New Zealand’s Kiwi Confidential

New Zealand’s Kiwi Confidential
At New Zealand’s Ohau Ski Fields, There’s No Luxury Like No Luxury
By Paul Tolme

You speed northward through the great wide open of South Island, past tussock grasses and sheep farms and weather-beaten expanses as naked and grandiose as the American West, shifting with your left hand as you plunge deeper into Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. Your goal, Ohau, is the gem of the Southern Alps, the one place every Kiwi skier says you must visit. So you gun it up the twisty access road, your pulse quickening around every hair pin turn, hoping it’s worth the e ffort. Then you reach an unsullied alpine cirque, an amphitheater of snow that reaches around and envelops you. Far below, a green and gold checkerboard of farmland stretches to the sea.

You smile. It’s impossible not to smile at the audacity of this place — one chairlift and a plywood base lodge with a billion-dollar view. You buy a ticket from a pretty lass, board the chair, and scout the bowls and couloirs during the ride up. After ripping down the only groomer you join the parade of locals hoofing it up the boot path to the ridge line.“Git it, mate!” someone shouts as you drop into steep, untracked powder. You take run after run until you can git it no more, and your only goal is a Stein lager.

Some three thousand feet below the ski area , Mike and Louise Neilson greet you at Lake Ohau Lodge, a 62-room bed-and-breakfast-style inn tucked among the beech trees that line the shore of Lake Ohau. Not many Yanks make it here — only 47 last season — but the ones who do always rave about Ohau’s uniqueness, its old-fashioned charm. Mike conjures an American accent and repeats the compliment paid by a previous visitor from the States:“It’s like Colo-radah in the ’60s here, man!”

You adjourn to a simple but comfortable room overlooking the lake, and step onto the balcony to watch the sunset paint Mount Cook in hues of pink and peach. Songbirds chirp and flitter in the mild air. It’s winter up high, but down in the verdant valleys it always seems to be springtime.You savor a wholesome dinner of pumpkin soup, crispy skin local salmon, risotto, and homemade bread with a glass of Otago red, then the good-natured Aussies nearby ask you to join them for a handle of Monteith’s in the bar. It’s jumping with guests mingling, joking, and swapping stories — strangers of the same tribe kindling friendships. Leaving Ohau is hard, but you promise to return.

Luxury, after all, is more than gondolas, heated walkways, and high thread counts. It is feeling at home even when you’re far from home. It is purity.“I reckon we’ll always be like Colorado inthe ’60s,” Mike says. “We do our best to keep behind the times here at Ohau.”