While Raglan basked in the summer heat of Waitangi Day, young skier Ella McLeod-Edwards was relishing 20 centimetres of powder snow at Panorama, a top mountain resort in the Canadian Rockies.
“Another 20 centimetres tomorrow,” she told the Chronicle, smiling from the other side of the world via FaceTime and devouring a bowl of curry for dinner. She’d made the curry the day before in the three-storey resort apartment at Toby Lodge that she shares with three others.
Ella had skied all day while shadowing – and being mentored – by a ski patroller. She’d helped open ski runs, moved snow fences on pistes and among trees to make safe areas for tourists, dealt with one unfortunate skier’s fractured arm and, at the end of the day, learnt how to do a sweep to clear the mountain for off-hours.
The temperature was minus 10 or 15 degrees, she wasn’t sure. “Once past negative 10 it all kinda feels the same,” the Raglan teen explained. “It has gone down to negative 30,” she added, unfazed by the freezing temperatures just a month into her big OE.
Ella has 14 weeks all up to enjoy the family-friendly Panorama Mountain Resort before possibly setting her sights on a job in either Australia or New Zealand as a qualified ski patroller.
To become that “elite first responder” in terms of emergency medical and rescue services in a snow zone anywhere in the world, she must complete two courses. She’s well into the first – seven weeks of ski patrolling.
Just about every day she’s off to catch the first chairlift of the morning to learn as much as she can on the snow. There may be no car-parking worries but it’s intensive stuff, admitted last year’s Raglan Area School head girl.
She jumps out of buildings to practise rope safety, for instance. “That’s why she needed very good travel insurance,” interjected mum Fiona Edwards from the family’s home in Marine Parade.
Soon Ella will move on to some specialised training in the use of explosives for avalanche control. “Yes I’m hoping to use explosives,” confirmed the 17 year old, still smiling.
Near the end of the month she’ll switch to her second course – ski instructing. That will occupy her about four days a week for four weeks, and she’ll still be mentored by a ski patroller.
“I’d probably prefer to be a ski patroller (rather than a ski instructor),” she admitted. “I like the first aid.”
For years now Ella’s hit the ski slopes with her parents at Ohakune or Wanaka during most winter school holidays.
She skis at more than 100kmh – her mum reveals – jumps off cliffs and has trained herself to do backflips. She has competed and won silver, regionally, at Ohakune.
So when her gap year choice came down to either au pairing in Finland – and getting to ski during her time off – or “taking a long holiday on the slopes” with the UK-based Winter Sports Company, it was no contest.
Ella did however have to study up on a 1000-page outdoor emergency care manual before departing. And her two courses cost $7000 each, which she paid herself through years of weekend and holiday work locally. “I’ve done my fair share of the mundane,” she told the Chronicle.
She described her OE so far as “really cool”.
Away from home for the first time, she was learning simple things like how “very expensive” food was and how organised you had to be with your washing.
She was struck by the fact that “everything’s bigger” in Canada – mountains, roads, signposts, vehicles. “My tiny car at home would fit in the back of a standard-sized ute here!”
But she was missing the family pet, Fly, at home. There were working dogs on the slopes, she said, but getting close to them was sadly a no go.
Ella’s got plenty beside a reunion with Fly to look forward to when her gap year ends – she will be taking up a deferred scholarship to Otago University where she’ll study the seven years it takes to become a doctor.