Treble Cone: Bluebird Days, Whiteout Days
It’s a classic Treble Cone, ‘bluebird, powder day’. A day many of us in Wanaka live for. As the bus arrives at the base of Treble Cone I can see snow-capped mountains visible for miles, stretching beyond the distant horizon. My gaze rests on Lake Wanaka. Like a mirror, it reflects the breathtaking landscape of the Southern Alps, while glistening in the sun. Stepping off the bus I inhale the fresh, mountain air, filling my grateful body with life after the stuffiness left behind. Thankfully, the cold, alpine wind is held in check by the golden glow of the sun. The perfect balance. Looking across to the chairlift, my ‘competition’ becomes evident, streaming to the top of the mountain like pilgrims to a shrine. Do they feel that the sacred maunga is here for the ‘religious’ purpose of skiing or are they drawn by something more, unknown, unseen? The fresh snow creates a stunning juxtaposition of sharp white against a vibrant blue sky, potentially providing a beautiful, real life painting to the casual observer. However, to the eager skier and snowboarder a day like this provides a blank canvas. We are the artists. Every one of us in position, ready to create a unique artwork with our smooth, buttery turns. I tighten up my ski boots, stiff as iron in the chill of the morning and clip on my skis. After my lift pass is scanned at the gate of the chairlift, it slowly opens before me. It seems no more than an instant before I am standing at the top of a run, heart pumping with adrenaline in anticipation of the floating nirvana of fresh tracks. Cheerful noises can be heard in the background coming from some skiers nearby. Looking towards them my skis sink towards the centre of the Earth. Skiing down the run, the wind can be felt pressing against me as my body darts from side to side, left, right, left, right. All around me, soft, champagne-like snow and gentle wind support me. Nothing else matters. I am free. Smiles stretch from ear to ear on the ski down to the chairlift. Standing in the lift line, I turn to admire my artwork; the tracks look like the trail of a soft paintbrush, twisting and turning across the panoramic landscape. Sweating under the sun in my synthetic ski gear, I wait in line for another ride to the top of the mountain, feeling excited and anticipating the chance to do it all again. Hopefully there is still some fresh snow left and the canvas hasn’t already been used up by the rapidly multiplying tracks of skis.
On a cloudy, ‘whiteout’ day, skiing at Treble Cone is less about artistry and more about survival however. The access road is a path to nowhere. The noticeably emptier bus, a warm capsule tunnelling through the white void of cloud. On arrival, the base station magically appears before us like a ghostly apparition. Today the entire mountain is concealed inside an envelope of never-ending clouds. Visibility is down to a few miserable metres. As I carefully tiptoe off the icy steps, wishing I had stayed in bed, the ruthless chill penetrates through my layers and attacks my skin. I long for the warmth of the bus. Lake Wanaka is nowhere to be seen and my gaze is completely lost. This is a place so familiar, yet I feel like a sheep missing from its flock. The balance from yesterday between the sun and the wind has been destroyed. The sun has become a stranger to the scene, hiding unknown above the tablecloth of cloud draped over the Southern Alps. The wind, not even usefully shifting the cloud releases it’s fury like a dam bursting on a river. Directing my eyes towards the chairlift it seems to be begging for companions as only a few ‘diehard’ locals are present. Most of the fresh snow has been devoured by the hungry wind, whisking it away in snowy whirlwinds, leaving behind something us locals affectionately call ‘wind blown crud’ The white on white of the cloud and snow is disorientating. The powdery snow acting as yesterday’s fabric for the blank canvas of the mountain has been ripped off without a trace. With my senses disrupted, and the snow affected, I feel like a blind artist in a snow globe! The ‘whiteout’ closes in on me as if the edges of the globe are shrinking. My brain and body will have to work hard today to determine up from down and fight the accompanying nausea. The sensory deprivation improves your skiing they say- you have to feel the snow. So like the blind artist, I’ll use my other senses knowing I’m building my skills all the while so I can appreciate the good days even more.