I have a friend who describes skiing as akin to being chased around an ice-box by a particularly ruthless burglar who steals all your money and bashes you black and blue. Two days in and wallet appreciably lighter, it is hard to find fault with this description. Certainly, as I wince my way down the icy pathway to the car, calves and thighs on fire, shins rubbing painfully against the tough plastic of my ski boots, I am prone to a little misery. Everything aches. Everything requires effort, even just getting home. And, to top it all off, it’s bloody cold.
But then, I pause for a moment to readjust the skis dangling precariously over my shoulder and happen to glance up, and the view takes my breath away. Despite the wind that has buffeted us senseless on the mountaintop, the day is clear, and beneath the blue sky, snow covered mountains stretch to the horizon. There is a black run piste below me, virginal white and thick with powder, and in the distance, in the valley nestled between dramatic and spectacular peaks, I can see Lake Wanaka as still and blue as a glacier.
All through our trip to the South Island of New Zealand I have been unable to stop referring to Lord of the Rings. I think it might be driving my husband balmy. But yes, I can see Legolas running though the yellowing grass on the bluff of a windswept hill. Today, as we battled blustery winds that gusted over the summit in showers of sparkling snow, I felt at one with Gandolf and the Fellowship, battling their way up a mountain that would give them no respite. We are well and truly in Middle Earth and should Aragorn appear, my family would probably lose me to swooning.
There is snow galore here, and more experienced snow boarders and skiers than I walk around with dazzling smiles on their sun kissed faces.
But it is not the depth of the powder, nor hurtling down the mountain at breakneck pace, that makes skiing a worthwhile holiday for me. Instead, it is the opportunity to be amongst beauty so spectacular it is almost unreal. To see the snow-white mountain peaks that soar above the vast tranquil expanse of Lake Wanaka glow pink in the morning light. To smell the warmth of wood fires on the crisp breath of winter in a ski village. To make a snowman with your children or to pretend to be outraged by a sneaky snowball thrown in your direction. This is what going on skiing holidays is about for me. Beauty, family and a treasure trove of memories that will last long after the aches and pains have subsided.