Friday, August 2, 2002 - Athlete Perspective
Wanna go to Wanaka?

By: Sara Renner

Hot nights, dips in the Bow River and sweaty rollerskis are over. Us lucky rats are at a winter training camp in the hills above Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand.

Most Canadians think their winters are long, and sometimes I would agree, but the opportunity to come to the Waiorau Snow Farm is something I would never pass on.

For the last ten years, summer snow training has meant a pilgrimage to the Haig Glacier in Kananaskis Country. This year we took a leave of absence from the hour hike to ski, burnable potties and summer snow. We cashed in our Air Canada tickets given to Canadian athletes at the Olympics and headed south.

This place blows my mind. There are no trees and huge rock outcroppings poke out of the white landscape. The 30-km of perfectly buffed ski trails wind around these and through river bottoms and up mountaintops. It looks like serious hobbit country and I would not be surprised to run into Bilbo Baggins as he sets off for his next adventure. Spring is only half an hour away on a hair raising dirt road drive to the valley bottom.

Our hosts are the Lee family. They have a passion for Nordic skiing and huge ambitions for skiing in the Southern Hemisphere. They have put up fences lining almost all of the ski trails to give shade and retain the blowing snow and have World Cup caliber racing courses.

The initial funding for the Nordic development came from the 8000 wooly sheep that they farmed in the area. Now the Lee family has developed facilities, called the Proving Ground, for car companies to test their vehicles in winter conditions. Most of the cars here are the 2004 models and we have seen them rally driving on their specially designed snow and ice tracks. This has financed an incredible day lodge with accommodations and a weight room. They have the most snow guns in the Southern Hemisphere!

We will spend the next three weeks getting in a lot of skiing hours but still maintain our dryland fitness with runs and rollerskis in the valley. Training will be consuming but we have a tight adventure schedule to adhere to. I would like to go bungee jumping. Milaine Theriault wants to go down a river attached to a flutter board. Beckie will go horseback riding and our coach, Dave Wood, wants to go flying where they guarantee to go inverted. And I almost forgot the ski touring trip to Mt.Aspiring.

The only thing that surprises me about this place is that more people have not discovered it. As I am gliding on perfect tracks with the Southern Alps as a backdrop, I think of the Norweigns and Italians sweating it out on an icy glacier in Europe and it makes me smile!

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