Skiing Mt. Ruapehu: Science, speed-dating, the spectrum & scent memories

July 29, 2013 in New Zealand, Oceania, Travelogue

Mt. Ruapehu-Tony

Two of the young people pointed out the same thing to me on separate rides up the lift:

“There are no trees… remember how we always did our trees on the lifts in New Hampshire?”

They’re right. We’ve always used the time on chair lifts to practice identifying deciduous trees by their barks and disucssing the science behind the evergreen population. The tip top of this volcano is barren rock, but beautiful in her own way. Instead of studying the texture of tree barks we examined the folded layers of rock, imagining them being laid down as hot lava, cooling some, and then having another layer of magma wash over the top. We enjoyed the waterfall over a section of exposed stone, and the deep blue of the snow packed and turned into ice. There’s always a science lesson to be had from a chair lift.

There are other lessons too, it turns out.

As my big kids paired off and disappeared into the mountain I found myself riding a few chair lifts alone. Well, not alone, just not with my family. After about the third lap up it occurred to me that riding the lifts solo is a lot like speed dating. You hop on and have three to five minutes with a complete stranger to talk about anything you want. All of a sudden, it became a game, and it was kind of fun.

Among my partners:

The goalie coach for the Red Bull football (soccer) franchise. He’d just been to Ghana to do his first stint of coaching with that team, and two weeks previous to that he was skiing Whistler, in Canada.

A nurse who specializes in osteo-therapy… maybe I got that wrong… but she’s the lady you go see after a bad bone break to try to get your strength back. She works at the biggest hospital in New Zealand.

Two guys who are quite certain that the best investment they can ever make is a house and working 70 hours a week. I didn’t say much on that trip! 🙂 Thankfully, they didn’t ask!

Dairy farmers: two. 550 head of cattle, average for the North Island, it seems. The South Island farms are much bigger, they tell me. They were surprised to hear that there is dairy farming in Ontario, Canada… “But what do they do with the cows in winter?? Are they kept indoors?” Yep, mostly.

I skied with Hannah and Tony most of the day.

She was the happiest birthday girl in the world. I lost count of the times she used the phrase, “THIS IS EPIC!!” Epic even became an adjective for sauce, which together became an adjective for her trip down from the tip top of the mountain, clear to the bottom. She only dislocated her thumb once. She fixed it. This did not put a damper on her day.

Leaving the mountain we noticed that the panorama, from east to west, spanned the entire spectrum of colour, from inky indigos to fiery reds, with frosty top of Mt. Egmont in the far distance, appearing to float, detached from the earth, resting only on a thin layer of cloud. “The floating mountains!!! Just like Avatar!”

Mt. Egmont: Floating Mountain

Trudging through the lodge at the end of the day:

The clomp-clomp-clomp of heavy boots punctuated by the whines of tired children and the chatter of friends sharing stories from the hill is one of those out-of-body experiences for me. No matter the continent it seems to be echoes of the same world, or the same room in the same world, no matter how much time or distance separate them. It strikes me like the flicker of old reel to reel video clipped together, only showing a few frames from each memory of other chalets in other places, in other memories, played back in the present reality. My scent memory is always the same: sweat mixed with stinky feet, glazed with hot fat and stale coffee and perhaps the faintest whiff of urine, from the small child who wet his snowsuit half way down the last run. You’re chuckling because you’ve been there. You know. Perhaps it was your kid (it was mine in one of the memories!)