New Zealand alpine camp an epic adventure on and off snow

Unknown-2Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Alpine Program Director Scott McGrew wrote his final dispatch about training camp in New Zealand while flying home Wednesday. Here’s what he shared.

As the island fades beneath us, we are now en route flying from Queenstown to Auckland. As such,  I can’t help but find it amazing that all of us (and hopefully all our gear), found our way onboard this aircraft. Traveling overseas as a ski team is no easy matter; the amount of planning, equipment, and logistics make for an epic trip, and nothing is simple. 

The departure process was a big one as we buffed out our respective houses, made a final lap through Wanaka, headed over the mountains to Queenstown, and managed to check all 15 of us and our 36 bags through the ticket kiosk. Now that we are in the air, I finally have a moment to send a much overdue update.

Since the last note I wrote, so much has happened!  After spending a few weeks in close quarters with the kids, I realize how connected everyone is through social media.  In the old days, the only trickle of information was what came through the coaches email, or a seldom landline phone call.  From what I can gather, within minutes of something exciting happening, it is already published, uploaded, and worldwide. I have the strong sense that parents are very in the loop on the trip and everything that we have been up to.  I realize that some of you may not be getting the constant media updates – so here is a little color for the record.

From the coaches’ perspective – it was an incredible camp.  This place is beyond breathtaking and we got a serious dose of the New Zealand mountains. We skied 13 of 14 days, and visited three different areas (except the FIS crew which went to two). We had FIS starts, logged some epic training sessions, got soaked to the bone before sunrise, freeskied powder in Treble Cone, got to know the town of Wanaka like the back of our hand, finally got acclimated to driving on the left hand side of the road, became EXPERTS in the art of fitting and removing snow chains, got encased in frozen ice, got to hear god knows how many different accents, played loads of soccer, got to know the Wanaka medical clinic quite well, learned the rules of rugby, and worked extremely hard on our skiing. 

After the last update, the weather turned nasty.  We were battling it out up there, but oh my can the weather get bad down here. The races were postponed for a day, so we headed back down the valley, waited a few hours then went up to catch Treble Cone for the rest of the day. It was an incredible day of skiing.  The mountain was STEEP, and the clouds started to part making it hard to believe that we could be skiing such an epic day with no one out there.  It was a nice change from the morning’s dose of buckets and buckets of rain.  The views were unlike anything I have ever seen with the lakes below, and the Chroma pop colors.  Unreal… The kids were pumped. 

 The following day, I grabbed the athletes who were not racing and went to Roundhill, a tiny ski area situated three hours north of Wanaka on Lake Tekabu.  The place was really something.  For the most part it was a Rotarun type mountain.  Not much more than a surface lift and simple terrain.  Of course, there was something to it as the men’s and women’s U.S. World Cup teams were training there.  We drilled and drilled alongside Mikeala, Lydsey, Steve Nyman, Andrew Weibrecht, and the rest of the crew.  It was a great day, topped off with the world’s longest rope tow.  Impressive little place in the middle of now where.  We loved it.  It is amazing how much you can accomplish with such a simple setup.  You are always on your feet, in the zone, as you watch everyone train and drill.  There is no chairlift escape from the work being done and it is quiet evident what the U.S. National team was doing there…. It is a hotbed of improvement and something we will be looking at in the future.   Meanwhile, Nate and the FIS crew were hammering it out in Cardrona at the FIS races.  It was a great race, with a perfect size field and scorable conditions.   

The next day was the slalom race.  The FIS crew, again, raced and I had training set up on the lower mountain.  We had a great day of slalom training.  Everyone who didn’t finish the first run came and joined for the slalom session and we capitalized on the icy surface.  Run after run we worked on turn shape, independent feet, and solid positioning on our skis – the theme of the camp.  This finished up our eighth straight day on snow.  That evening we went to a theater in Wanaka called the Paradiso.  Best movie theater I have ever been to.  The seats are all old cozy couches, they serve you dinner followed by fresh baked cookies at intermission; the entire experience was unique and totally cool.

The next day we took off from skiing.  It was cold, windy and rainy – perfect to head to Queenstown.  We spent the day perusing the hustle and bustle of the mountain town.  Some of the kids (and myself) leapt off “The Ledge” on the quintessential bungy experience.  I never really imagined bungy jumping in a pounding snowstorm, but that is what we did.  Queenstown was a great spot for everyone to do some souvenir shopping, and get a little bit of a ‘city’ experience (compared to quiet little Wanaka).   The town is situated right on the shores of an azure colored lake, is jam packed with young world travelers and curio shops, no doubt some of these kids will come back and visit again…  

After a journey back to Wanaka, it was early to bed – back at it for five-day intensive training block.

 The next five days of training were unbelievable.  The weather was much improved and the surface was solid.  We trained slalom the first day.  It was a great day of training until…..unfortunately, Ella got a pretty good knee tweak at the end of our session.  Hopefully it is on the lighter side of the injury spectrum.  Ella and I have spent some time each day since at the local ‘physio’ clinic in Wanaka.  It is worth mentioning that, although it sucked to be there getting Ella rehab work, it was a phenomenal clinic.  For an hour long session with a physio (aka Physical Therapist), the cost is around $15 U.S.  These folks were very professional, very educated, and have worked on a phenomenal number of elite athletes.  Ella was getting great care with mobility work, strength work, acupuncture, and diagnostics.  I was really impressed with the whole experience, and I hope Ella a speedy recovery when we get home!

The next four days marked some of the best training  I can remember, anywhere.  We were logging double sessions each day; hammering out volume with full-length giant slalom, followed by full length slalom.  It was superb training and everyone was busting their butts to make the most of it.  Setting courses with headlamps, and inspecting during the sunrise are some of those experiences that totally define alpine.  The hours we keep are ridiculous and the amount of work it takes to get the gates in the snow, coaches in place, athletes warmed up, tuned up, and ready to go is phenomenal.  This was a great way to finish up our onsnow camp.  We are all departing New Zealand ready to come back for more…The Austrian men and women’s world cup teams just arrived on our final day at Cardrona so it certainly felt like we were in the right place and caught it at a great time.

Thank you everyone for entrusting us with your children.  It is clearly a huge responsibility and privilege to travel with these fine young adults and Nate and myself had a great time being with kids.  The energy, creativity, work ethic, and passion for skiing and adventure was fun to be around.  These are the types of experiences that will beget more opportunity as our athletes and children learn about themselves and the world around them – and then seek more through the confidence gained.  This is the foundation of experience that makes for both athletic achievement and burgeoning world citizens and future leaders.