The summer life of a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy student-athlete (Part 6) | VailDaily.com

The summer life of a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy student-athlete (Part 6)

Reece Bell
Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy

Editor's note: Reece Bell, 17, is an senior at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and is a second-year member of the U21 British Ski Team. She is training and racing around the globe this summer and blogging along the way.

The views flying into New Zealand were spectacular. The country is covered with large, bright blue lakes and although we didn't land directly amongst the mountains, their sharp peaks were visible from the window between the clouds.

By the time we made it through customs, ordered lunch and went to our hotel, it was late afternoon. The customs regulations for both Australia and New Zealand were extremely strict. Both countries, in their isolated locations, have developed such unique ecosystems that any foreign organic material could collapse the balance of biodiversity on their islands.

Those who arrived early to Christchurch were able to take a closer look at native New Zealand species, as we visited the city's botanical gardens. Since we were in the Southern hemisphere, winter was getting close to its end, so the gardens were relatively empty, but there was a wide range of year-round trees that I had never seen before.

We drove into downtown Christchurch for dinner. One noticeably different aspect of New Zealand, compared to other countries where I've dined, is their depth of alternative diet options. Practically every restaurant or cafe we visited on this trip had a gluten free and vegan menu.

Better luck this time

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The following day we set off on our five-hour drive to Arrowtown. So far, I haven't seen an area of New Zealand that isn't scenic (or covered with sheep) and of course this drive was no exception. We stopped at the beautiful Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki on the way there and back.

Those staying in Queenstown or Arrowtown usually ski at either Coronet Peak or the Remarkables. The other ski area that Arrowtown/Queenstown visitors can access is Cardrona, located a little further from the valley than the other two. Our race series (once again two slaloms and two giant slaloms) was held at Coronet.

This trip wasn't my first time skiing in New Zealand; in fact I had been to Coronet Peak at the same time last year. Unfortunately, that trip was cut short when I dislocated my shoulder, training giant slalom on the very hill where we were about to race. Naturally, I was a bit anxious coming back to that piste, but my nerves were calmed when I rode the first chair up and saw the amazing colorful sunrise.

The races at both Hotham and Coronet were part of the Australia New Zealand Cup. The series at Coronet was even more competitive than in Hotham—there were several racers who had been in the top ten of various World Cups. Even Ted Ligety entered into the slalom race, though he decided not to ski his second run.

The spring conditions of constant freezing and melting snow had left the hill pretty icy, which was actually a positive, when you consider how many racers were entered, especially on the men's side, numbering 70–80. The harder the snow, the better the course holds up and the more fair it is to all competitors. Even with the hard snow surface, the boys with the higher bib numbers were left with quite a rough course.

Homeward bound

From our group, we had two personal bests, but I believe that the New Zealand segment of this trip was more about experience than results. We were definitely one of the younger teams there; the majority of our group was only second year FIS while some of the winning racers already had five or more seasons. Our coach, Simone, advised us to watch the winners and the fast skiers to see how they were skiing during the race and also to observe their preparation before it.

We spent the last day after the races walking around Queenstown. There were many souvenir shops, and plenty of rugby merchandise. I was also pleased to hit what I think of as the three most classic Queenstown destinations: Ferg Burgers, the Cookie Time Cookie Bar and Lake Wakatipu.

New Zealand was the final destination of the summer, and then home to Vail to start my senior year. This summer has undoubtedly been the busiest of my life, but I have had such an amazing skiing and travel experience.