I spent the 2009 Southern Hemisphere winter coaching young ski racers at Turoa Ski Area on the south side of Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand.
Mt. Ruapehu is famous for its crazy, nasty weather and I got a taste of it this weekend. At the base of Turoa Ski Area on Friday, it was raining, but at the top of the first lift, it was snowing hard; visibility was limited to only about fifty meters. We’d already missed two days earlier in the week due to bad weather, so we had to take what we could get. At least it wasn’t windy.
Despite how ugly it was on Friday, the forecast for the weekend was “blue as.” (This will make more sense if you watch the video below. Kiwis seriously talk like that.)
And blue it was! Saturday morning we drove out of Ohakune at 6:30 AM to Whakapapa Ski Area (on the north side of the volcano and pronounced, no kidding, fuh-ka-pa-pa) for the first slalom races of the season. It was still dark, but I could see the frost on the ground. Above, the sky was clear and full of stars I’ve never seen before. We boarded the chairlift as the sun lit up the highest peaks of the volcano like a massive candle flame. It was windy, though, and cold on the race course, which was in the shade until the end of the first run. I made the mistake of volunteering to video our kids while all the other coaches were up at the start in the sun!
When I did finally get up there for the second run, I got to put on my sunglasses for the first time this winter. The weather held out, and after the race had finished, we got to relax at the base, sitting on the patio with a Kiwi beer.
Sunday was another early start, but the clear sky driving up to Whakapapa gave us the energy to pull on our gear and head up the lift. My group had had a rough day racing on Saturday, so we went up for some freeskiing, drills, a little mental imagery, and a pep talk about doing their best. There were only fifty kids in the race, in four age groups from eight to sixteen years old—that’s almost as many as we get in Lithuania, and four times less than we face in Latvia. So even if the kids crash and hike, they can potentially still “win.”
I told them that it wasn’t enough to win the race. If they haven’t skied their best, then they have not won at all. I stayed at the start for that first run, and it seemed the work we had done in the morning paid off because they all had strong, clean runs.
As the kids headed into the cafe for lunch, I grabbed a drill and set a race course for the first time. I’ve been called several times in FIS and FIS children’s races to set but always politely declined. Even though this was a small race, I was still as nervous as I would have been if I was actually racing. In training, I’ve been setting a lot of royal flushes, which a combination of four vertical gates in a line.
The kids requested that I set one in the race since they’ve had plenty of experience on skiing them in training. The course was quite technical with the royal flush plus two tight hairpins (two vertical gates set in a line), but it ran well, and most of the kids skied it clean. Whew!
Well, it was a great weekend, and on Sunday they did all ski to their potential and beyond. I was standing on course next to Program Director John Armstrong to watch the second run and he had several positive comments on the progress of my group.
The weather at Mt. Ruapehu can be horrible, but when it’s good, it’s blue as!