August 22, 2005

Pommers, pinching and pools

(Left to right: Janna and Kimberley plaiting Chris' hair; Kimberley, Janna, Chris and Tane)

At the end of the skiing season in 1997, I went snowboarding with my friends Paul and Kirsten to Mt Lyford in North Canterbury. I had been snowboarding with them at Rainbow already that season and had a great time, building on what I had learnt as a beginner at Cardrona the year before. However, the Mt Lyford experience would brand me for the next eight years as ... The Worst Snowboarder in the World.
At Mt Lyford, they don't have chairlifts - they have torture devices called pommers. I don't even know if that word pommer is spelt correctly - just typing it kind of hurts. A pommer is a kind of winch that you grab onto and it pulls you to the top of the mountain. Skiiers can shove the end of the pommer between their legs and let it carry them, while snoboarders have to hold on and sled along. I spent most of the weekend wishing I had never been born as I stubbornly attempted to get on the pommer, up a steep incline, and to the top of the slope I wanted to conquer. Most attempts, I would get almost to the top of that first incline before the pommer would kick me off and send me rolling head first down the slope back into the queue of skiiers and boarders. I could hear them gasping as I landed at their feet upside down with my jacket pulled up, snow in my trousers and my legs skewiff. Like an old woman in a post office queue the other skiiers and boarders would let me to the front of the queue, just to have me attempt the pommer, fall off and roll completely humiliated to the bottom of the slope again. The few times I did manage to get up, I snowboarded down in record time, making neat trails behind me and having a ball. But it would be hours before I could control the pommer again.
At the end of the weekend, I had to endure the pity of my friends, who had had a great time on the mountain in sunny, perfect conditions. They didn't have snow shoved where the sun don't shine by repeatedly falling at high speed.
This weekend, eight years later, I got on a chairlift at Whakapapa with Tane, clutching a snowboard to my chest and gazing down at the rocks as I wondered 'what am I doing here?' I'm not only the worst snowboarder in the world, but also scared of heights, and there I was dangling over deep crevices (to me they were deep) on a tiny bit of metal. But at the top, I donned my snowboard and surprisingly spent a happy half day getting jiggy with the other boarders, meeting nice people on the slopes, actually getting my turns connected nicely, and pushing myself by taking the off piste routes to the bottom of the run. Evidently, snowboarding is like riding a bike. And although I managed to collect about half a dozen other boarders and skiiers on my last run of the day when the slope was packed with people, I had a magic day remembering how freakin' satisfying snowboarding can be. At one stage, I even called out to Chris "this is cool!" as I whizzed past her.
The day didn't finish with the mountain though, as we drove back to Taupo, the sun set on the mountain and we gazed out the window as Breaks Co-op sang us lullabys. It was so beautiful I almost had to pinch myself. Everything was tinted orangey-brown like a cigarette filter, and the sky seemed endless.
After burgers in Turangi we went to De Bretts for soaking in the hotpools. I donned my bikini and made goo-goo noises to a wee boy called Max who had the cutest little cheeks since Derek Cheng.
Then home to Chris's house, a cup of tea, a few rounds of 500, a well made fire and good conversation.
So now I am planning to get myself a snowboard next year. And a roof rack to carry it on. And all the gears. And a house on the side of the mountain. And one in France too, near Mont Blanc.
But I'll steer clear of Mt Lyford. At least for the next lifetime.

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