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Cardrona: Do one thing every day that scares you! The Downhill Double!

Posted by Stacey Phillips: 22nd May 2018 @ 09:15:56

Winter is coming, that’s for sure, but summer memories are still on the brain. On the peaks between Queenstown and Wanaka, we headed up the Chair-lift and Gondola combo at Cardrona: McDougall’s Chondola! Without a snowflake in sight, wheels are the way to go, the only question is, will you go two wheels or three?

Luckily, we got to try out both. In March my partner and I went on a midweek escape from Queenstown to Cardrona. A scenic drive up the Crown Range, meandering through the mountains, we quickly left busy little Queenstown behind us. Once you find the resort entrance, the fun begins, 14kms of windy roads climbing consistently up to New Zealand’s highest bike park!

I’m a strange type of adrenaline junkie, I love the thrills of fast paced adventure, but I hate being in control of it! Being someone who can fall over nothing when walking down the street, I lack the drive to put myself in a situation where the probability of danger is significantly higher! A few years ago, I took myself to Austria for the winter to learn to ski. After several lessons, and bruises, I eventually gained some confidence and found my rhythm. By no means a speed demon but relaxed enough to get hooked into the wonderful world of snow, but I never asked myself what happens to the ski resorts when the season ends, and there’s no better place to find out, than Cardrona!

Our first adventure was Mountain Carting: These 3-wheeled alpine specialized carts are the first of their kind in New Zealand. If you’ve tried out the luge at the top of the Gondola in Queenstown, this is almost its bigger, dirtier brother! We got kitted out with Lift Passes, Full Face Helmets, Goggles and Overalls, not only to really look the part, but some protection from the dust this dry summer has given us! Each suit also has a nickname on the back, so you know who you’re trying to overtake as you race around the corners! I became “Yoshi”, and my other half aptly became “The Stig”.

After the all-important safety video, we received our carts! Cardrona opt for 2-hour slots at set times so that there are enough carts to go around, and not too many people on the tracks. This worked well to keep up the pace and still have competition to race! Lift Passes at the ready, it was time to hop on the new Chondola, an effective combination where after every four 6-man chairlifts, you have a gondola, very appealing as the cold wind picks up! The carts are attached to the chairs by the friendly lift crew, who also remove them at the top, so you can just sit back, enjoy the views over to Wanaka, and check out the tracks below you!

Usually, there are 3 tracks to choose from for the carts, one relatively straight, one windy, and one super long that goes right down to the bottom of the Whitestar Lift, but being midweek at the end of the season, just the one was open for us. Not to despair, it was still the best track by far! Lots of turns, winding its way back to the base of the Chondola this track is perfect to experience Carting. As I’ve mentioned, I’m no speed demon, so I started off slow, testing my breaks and getting to know the track, but still having so much fun! With each round you get better and faster, and even if you’re not competing with anyone else, clocking up a new PB each round is so entertaining!

It’s easy to rack up plenty of runs in your 2 hours, you can even call by the lounge if you need a coffee break. Carting at Cardrona is highly recommended and definitely an awesome option for a work team even, or a group of friends for a special occasion.

We stayed the night on site in one of Cardrona’s Mountain Apartments, very homely with everything you need. We cooked up our own meal and wandered up the walking trail for a view of Queenstown at sunset, then headed back and relaxed ready for the next day’s adventures.

Waking up early to a fresh morning, we headed off to the bike rental. 2 wheels this time! Now I assure you I can ride a bike, I’ve cycled the Queenstown Trail many times, particularly between Arrowtown and Gibbston, but this was something entirely different!

I’ve watched the Downhill bikers many times, you can’t miss them in Queenstown, tearing down from the Gondola or in the crazy freestyle park and Wynyard, and while impressive, I had never imagined giving it a go! Yet here I was, Full Face Helmet and Goggles were back, and this time accompanied with elbow pads, knee pads, and an awesome looking bike! I have no doubt that I am not capable of fully appreciating the technical aspects of this beautiful Full Suspension bike, but it was my trusty stead for the morning, and I became quite attached!

We headed back up the Chondola, and found ourselves faced with a new track, separate from the Mountain Carters, the Mountain Bikes have several different trails, their difficulty indicated by colour. “Start with the Green trails and work your way up” came the advice. “Up?” I asked myself, my main concern was getting down in one piece, and certainly not working my way up anywhere! Green indicates a beginner trail, Blue for intermediate and Black for advanced. I was quite happy to be starting, and finishing with Green!

Again due to the time of year the diggers were in beginning the transformation of the Park before the snow, the mellow, fairly straight yet scenic Green trail ‘Afternoon Delight’, was out of action so we were left with 2 green trails. The first, ‘Sweet As’ is proclaimed to be a favorite by all abilities, windy and varied, it finished up at the bottom of the Chondola. Option two was much longer, ‘A Real Journey’ headed much further down the park, where a van was waiting to bring you and your bike back up the top!

Option one it was. I got on my bike and headed for the trail, I’m not sure what I was expecting but suddenly ahead of me was a sharp downhill bend and I stopped. Like a child I walked around the corner and found a part to build my confidence. Everyone else was loving life, I felt like I was walking on a frozen pond waiting to see if the ice would break beneath me. I refused to be defeated so I took a deep breath and carried on… left bend, right bend, right bend, bumps, straight, picking up speed, slow down! If anyone could have heard the internal monolougue in my head, they would have died laughing. Somehow I made it to the bottom, a few pauses of hesitation along the way, and the pattern of the handlebars ingrained in my hands from holding on so tight but I made it!

I decided it was a good idea to head into the lounge for a sugar hit, then I was ready for round two. This time I not only knew what was ahead of me, but I knew that I had done it. With this stored in my head in an attempt to make me braver, off I went again, this time a little smoother, a few less stops, and again, survival at the end!

Every run felt like a momentous improvement, as I gained more confidence I gained speed, which actually makes it a lot easier. Noting that this is speed in my book, to anyone else I was probably going super slow, but the beauty of these quieter times of year are that you don’t have a million people behind you and end up causing a gridlock if you’re a bit slower. The trail is practically yours to take on as you need to!

Downhill mountain biking (on the beginner’s track!) is definitely one of the scariest things I have ever done, but one where I feel like I accomplished the most. I felt that I significantly improved with each run, and repeating the same run was perfect for this, I gained my confidence and got to know my bike, and although it may not have looked it from the expression on my face I had a lot of fun!

No trip to Cardrona is complete without a hike to the top, so after one final Gondola ride we headed right up the tops and take in the views. The clouds were starting to roll through by this time so one minute you could see all the way to Queenstown, the next you could barely see 5 metres in front of you, but it would move on and the incredible vistas reappeared!

So whether Downhill Mountain Biking is something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you never thought you could do, Cardrona is an amazing place to try it out. I can highly recommend the rental gear, lifts and the tracks, the views aren’t too bad either! Or if Mario Kart is more your thing, don’t miss out on Mountain Carting, it’s definitely the most fun you’ll ever have on 3 wheels!

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