If you asked me for only one single place to visit on the South Island, I would recommend Aoraki/Mount Cook without hesitation. It has everything — flat plains/valleys, soaring mountains, impossibly blue lakes, rivers, glaciers, and forests. If you want a luxury hotel stay and do not want to do any hard hikes, there’s something for you. If you want something more middle-of-the-road and want to do some easy/short walks, there’s something for you. If you’re hardcore and want tough multi-day treks, complete with backcountry skiing or kayaking, there’s something for you too.
I grew up in the tropics, and had never seen snow until I was almost 20. I disliked the cold gray winters of Iowa and Chicago. But that all changed once we moved to Colorado in 2003. Tried skiing once and was hooked. Skied a lot. Almost every weekend, from October through May. Averaged about 35 days per season at the beginning, increasing to about 50-60 days per season after that. Learned to carve. Learned to ski bumps. Learned to love powder, steeps, trees. Tore my ACL skiing in 2007; got it repaired and came back just as passionate as before. Moved to a ski town in 2007. Here are some shots from between 2003 and 2009.
After 4 years in Chicago, we got tired of urban living, especially the cold and gray winters. In 2002, we went to a friend’s wedding Denver, Colorado, and added on a trip to Moab, Utah. After that one week, both Geny and I had decided that we would move to Denver. She applied to residency programs in the Denver area and in the summer of 2003, we found ourselves in Lakewood, a suburb west of Denver. Some people ask us why we chose a suburb rather than the city. We picked Lakewood because (1) we’d already had our fill of urban living in Chicago, so Denver didn’t really appeal, and (2) we wanted to be close to outdoor recreational opportunities, and being at the base of the foothills gave us easy access to the mountain playground (we could pick up Bear Creek Trail about 4 blocks from our apartment).
If there’s one word to describe the 2010-2011 ski season in Colorado, it is EPIC. Record snow throughout the season resulted in too many powder days to count. Earliest ever openings for most lifts and terrain. By the end, it was hard to get motivated to go skiing unless there was 6 inches of new snow on the ground.
It’s winters like these that make it worthwhile to live in a ski town.