Ski the Rainbow

Most people are either surprised, appalled, or some mixture of the two when they find out that I am one of few and far between, that rare breed, a child of the Pacific Northwest with zero snow sports experience. The follow up question is usually an incredulous, “You’ve never skied or snowboarded?” Nope, never. My alpine journeys in Washington have taken place in the summer months when there’s no snow to be found, just thick evergreen forest and crystal clear lake water, like the photo below.

Snow Lake (minus the snow) near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington.

In any case, last week I broke my 25-year ski-less streak and joined my gang of Americanos (Maddie, Dan, and Iz) on a trip up to Rainbow Ski Area, about an hour and a half south of Nelson. The drive there was the same one we took to get to Lake Rotoiti a while back, and the route was just as picturesque as it was a couple of months ago, except this time the red and orange autumn leaves had dropped from the trees lining the road, revealing bare branches through which the snow-capped peaks of the St. Arnaud Range were revealed.

If you take a quick peek at the map below, you’ll see that the drive from Nelson city to Nelson Lakes goes directly into the heart of the top of the South Island, which means driving up and over hills and through valleys, surrounded by mountains for the vast majority of the trip. Like many New Zealand road trips, it feels like you can’t look too long in one direction for fear you’ll miss out on the scenery in the other.


Once we turned off the state highway at the “Rainbow Ski Area” sign, an unpaved road weaved its way through another valley, fording a few boulder-lined rivers along the way (though most were reduced to a dribble or a small stream at best) before winding its way up the side of the St. Arnaud Range through some of that jaw-dropping South Island mountain scenery, the sun popping out from behind each rugged peak with every turn. At the top of the road we reached a fairly small parking lot, which maybe a quarter of the way full (perks of having Mondays off for exploring!)

Arriving at Rainbow. (And no, this image isn't flipped, remember the driver sits on the right here!)

Arriving at Rainbow. (And no, this image isn't flipped, remember the driver sits on the right here!)

We rented some gear and I affixed my “Adult Learner” pass to my coat zipper before parting ways with the gang for my hour-long lesson on the beginners “hill” that was really more of a gentle incline. It was a bluebird morning and there was only one other student—I really couldn’t have asked for better conditions for my first lesson. I had been a little worried that the lesson would be filled with fearless seven-year-olds who would pick it up way faster than me, but when I found out the other student was a senior citizen I realized it would actually be so much more embarrassing if someone’s grandma put me in my place on day one.

Look, like most people, I like to be good at things. So I find it really hard to be a beginner, because when you’re a beginner at something you have to be bad at it before you can be good at it. If I’m not good at something or if I’m not picking it up very fast, I start to lose interest quickly. Exhibit A: Mini Golf. I freaking hate Mini Golf. Same goes for croquet. I don’t know what it is, but I’m just useless at both. And so when I play either of these, a vicious cycle of losing and frustration starts and it usually ends with me cursing my family or friends under my breath as I swing the club angrily wondering, “Who invented this stupid game anyways?!” (This is why I started sitting out croquet during my family’s Fourth of July barbeques, preferring to grab a beer rather than a mallet.)

Okay, back to skiing. During the lesson I seemed to be picking up the basics pretty quickly—credit to yoga for a solid sense of body-awareness and balance. So after an hour of building up false confidence on the “magic carpet” slope, I was released to the bunny hill. The instructor was like, “Yeah, so the lesson’s over, I reckon you’re probably ready for the T-bar, you can join your friends up there.” And I was like, “Thanks for the vote of confidence man, but I’m gonna start on that beginner hill.”

Run number one: Made it to the bottom, upright, in one piece. Nice. Cue false sense of confidence mixed with pride and a desire to show all of social media how good I was. “Hey Iz, film me this time!” Push off from the top: nice--wait, too fast, too fast! Suddenly (but somehow also in slow motion) everything came out from under me and I was belly-down on the snow looking up at Iz, who—still filming—yelled an encouraging, “Nailed it!” At which point all I could do was laugh and throw up a shaka for the camera.

That’s the thing about being a beginner, you have to be willing to look silly, to fall down, get up, and try again—knowing full well you’ll most likely end up looking silly again. And all in front of Will, your charming British ski instructor. Ah, life.

Anyways, here's to never being too old to try new things and look a little silly while you're at it!