Let’s rewind to early 2020, when flying internationally was a regular part of my skiing life. I boarded a flight to the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, to meet with the Indonesian Government, Minister of Tourism, to propose a project to get funding for a film project that was in the works to ski the last remaining tropical glacier in West Papua. I Then flew back to Canada for a couple weeks to shoot some ski photos before boarding a plane back home to NZ to complete my Snow and Ice Training Course (Part of the NZMGA ski guide pathway). After ten days, I once again boarded a plane back to my base in Canada to finish the Northern Hemisphere winter. During this time, I must say I was pretty naive about COVID and thought nothing of it. Though I do remember arriving back in NZ for the SIG course, there was a separate line through immigration for people arriving from China due to COVID and thought that coming home going through immigration was taking longer than usual. Who would have thought six weeks later, the whole world would come to a standstill.
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The lockdowns happened sooner in Canada. RCR Ski Resorts closed on the 16th of March. The day before Sunday the 15th, we had the most epic day skiing powder, had made plans to meet up with friends the following day, only to receive an email just after midnight that the mountain would shut for the next week. Receiving this email was a massive shock as it was without warning (the ski hill would shut for the remainder of the season due to COVID). Things moved fast in BC with COVID fears. Schools closed down immediately, and bars and restaurants closed down. Still naive with the whole situation and not wanting my season to come to an end so abruptly left us with only the choice to ski tour. We only got in one week of ski touring before the BC government closed down National Parks, and restrictions were put in place to fine people who were caught backcountry skiing. The season had come to an end, and we changed our flights and flew home a month and a half earlier. Upon arriving home, I received a message to turn on the TV to a live announcement of an NZ nationwide lockdown and MIQ hotel quarantines. Phew, we dodged a bullet on the MIQ hotel quarantine and were lucky to do this at home in the comfort of our own home. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to quickly adapt to a new world, it opened up an opportunity for me to explore my backyard at home in NZ more than ever. This has brought a sense of comfort and grounding in a way that I never expected.
At the end of the New Zealand winter, I realised that I would have my first ever kiwi summer since I started my ski career (34 back-to-back winters). With restrictions on international air travel and the continuous border closers meant I couldn’t travel back to my usual Northern Hemisphere based in Canada. It was disappointing to know all my film projects were postposed for the upcoming winter, and with the added fear of COVID-19, I knew it was now time to explore my backyard and take a journey of self-discovery in a newfound manner of reconnecting with summer (it had been a while) and to start to tick off my bucket list of backyard adventures. But I didn’t get too hung up on getting these objectives done as I kept my options open to all missions this summer. As far as places to be, when the whole world is closed off and most borders shut, I’ve lucked out to be home in New Zealand.
The highlight of being home has made me realise that we can have quite a long ski season here in NZ if you are willing to get out there and work for your turns. Yes, there may be a bit of bush bashing involved, and it may also be a suffer-fest but all character-building experiences. It also made me realise that the weather can be very tricky. It was especially tough last winter, following into spring. Trying to organise ski missions was at times frustrating and impossible. As quoted from Mark Seddon after a failed attempt for a film project, “Dam the weather, this spring SUCKS more than usual.” In saying that, it wasn’t all bad. I managed to stretch my season out to last seven months from June to December, ending with a ski mountaineering trip in high summer on the West Coast exploring Westland Tai Poutini National park. Dealing with the weather on the West Coast last spring was extremely difficult. We were lucky to land at Centennial Hut with wind gusts, almost forcing us to land with all our equipment low on the Davis Glacier, which would not have been ideal. Lucky as we circled the hut, we had one window to land, and our pilot gave us the thumbs up. Once at Centennial Hut, we had the whole area to ourselves. We could still enjoy some epic corn skiing in mid-December, tick off some classic ski touring routes, and summit some classic peaks. At the same time, we enjoyed the long summer days, watching the west coast glaciers and views out to the ocean with the most fantastic backdrop of a sunset.
Exploring Mt Aspiring National Park from my doorstep, to climbing the North West face of Mt Aspiring and enjoying high summer skiing on the West Coast made me realise that in today’s world, we don’t often get a chance to discover something new. Exploring our backyard yard this summer was the prescribed ointment to cure my travel itch that I feared I would miss, dreaming of faces of untouched powder, spines, and pillows. There was no Northern Hemisphere winter for me. Still, it was the best summer of my life with so many new experiences at home. This season was about connecting and rejoicing with summer, knowing that there is much to explore and many adventures to be done right here at home in NZ. COVID allowed me to explore New Zealand’s unique untamed wilderness and national parks. On top of that, I hugely minimised my environmental footprint while doing what I love the most, fulfilling my adventurous spirit, exploring our beautiful backyard.
By Janina Kuzma – Ski n Snow 2021