then crashed monumentally. Gained the Patrol’s Award for “fastest line I’ve ever seen”. Unfortunately that ended her season early 😦 but she’s alright 🙂
After the eye stopped being in such a critical state that I didn’t have to drive 6 hours there and back to Dunedin hospital anymore, I finally got to use my days off to do what I came here to do. Ski!
Ohau has plenty of interesting terrain to ski provided you hike for it 🙂
The bluebird days came out and the runs down from The Ridge and Second Peak were awesome.
This season we ventured further afield, and took advantage of the great skiing only 3 hours drive away from us, something thats completely alien to Brits!
I put one of my weekends aside to roadtrip with Sam, we drove straight to Coronet Peak, a 3 hour drive from Ohau. Neither of us had been here and I had only heard names like “Concrete Peak”, giving it the reputation of this un-inviting icy resort.
It was spring and sunny and ridiculously fun today however, and the terrain seems like everywhere is fair game to ski, so we did. The best place for an adventure-ski.
Treblecone has been my favourite New Zealand resort for a while, so I decided to share the epic bumpy ungroomed trails 😀 It was most certainly a training day.
Theres no training day without tears haha but, I think focussing on bumpy terrain was really good prep for next season’s Japanese mogul-fest.
After seeing Issy going from beginner to winner on a snowboard this season, comfort zones needed to be stepped out of and strapped in to just one plank.
I did admittedly have an annoyingly embarrassing moment at the beginning of the season. I got all excited chatting about now being able to snowboard the Red slopes in Japan.
Then strapped in, got back on to the green Boulevard run, and stacked it 8 times in the first 2 minutes… Then stubbornly heel-side-hero the entire course the whole way down back to base, and didn’t strap in again until 3 months later. Bummer.
Fortunately Issy held my hands (literally) and stepped me around a turn on the magic carpet the next time, and after that I was back. Take that mental block!
So leaving skis and boots and poles behind. Sam, Steph and I went to Roundhill for a day snowboarding firm, round, hills 🙂 Admittedly they left me in the slush being on skis, but enjoyed the entertaining T-bar lift ejections, and me clinging to them for dear life.
Roundhill is a really great hill with some really nice beginner terrain, and slopes that get progressively harder. Nothing really steep when the nutcracker lift is closed however.
So, it’s been a really fantastic season with great friendships, great lessons to be learned, great skiing, great “Om”ing and just an awesome place to live, work, play and be.
Ōhau I love you.
You’ll see me back next year.
(Stay tuned for my next blog about hiking around Ohau ;))