So people really do fall off chairlifts. Luckily we have had no one injured from falling this year, as the falls have been relatively minor and very close to the load and unload stations.
Though this particular incident doesn’t happen too often it has happened and I have been witness to it twice this season.
Right near the end of each chairlift ride, right at the point where guests start to raise the safety bars on their chairs, skiers do a little wiggle and shift themselves forward in the chair as to make it easier to stand up at the unload point. I hate this. Especially when the kids do it.
Twice now I have seen a skier do their little wiggle near the end of the ride, and wiggle a little too far.At the time an enclosure was set up around the entire unload station and so the falls are very short and in to soft snow.
Both times the person stood up dumbfounded, looked at me and said “sorry”. Luckily neither were injured.
From the moment we woke, outside was completely white. The kind of white that will only vaguely let you see objects within a few meters.
As usual I prepared for work. As a Lifty we don’t get to choose whether or not we go out. If the conditions are horrific, and we are on the roster, we strap on our boards and get out there. On leaving the accommodation there was no suggestion of heavy winds, only the usual calm of the mountain. I set off on foot to Eagle Chairlift (the usual meeting point for all of us Lifties in the morning) where we waited for all the appropriate clearances, loaded the chairs, and went off to work. But this was no ordinary chair ride.
At the base of Eagle Chair everything seemed normal. A little colder than usual perhaps, but nothing extraordinary. Our ascent began and very shortly I could hear the whistle of the wind. By half way up the Chairlift the wind was extremely heavy. All three of us on the chair were gripping the safety bar as it swayed uneasily in the wind. I remember looking at the chairs returning to the bottom swaying so hard that they were nearly hitting the Lifts columns. About three quarters of the way up, Milli (who was sitting beside me), had her helmet blow completely off her head and into the ‘never to be found again’ unknown.
Eventually we all got to the Top of the Chair and grouped by work buddies for the day (the lifts stopped immediately and went on a wind hold that lasted for two straight days). Milli and I were working at a Lift Station that was at the bottom of a blue and black run area, with some very steep terrain. We skated our boards across to the top of the run we needed to take and strapped our other feet in. The wind was horrible, as we stood up and pointed our boards down the mountain, the wind was smashing ice and snow so hard against us that we were being pushed back up hill. We eventually had to make the decision to unstrap our boards and start trekking down very steep and slippery terrain, straight in to the wind, dragging our boards with us. It took about 15 minutes worth of slowly struggling downhill for us to reach a point at which we could actually strap our boards on and get to work at the bottom.
Once we reached the bottom we were immediately notified of the wind hold situation. Basically it was too dangerous to operate the lifts in such extreme conditions. Unless you happen to be a Lifty of course.
During a wind hold, depending on circumstances, Lifties can end up doing a variety of things. During a wind hold at a bottom station with excessive snow means an entirely shovelling work shift. Unfortunately this was that shift, so we picked up our shovels and started digging. I remember the ice being so hard to break that we were using a hammer drill with a giant ice bit trying to break it up.
I remember standing at the base of the slope looking up the mountain. The air at the base was still but I could see the chairs swinging wildly in the wind above. Most notably I remember staring at the slopes as the high winds picked up all the fresh snow and carried it in wind currents, meandering it up the side of the mountain through the natural features and moguls.
This was one of the most extreme experiences I have ever had, it wasn’t very fun, but I’m so happy I was there to experience it.
The very first thing I noticed when walking out of the airport in Queenstown, New Zealand was the purity of the air, so fresh and surreal. Looking up, regardless of direction, we were completely surrounded by mountains, all of which were capped with pure white snow. New Zealand is the only place I have ever been where I am convinced we have not caused detrimental impacts to the environment (though perhaps I am unaware of all the details). Besides the airport, the land immediately surrounding it and the surface of water, it seemed that flat ground didn’t exist. Everything everywhere was on a hill. The ‘stumble’ back to our accomodation, though remarkably close to the town centre, included a steep hill and an endless flight of stairs which never seemed to be a challenge during the day, but caused havoc at night.
Our first stop was the local supermarket. The struggle to find the freshest piece of fruit seemed foreign, the place was packed full of the freshest fruit I have ever seen.
The Town Centre itself was very small, perhaps because a bigger one wouldn’t fit. The locals all seemed to be in hiding. Queenstown really is a tourist town, full of young and care free people with no concern greater than which mountain had good snow and where to find the cheapest beer. Day 1 I was told we needed to get a Ferg Burger, not that I knew what that was. The burger place was completely full, with a line out front every time I went at every hour. I was told it closed its doors for a few hours every day, though I didn’t see it, and I had a lot of amazing burgers.
I recall walking along the boardwalk, with no destination in mind, staring out in to the water. The clearest water I have ever seen. Pebbles clearly defined beneath the surface and not a piece of trash in sight.
The snow was the main attraction. Of a 10 day visit I recall doing 8 trips to the snow. One at night after we told ourselves we weren’t going that day, and ultimately decided later to go anyway. The mountains were unlike anything I have experienced in Australia. With so much talk of which mountain had better coverage and where was patchy in town, I struggled to find anywhere that I didn’t deem to have almost ideal boarding conditions. Too many trips to Mt Buller, squeezing through hoards of the fumbling and stumbling, avoiding grass and ice at every turn had perhaps given me rose tinted goggles.
Despite my many trips to the snow prior to NZ, it was there that I really learnt how to control a board. I will return there one day. The sooner the better, though I have learnt that I have a tendency to convince myself that the last place I visited is my favourite, and that the best decision is to go somewhere new. So to somewhere new I will go.
74 days left. Then I am once again free to live my life.