A first-time skier's experience: From agony to ecstasy, here's what to expect on your first day on the slopes

Private skiing lesson at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
Photo credit: supplied/RealNZ

Recently I tried out skiing for the first time ever, despite being in my 40s and living my whole life in New Zealand - a country blessed with many amazing ski fields in relatively close proximity.

It was a fantastic experience which wasn't as scary or dangerous as perhaps I'd expected it to be, even though it's much harder to learn anything at this age.

And I get it. I get why people are so into skiing and snowboarding now. It is genuinely amazing.

The feeling of sliding across snow is exhilarating in a very primal way and I'm very, very eager to get back onto the slopes as quickly as possible.

Not that it was all smooth sailing - there were some lows as well as the highs - but I really loved my time on the slopes and would encourage every New Zealander who can to give it a go, and not leave it as long as I did.

I did it at Cardrona, which offers adult first-timer packages from $200 that includes rental of skis or snowboard, a lesson and all-day access to the mountain's beginner areas. You'll want your own thermals to wear underneath, but if you're keen to hire everything else rather than buy it, you can.

Cardrona was an ideal way to get a taste of skiing and while I'll be going back soon, I'm also very keen to check out Aotearoa's many other ski fields.

One thing that really struck me was the communal feeling at the resort - it's a place designed to maximise fun, so it's abuzz with a very shared feeling of excitement. There are a few serious types around, but even they seem very accepting of novices like myself.

Group ski lesson at Cardrona Ski Resort.
Photo credit: supplied/RealNZ

That sort of festival feel started for me the day before getting on the mountain in the Cardrona x Treble Cone outlet on Camp Street in central Queenstown. To save valuable ski time on the mountain, I got fitted for my rental gear there a day early, picking up the pass card while at it.

Even outside the store on the streets there's a special feel in Queenstown in the middle of winter, a bit like Mt Maunganui in the middle of summer.

If you haven't flown into Queenstown in the middle of winter for a few years - or if you never have - that in itself is a fantastic experience. It's an amazingly scenic airport to transit into and out of, with several spectacular mountain ranges that are gorgeous to gaze upon as they're covered in snow.

The view from a passenger plane flying into Queenstown in mid-winter.
Photo credit: Newshub.

One way of getting up to Cardrona is by shuttle, which can be organised at the same shop as the rental gear and ski field pass. They leave between 7am and 8am and it's an exciting experience to be out in the cold morning with everyone else, drinking a coffee and waiting for your transport among a hubbub of other buses moving tourists off to Milford Sound, the Remarkables and other destinations. 

Onboard, we got some extremely Kiwi dad jokes from the driver about safety and such as he outlined the day, with reassuring details about how we couldn't be left up there.

You can also make the approximately one-hour drive up the mountain by yourself and while this will be a fun drive for many - and means you can stop anywhere you like for photos - it is a bit nerve-wracking at times, especially with other motorists who seem to be in an awful hurry. 

After getting up to the resort, a helpful staff member saw it was my first time and helped me with the task of getting into the ski boots: this is much trickier than it sounds.

There are also workshops in this area for fine-tuning equipment, giving it the feel of a city in an Elder Scrolls-style RPG - especially with the food and drink outlets in the same building.

Cardrona Alpine Resort workshop and rental area.
Photo credit: Newshub.

I then met my instructor, Luke, and could not have asked for a better one. He was an expert at going from the absolute basics of putting my skis on right through to skiing around independently.

As soon as that first ski clips onto your boot, it's a thrill to immediately feel how slidey it is. In the next few minutes as I went through the initial movements, excitement quickly ramped up as I sensed the speed and fluidity of what was coming.

Then we got to the basics of the wedge manoeuvre and things started to get a little frustrating. There's a lot of twisting your legs in peculiar ways, and how you shift your weight about to turn feels counter-intuitive to how you would normally move, or steer vehicles. 

I have a bad knee on my right leg that made things extra tough at times. Once we got going downhill and started turns, that's when I started falling over. My right leg didn't want to push the big toe down to turn and move the leg out at the same time, even though my left was doing it with no issue. 

That was a mental block that slowly, over an hour or so, I managed to conquer - thanks mostly to my instructor.

Cardrona Alpine Resort ski instructor Luke.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Luke was patient and articulate, and great at sensing when he was going too fast or too slow with what he was teaching.

The beginner slope is a little scary at times - due to the people, rather than the actual skiing. You hear "sorry" an awful lot as people awkwardly slide into others' space while learning how to stop. But weirdly, even the super novice folks like myself were able to avoid actual collisions, at least on the day I was there.

Finally after a couple of hours I went all the way to the top of the beginner slope and triumphantly made my way down it, turning one way then the other. Luke cheered as it finally started clicking and I got up a bit of speed. That initial excitement had only grown and now there was a sense of accomplishment with it - I was feeling absolutely terrific.

Chondola at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
Photo credit: supplied/RealNZ

Then my lesson was over and after a few more goes down the full length of the beginner slope, it was time for lunch. I opted for ramen, which was decent but pricey for what it was.

Now in the early afternoon, the magic carpet on the beginner slope was getting very busy and the slope itself was becoming too unchallenging. I needed more.

I used the McDougal's chondola to get right to the top of Cardrona, where the view literally took my breath away. It was a beautiful, sunny day and it was unbelievably spectacular looking down from the top of the resort.

There I found a small bar selling drinks including mulled wine, which I love, and it seemed like the perfect beverage to enjoy the moment with.

And it was. Sitting there surveying the slopes before me with that delicious mulled wine was a special moment I won't quickly forget.

Drink finished, I took off down Weston's Trail and frustratingly fell over as soon as I picked up speed. The falls don't hurt, but it's uncomfortable and time-consuming getting back up - which I had to do once more as I fell again.

And again, and again, and again. I started to regret that mulled wine.

Gear rental at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
Photo credit: supplied/RealNZ

Something had happened and I had lost the muscle memory developed earlier in the day, which was incredibly annoying. A couple of different strangers came and checked if I was OK, but there wasn't anything they could do - I just had to persevere.

Eventually, after about seven falls, I managed to gather enough control to make my way back down to the base, but did so pitifully slowly. My confidence was shot.

But that appeared to have only been temporary - back on the beginner slope, it somehow quickly all clicked again and I was nailing it once more, picking up speed and turning this way then the other.

So why did I fail up on the higher slopes - was it the mulled wine? The steeper slope? Too much ramen? The height? I'm not sure what happened, but I can't wait to have another crack.

Alas, the ski field was about to close and my shuttle was taking off soon so I couldn't try a slope beyond the beginner area again on that first day.

That was a painful feeling, but it just makes it all the more seductive to get back up there as soon as possible.

It really is a magical feeling to ski, to innately feel the freedom it gives you and to enjoy the adrenaline it unleashes.

The sense of achievement that comes surprisingly quickly as you feel yourself pick it up is also hugely satisfying.

Private skiing lesson at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
Photo credit: supplied/RealNZ

I understand that the barrier of entry may be high. $200 for the first-timer package is very reasonable, but beyond that just accessing Cardrona is hundreds of dollars per day, plus there are larger rental fees for longer periods, let alone travel and accommodation expenses if you don't live near Queenstown.

But I would happily recommend investing in that first day to see how you like it - perhaps as part of a winter holiday that takes in some of the region's other attractions on other days. Then you can see if it's worth a larger investment as a new hobby, or if it was a fun, once-off activity that maybe isn't for you.

As for me - well, I hope I don't get addicted to it, but I see now why people do.

And I'm living proof that you don't have to be so young to try it out the first time. It's so foolish waiting as long as I did to do it if you live in Aotearoa.

Newshub experienced the day at Cardrona courtesy of RealNZ.