Groggily pulling myself up from my newly-acquainted friend’s couch, I felt sore and overly-exhausted. Three undeviating days of snowboarding and a night of drinking in Wanaka, New Zealand had nearly sucked my energy dry. Despite the aches and pains, I felt fantastic. It was mid-semester break for Otago University, and I was posted up in a flat in Wanaka, New Zealand, one of the top 25 ski towns in the world, according to National Geographic’s 2012 survey.
This is what I’d been longing for; my dream was finally coming true. This was the day I was to go to Snow Park NZ.
When I managed to pull my eyelids apart, I noticed Benji was already awake and readying himself. I had met Benji two days prior while snowboarding at Cardrona, one of the mountains surrounding the town of Wanaka. He and I were both invited by a mutual friend, Omri, to couch-surf at his flat. Donning a pair of bright ocean blue eyes under a head of flowing, dirty blonde hair that drops to his shoulders, I wasn’t surprised when Benji told me that he was an avid surfer hailing from the northeast coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Like most of the Kiwis I’ve encountered, he was an amicable, chummy guy from the minute we met. In a day’s time our friendship felt as if it had been fine-tuned to perfection over several years of knowing one another.
We loaded our gear and snowboards into Omri’s car, a beaten-up red suburban smothered with dirt from previous trips to Cardrona. He lent Benji and me the car for the day so that we could avoid paying for a $38 (around 31 American dollars) shuttle from Wanaka to the mountain. We rushed to the New World grocery to get the necessities: two loaves of bread, hot pork cold cuts, processed cheese slices, cheap microwaveable meat and cheese pies and, of course, two dollar pizza buns for breakfast. Equipped with enough food and water for the demanding day that lay ahead of us, the two of us charged the mountain in our junky red gas guzzler.
Unlike the roads up to the ski resorts in the States, New Zealand’s ski resort roads are unpaved and exorbitantly bumpy. The drive seems like an unsafe off-roading experience, jumbling on the bumps and skidding around the long winding turns on loose gravel. Almost always it’s required that you carry chains. Guardrails to protect you from tumbling down the side of the mountain from the ghastly drop off the end of every one of those turns are non-existent. Yet, Benji still thought it amusing to pull “Tokyo Drift”-like maneuvers around several of them. In the right-side passenger seat, I nearly self-defecated three times.
Standing at 1,530 meters and spanning a mere 60 acres, Snow Park NZ is considerably smaller than other mountains in the country. However, this “small” mountain packs a big punch. Once arriving at the car park of Snow Park NZ, I felt just like my ancestors must have when Moses led them across the Red Sea to the land of milk and honey. In front of me stood my promised land, the mecca of the Southern Hemisphere’s park riding.
Snow Park NZ holds the title of being the most prominent and highly acclaimed terrain park this half of the globe has to offer, according to Trans World Snowboarding magazine. It’s home to Red Bull’s Performance Camp, a week- long summer session hosting professional skiers and riders sponsored by the energy drink company. Stacked with a triple jump line of 55, 70, and 80 foot step-downs, a 22-foot half pipe cut to World Cup standards and their infamous 120 foot super-kicker this past August, Snow Park NZ proves itself to be an excellent setting for the progression of skiing and snowboarding.
For those of us who aren’t lunatic enough to hit those features, there’s the option of taking on the “Box Run,” a trail consisting primarily of rail and box features, along with the choice of a two-jump line or a wall-ride leading to additional box features nearing the bottom of the run. The trail includes over 40 box and rail features to choose from, all of them set up properly by the laid-back, providing and innovative park crew. I was able to hit at least eight tricks on any given run. From strapping in all the way down to the sole chairlift the mountain operated: features, features, features.
Benji and I were ecstatic for the entirety of the trip, repeatedly exclaiming nearly every chairlift ride how unbelievably amazing the park and half pipe were and how happy we were to be there. At the end of each run, I was more than eager to get to the top and do it again and again. As Kiwis would say, it was “sweet as.”
Satisfied with our expedition, we packed our bags and loaded the car. We headed back down the sketchy mountain road, slipping on gravel and slopping around corners.
As we drove by Water Bar, one of the more popular pubs among the youth in Wanaka, we noticed that it was still “happy hour inside.” We stopped in for two five-dollar pints each, reflecting happily on our time at Snow Park NZ and readying ourselves for another trip there the next day.