Thursday, January 12, 2012

White Gold and Soap Operas [written from July 2011 perspective]

 I have been so tired lately that I haven't had any time to write.

The quaint mountain town where I chose to spend the past few months has been waiting anxiously for that which some refer to as "white gold." For three weeks after the local ski hills were meant to open for the season, the temperature was still too mild for snowmaking and the pockets of the seasonal workers were wearing quite thin (my own included). The weather reporters led us on, teasing with the dreams of lower temperatures and the accumulation of powder. There were horror stories of how delayed openings of ski fields had affected employees in the past, how Australians were already enjoying their season, and haunting tales of how ours might just not come this year. Local businesses approached suffocation as lacking funds meant restricted spending. The word "free" was reacted to with more zealous attention than starving college students might give it (particularly when accompanied with the word "beer"), and cheerful smiles slowly turned flat. The town looked after us, donating what they could or offering discounts to hold our collective attention and help us last until that first paycheck arrived, whenever that would be. I even did some extensive house cleaning for my flatmate one week in order to reduce the cost of rent. We got creative, but the weeks droned on.

 Then, one magical day, the snowy predictions held true. The heavens opened up, and the hills were decorated with more beautiful cake frosting than anybody knew what to do with. Literally. For nearly a week, we were summoned from our cozy beds in the dark of the morning in order to get ready and begin our trek up the hill, only to discover that, once again, we would be unable to open the slopes because there was too much snow. The avalanche potential, particularly on the road up to the base building, was too great a risk. Each day another false start, it was a surprise when we finally were able to put our training into practice.

I overslept my alarm on opening day and missed the staff transport van to get out to, and up the mountain. I bolted out of bed as soon as I realized it, and began a run/walk/jog down the hill to town, stopping to stick my thumb out each time a car passed. Surprisingly enough, nobody picked me up during the 15-20 minutes it took me to reach the "hitching post" in town. As soon as I got there, however - and stood on the correct side of the street so everyone knew I was headed to Treble Cone and not Cardrona (the other hill) - a kind soul pulled over and made room for me in the passenger seat. That's the nature of a small ski town in New Zealand. In winter on the two main roads out of town, any given person driving, walking, biking, or hitching, is likely headed toward one of the ski fields, and many are willing to offer a ride to those who are.

We opened just in time for school holidays and were undoubtedly thrown into the fire. The morning queues outside the ticket windows were long, and powder hungry guests were not always pleasant coming through the lift lines. Add into the mix a brand new fully digitized ticketing system using RFID cards - complete with all the hiccups and a learning curve as to be expected with a new system - and the first days on the hill were not exactly breezy. "Ride breaks" from the ticketing department do not exist - unless you forfeit your lunch to squeeze in a rushed run or two, or stick around after your shift until the end of the ski day.

I awake in darkness, rush to get ready, walk fifteen minutes to the van stop, ride 45 minutes to the mountain, watch the sunrise while opening my till, spend a full day in customer service - mostly standing still, wait (sometimes up to an hour) after my shift is over to catch the staff van back to town, watch the sunset somewhere along the ride, and arrive home again in darkness. I often bring my togs and towel and go straight to the pool after work if time allows, so by the time I get home I collapse in exhaustion. Motivation and energy to even prepare a meal for myself is lacking, and I get sucked into watching soaps and sitcoms with my flatmates. By the time I have eaten something, watched the usual TV shows (a habit that is not typically in my daily routine), and checked my email, I am ready for bed before I have to do it all over again!

Sunrise over Lake Wanaka from Treble Cone Ski Resort
(Ice sculpture of Hei Matau - Maori fish hook)

Forgive my lack of timely updates, for somehow a good night's sleep to prevent another episode of "getting sick abroad" rates higher than blogging in my daily priorities! I always try to take advantage of days "off" in such a beautiful town (climbing, skiing, swimming, working for Wanaka Paragliding, or volunteering at Basecamp climbing center), and look forward to days when I work in the town office and have a long break in the middle of my shift. I've been making a conscious effort not to fall into the ski field worker's phenomenon of "burning the candle at both ends" by going to bed at a reasonable time, but also find myself struggling to find enough time as desired to spend with new and lasting friends. I do find it interesting that it is easier to write regularly when you are constantly on the move rather than settled into the routines of a town, a flat, a job, and a social life!

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