Having showered and dressed, we found breakfast down the road at the Utopia Café. We hired skis and boots for NZ$40 each (choosing better skis had cost us an extra NZ$5.00), and bought ourselves “All Mountain” day passes (having rejected the “Snow Garden” option). By the time we arrived at the ski field, it was already 11am.
The temperature on the mountain was about 5 degrees and, although there was plenty of snow, it was pretty slushy. Being the last weekend of the school holidays, the lower slopes (where we had hoped to spend a stress-free day) were actually quite crowded. New Zealand’s slopes are graded slightly differently from European ones. In normal circumstances, no cause for concern. But to two slightly over-weight, unfit, Brits, seeking a little novelty during what was, essentially, a summer holiday, the differences were just enough to be a worry.
In Europe, a green slope has practically no gradient, and is likely to be a wide open slope, with plenty of scope for soft landings. A blue slope is likely to be narrower, and have some steep bits but, on the whole, a safe bet for all but absolute beginners. A red slope offers a few tricky narrow bits, perhaps a steep chute, and may be some bumpy moguls, to make life a bit more interesting.A black run can be anything from a practically vertical wall, or a half-pipe couloir, to a monstrously large mogul field. (Or it could be a combination of any or all of these, with some easy bits in between.)
So, unfit as we were, we decided that this was to be a ‘green’ day – just for the fun of skiing in the Southern Hemisphere. What we did not realise was that New Zealanders are quite capable of labelling a narrow couloir, with steep sides and rock obstacles, as a green. (Their nursery slopes are the ‘Snow Gardens’.) Add to this the state of the snow, which was thick ‘porridge’, and your two unfit Brits (skiing in non-waterproof jeans and fleeces) have a problem.
Suffice to say that after a couple of hours of dodging Kamikaze-like children, we decided to call it a day before we ended up with one or more broken limbs between us. Not our most glorious performance, but an educational experience, none the less.
From Ohakune, we took the ‘Gentle Annie’ road (of which 27 kms is unsealed) through the mountains to Napier. On paper, it looked like a short-cut, but in reality it turned out to be 158 kms of perilously narrow twisty road, in varying states of repair, skirting vertical precipices, where the only life to be seen for miles, where cows and sheep grazing steep, terraced, ranges. On the plus side, it was very scenic. The last half hour or so, we drove in the dark, which was somehow less daunting, as we couldn’t see the drop-offs each side of the road!
We arrived with Suzie and her family in Otane around 8pm. The youngest of her five daughters, Amy (4), Ottily (6), and Araminta (10), had been allowed to stay up especially late to meet us.