The South-Islands largest winter sport competition brings out the big names from around the world. That’s right, I had to privilege to be in the presence of Chloe Kim, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Silje Norendal.
The riding was up to that level where you can’t even distinguish tricks anymore. Points come in at the end of each run and people around you comment: “Did you see that? She just did two back to back 1080s.” Pretty much every trick that is landed in a halfpipe blows my mind. I can’t differentiate between awesomeness and mediocrity.
Talking about halfpipes, the main reason why I wanted to volunteer again for the Wintergames was to see the finals. It’s one of the most watched snow sports at the games so volunteer places run out fast. Unknowingly I offered myself up to be a scoreboard assistant, which was possibly the worst job you could do. I saw nothing of the competition itself, as I was writing down scores at the top of the pipe. That’s as much fun as watching a closed ice cream parlor during a heat wave.
I got to hang out with the athletes though which was awesome. Chloe Kim came out and chat to the wintergames crew. She has that typical Southern California bubbly personality. I also did the robot with Johannes Hoepfl.
It was windy and I was freezing my bum off. But I stayed for the sake of the sport, watching the riders disappear behind the horizon as they dropped into the half pipe.
I almost didn’t make it here.
My home is the small town of Motueka at the top of the South Island. It takes nine and a half hours to get to Wanaka. I was on my way with my car with the idea of driving it in two days, spending a night in Franz Josef. All was well until I filled up the tank in Greymouth. The car wasn’t changing gears properly and I spend the following forty kilometres to Hokitika driving down the highway in second gear at a speed of fifty kilometres an hour.
By sheer persistence I made it though. Arriving in Hokitika I was contemplating if I should continue to Franz at this suicidal pace or to take Mitzi to a garage.
I decided the last option would be the most sensible one. There couldn’t be too much wrong with it since just the day before, I had brought my car in to get a new warrant of fitness.
I found out that WOFs don’t say anything about whether your car is capable to handle a trip of nine and a half hours through the South Island’s hills. The mechanics told me that it didn’t look good, Mitzi was sentenced to death. I cried as they told me she was gone and called a car wrecker. Now I was stuck in Hokitika with a boardbag, a tray of eggs and three bags of lemons.
Luckily, I had some friends who were renovating a house in Hokitika so they came to the rescue. But I still had to somehow make it to Wanaka, five hours to the south. I had no car, even less money plus I was running late to make it to my volunteering assignments. The bus would cost me $75 to get to Wanaka, which meant that I wouldn’t have enough to pay for a ski pass for my snowboard Instructor level 2 exam.
So, I do what always happens when I am in a dire situation. Cry, throw away a bunch of stuff and assess the situation. No money, no car and still a way to go so I decided I could hitchhike the rest of the way to Wanaka.
I got to spend the night on a construction site where I fell into a concrete hole two times (the same one, two times). Next day, I stuck out my thumb and was on my way to Franz Josef only five minutes later.
I made it to Wanaka taking only two rides. First driver was a Chilean, driving his Suzuki Swift like he was a Formula one pilot. I’m okay with speed but not when somebody tries to look you straight in the eye when you’re talking and he’s driving.
My second driver was a bit more relaxed and let me drive his truck while he was having lunch.
I made it to Wanaka in one piece with all my gear and ready for ten days of wintergames followed by my level 2 snowboard instructor’s exam at Cardrona.
I volunteered for the Wintergames at Cardrona 2 years ago. This year would be a second time, just because I loved it so much. There’s a whole delegation of top athletes every year at these games and the riding is of high standard. I knew this was going to result into great pictures. So, this is what I did.
Events at Cardrona Alpine Resort
It isn’t easy, waking up at 5.30 in the morning to catch the bus up. That needs big motivation, it’s cold and dark and somehow, I’m dragging all my snowboard gear through the streets of Wanaka. There is nobody awake yet except for us, the very motivated volunteers. We very gladly spend our time standing in the cold and waving flags or writing down scores. For the very royal wage of zero dollars per hour.
One of us got wacked out by a competitor, all of us suffered numb toes and fingers. We got some miso soup though once and a while. MMMMmmiso, there is nothing better than some fermented Japanese brine on a Monday morning. The weather in those ten days I volunteered up at the games went from windy to sunny to get-blown-off-the mountain weather.
The wintergames in New Zealand are unique as in there aren’t many opportunities in this part of the world to see the best freeskiers and snowboarders compete. Halfpipes are in decline, even though it was the most watched discipline of the Sochi winter Olympics.
I wondered why resorts all over the world are stopping to build halfpipes, until two years ago when I first side-slipped through Cardrona’s superpipe. The thing is ginormous and very intimidating. A simple soul like me would have to take some high-quality training if I wanted to ride it properly.
Halfpipe is only for those persistent riders, like when you pursue a PHD in university. Train yourself to know everything about something as opposed to knowing something about everything. Ride a tube-shaped block of ice because the rest of the mountain’s slopes are definitely similar.
It was a cold and windy morning even more felt at the top of the pipe. The fog had postponed the qualifications, that should have happened the day before. Now qualifications and finals were going to happen today. The mood was tense, since the fog didn’t lift until 10 am and even then, the freeskiers couldn’t send it because of low visibility. Thanks to some clear patches they got through the event.
The weather totally changed for the slopestyle competitions. We were sun blasted during the full event. Unfortunately, sunny days mean sticky snow and qualifications ran until the late afternoon. They were continuously salting the jumps in a desperate attempt to make them firmer and faster.
It’s odd to think sometimes that the competition only functions properly in a narrow weather window, where you don’t want too much sun, nor snow, nor fog, nor clouds. That’s high-performance sport though and fair enough, these athletes are risking heavy injuries for our entertainment. They should demand for better conditions.
If you ever want to know how much you suck at snowboarding, go and hang out at the top of the halfpipe with some athletes. They’re not that different than you though, after competition we all sneak into the tent to load up our backpacks with free Red Bulls. Despite the stomach cramps they give me, I took them because I know they could come in handy later when I run out of food. Don’t even need to enjoy it, a sense of desperate money problems masks anything of the original taste.
Throw in some extra for your friends because it’s easier to negotiate a free sleeping place if you can offer highly caffeinated beverages that they wouldn’t buy in the first place.
Athletes, instructors and volunteers, we’re not that different. We all live of stuff given to us for free.
Events at Snow Farm
Snow farm is the best place if you want to get into some sexy body shape viewing. Cross country racing outfits just can’t get any tighter.
Cross Country FREESTYLE INDIVIDUAL 5/10KM
Why should you care about a sport that takes absolutely zero air? I should tell you, it’s because of the sheer pain you can see on the athletes faces. It’s extreme endurance and pretty much a test of how fit you are. At the finish line, racers crash and hurt of exhaustion. Just like I admire freeski and freestyle snowboarders, I deeply respect cross country racers for the fact that I can’t get my head around how they do it.
Well, I do know how they do it. Train for a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really long time.
That’s why I love going to events like the winter games. They remind me that being good at something requires commitment. Sometimes I forget about that. In my parallel universe life is incredibly lazy where I just send two-meter jumps while sipping on a hot chocolate after spending one day in the park.
In real world, I watch those jumps from a safe distance because they still scare the bejeezus out of me. I am slowly progressing towards feeling comfortable in the park, it takes time. It took a lot of time for these athletes to get where they are. That motivates me to keep going. Even if at the moment I’m living on free Red Bulls. I hope that’ll change soon though because I would like to live longer than 40.