The gates open and we drive up the long driveway, past the tennis court and towards a magnificent house. The door opens and a petite lady appears, petite in size but bursting in personality. We know immediately this is “Crazy Carol”.
After being greeted with a massive smile and a hug, Carol shows us through the house she is housesitting. Although Carol has her own home in Wanaka, which her family live in, she spends most of her time house and pet sitting high end properties. She is booked up years in advance and loves it.
Love. That is a word that you will hear quite often in this interview.
If you’ve ever been to Cardrona Alpine Resort, chances are that you’ll have seen Carol. She’s the one with the infectious smile, hilarious comments and outrageously cool hairdo. She has been working at Cardrona Alpine Resort for over 20 years and tells us she has the best job and is the luckiest person in the world. We sit down with cups of tea and listen to Carol’s story and why she loves everything about Cardrona.
Jen: What led you to start working at Cardrona?
Carol: I grew up in Dunedin. 24 years ago, my son had got married up here. My daughter had been up here with two little grandsons and I went home for my son’s wedding and I just said, that’s it. Within 2 weeks, I had sold up my house (and) had a job managing the tea rooms at Makarora. I went from a big 4 bedroom house in Dunedin to a wee 1 bedroom house – best thing I ever did. No housework, that’s overrated eh?
On the first summer of ’96, this guy came up to me up at Makarora who I’d heard about called Shaun Gilbertson. Wonderful guy. He said, “what are you doing come May?”, and I said, “I hadn’t even thought about that yet”. He said, “well I have. You’re to come to Cardrona and work in the caf (café) for me ok?”.
Jen: There’s quite a history between your family and Cardrona isn’t there?
Carol: My two children, daughter in law, son in law and grandsons have all worked at Cardrona - combined 72 years. It’s my 22nd year up there. I love the place!
Mick: You didn’t just stay in the café though, you’ve worked in a lot of departments?
Carol: After 7 years, I moved onto hosting. I would meet and make people feel welcome. And in the afternoon, I would prepare meals for the groomer boys who stay on the mountain. I still make the boys meals every night over winter. They are my men. I hear from them every day. They put me on Snapchat, I love it!
I worked in patrol lot. When they get busy, I get the hotties ready. And people who come in crying, I just sit with them, school kids - just hold their hands. I used to fly with kids in the chopper to Dunedin if they got knocked out. Just keeping people stable in patrol, holding wounds together.
I’ve worked in carpark, on the road, crowd control, I love that. I’ll go back and help in all the cafs if the dishes are piling up a little bit. I’ve worked in the ticket office, not doing the tickets but just queuing people in the right lines.
I made the mascots for years. I first made Pengi. I had no pattern so I laid a guy on the ground and cut around him. That was in the year 2002 and it’s still going.
I’ve had lots of different jobs but I’ve never had a contract that tells me what I do, what my job description is because I don’t know from one day to the next either.
I try to stay out the front to meet people in the morning. Just little things you know, people will remember those things. I used to always stay and make sure I said goodbye to everyone but that’s too long a day for me now.
Jen: You especially love taking care of children, don’t you?
Carol: (I) make sure that kids especially have got glasses on their eyes and hats. They are our future, look after these kids, they are our future. I love the nationals - putting the medals around those children’s necks, I love that.
Mick: How many days are you there during the season?
Carol: As many as I can be. You know these laws (nowadays) where you can only work so many hours and you have to have a break. But I used to work 7 days a week. It’s not work at Cardrona, it’s a pleasure! Don’t quote me exactly, I think 2700 people applied for jobs and we had a 75% return rate so those people who get those jobs, I think they are lucky. They are very lucky.
Mick: You have quite a soft spot for all of the young athletes. Tell us about that.
Carol: I had the privilege of being on the mountain when our Nico and Zoi came home this year. They flew them in on the chopper. That was very, very moving because Tommy Campbell, who we lost - that chopper landed on Tom’s rock. We’ve got a beautiful memorial called Tom’s rock up there. And that’s his place, he built all the big jumps and everything.
When Nico was really young, Tommy used to train him. Also, Zoi's coach Mitchell Brown - I was there when HE first started on snow. Adam Hall, Gold Medallist. (Winter Olympics Adaptive Snow Sports). Adam got gold for us and a bronze. He could hardly even stand up that little boy. We used to run up on the poma, we used to have a poma at Cardrona, and we used to hold him up and run up with him to (teach) him to stay up on his feet. And those times were just amazing. And Kendall Brown, she was another Olympian we had there. Julian Bray, I’ve known them from way back. But you must know the Wells boys. Jossi, Byron, Beau-James & Jackson. Jossi was on the snow when I was there, Byron had just started and Beau-James. I remember the first time that the boys took him up on Mickey Mouse skis, gave him a push from up on the learner's slope. And now they are competing at the Olympics. I’m so lucky. I reckon I am the luckiest person in the world.
All those top athletes and they still cuddle you every day. I’ve been trying to work on the top of my arms because I get so sore. You cuddle say 100 people in one day, it’s a lot of energy so I’ve been working on them this year. Carol points to the set of weights in the lounge room.
Jen: Cardrona would have been quite different 20 something years ago?
Carol: I was the 90th staff member when I started and now in the height of the season there are 650 staff. I used to remember everyone’s names.
It is at this point that we reassure Carol, that its ok to not remember the names of all 650 staff.
Jen: You would have seen a lot of changes at Cardrona?
Carol: Oh my goodness, over the years! When I drove up that road, it used to be one lane. It was so narrow…you used to have pull over bays. You were living on the edge in those days, now it’s a highway.
I’m so proud of Cardrona, what they’ve done, not only in the building side of it, the mountain construction. I have seen sometimes; the mountain be moved from there to there.
Jen: What are your thoughts on the new Chondola?
Carol: I love the Chondola. People who can’t get to the top of the mountain, like special needs children and grandmothers. To take them on that Chondola, let them off at the top - it was just that magnificent, I was so proud.
Jen: When Real Journeys purchased Cardrona, what did you think?
Carol: Richard (Chief Executive) - what a nice guy.
Jen: So it’s been a good thing?
Carol: Oh yes. Shaun Gilbertson (who used to own Cardrona) cloned a very good GM we’ve got now and he trained her. And Rachael as well, there’s quite a few of them. Rachael Milner is another really good person up there. There’s so many you could go on for days and days and the old school who have stuck with it.
Jen: It’s a testament to people who have been there for so long and to keep coming back.
Carol: Oh shivers yes. I have seen the future for the next 9 years, they have shown me. It’s very up class. Real Journeys aren’t afraid to spend money and if you spend that money, you get that money. When we used to have one thousand people a day (clapping), bring out the champagne! One time we had that 3 days in a row and that is how I ended up with my hair so crazy. This all came from Cardrona.
Jen: Ah yes, I’ve been meaning to ask about that! Tell us about your fabulous hairdo.
Carol: Shaun Gilbertson said to go home and come back with your hair all crazy. Something crazy. So I went to Makarora, this girl up there who did hair, I said, I gotta have something crazy in my hair to go back with. We ripped up t-shirts, and we got beer bottle tops and that’s how it started.
Mick: What year was that?
Carol: 2000. It used to take 8 hours just to put the plats in. Now it takes 8 hours to get it out, wash it, get it all ready and put it back in again.
Mick: How often do you have to do that?
Carol: Every 6 weeks.
Mick: So it stays like that for six weeks? How do you sleep like that?
Carol: Come to bed with me and I’ll show you! We all burst into a fit of laughter!
Jen: Three weeks after undergoing heart surgery, you were back and Cardrona. What were you thinking?
Carol: I went back up there because Real Journeys took over Cardrona when I took sick. All these letters came in and they thought it was good that Real Journeys had taken over but they thought it was mean because they thought they had gotten rid of me. Ha, weeds never die! So after all these letters come in, they came and picked me up and I sat in the caf, walked up and down, sat down again and walked up again and sat down and just said hello to all the people and it was amazing.
Jen: What’s new for Cardrona this year? I know they’ve been doing a lot of work.
Carol: The cafes I think are gonna blow people’s minds this year. And the nicest thing about it, the staff lockers and staff quarters, where the staff hang out. Oh, they’ve treated them, they’ve got beautiful areas, very nicely done. I don’t know who did it, it looks like Bridget’s (General Manager) doing because she has amazing talents in everything. Rachael will be in there with her.
Mick: Do you ski much?
Carol: No not so much now, I’m going to be 70 in November so I really don’t want to hurt myself. Right up until I had my heart done, I used to ski all the time, but since then they said to me, just be careful. I’ve got too much living to do, I don’t want to break a bone. Cause god help anyone if they had to look after me.
Jen: What do you love most about working at Cardona?
Carol: Oh my goodness. For one thing it’s a family, for another thing, it’s a great privilege to work that close. I call it the highway to heaven that road, because that is where you are going every day. Everything is good about it. Nothing bad. I always say the day I stop loving it I will give up, but I have never got like that.
To have a big establishment running that good, is no easy task. Thanks to a lot of other people who have helped over the years.
Wonderful place, wonderful people. Heaven. Heaven.
Jen: Well it seems like you have lived a pretty cool life, you’re full of beans and it’s fantastic. You’re so positive and full of energy. What advice would you give to people?
Carol: Just enjoy (the) young ones. I get so brassed off that so many people are ready to put 18 year olds down. You’ve got to remember that you were that age once and give them all a chance. Don’t be mean to them. You know, everyone things that boys should be tough. Boys aren’t that tough - they are tough but they still love that loving just like the girls. Respect is another great thing. And I honestly would say that I get a lot of respect and I respect those people who respect me. And I really respect Bridget and all those people up there. We’re all different strokes for different folks so you just gotta remember young ones don’t need to be put down. A bit of praise is a good thing for them. Don’t be mean.
I have a great life. I think that I am the luckiest person. Nobody is as lucky as I am. My family, my own brothers and sisters, my own children, my own nieces and nephews are just lovely. Great nieces and nephews.
As we chat a bit more, Carol tells us of some of the wild parties they used to have back in the day which led them to be banned from several local establishments. We also hear about the time she had to throw herself out of a van that was airborne in 120-knot winds after it started sliding on ice. She brushes it off to say aside from that she “never had a thing with the vans. Done a few sideways but everyone has a wee shot at that”. And then there’s the mention she has had two heart attacks.
Carol tells us about the time she decided to quit drinking, smoking and coffee at the one time, 26 years ago after seeing herself in a video. How she went about kicking the habit is impressive. She decided if she wanted to smoke, she would line up 10 cigarettes and she had to smoke them all in a row. Needless to say, after the first ‘self-punishment’, she never smoked again. That little story gave us an insight into the tough, determined and disciplined character that lies beneath a warm, friendly, light-hearted and kind exterior.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you were going to be seeing the word ‘love’ a lot. You would have also noticed that Carol constantly says that she is lucky, in fact, “the luckiest person in the world”.
I end our chat by saying to Carol, although I think there’s some luck involved, I don’t think she’s lucky. I truly believe it is because of who she is and her attitude in life, she attracts all of those wonderful people around her, creating an environment filled with so much positivity and love.
On the mountain, she just gets on with it, jumps in and does whatever needs to be one. It is obvious she considers all of the mountain staff an extension of her family. She doesn’t dwell on the negative and is very much a glass half full person rather than a glass half empty.
Carol is the heart and soul of Cardrona and everything it represents - a perfect brand ambassador. She is clearly adored by everyone who meets her and in the short hour we are there, she has definitely won us over.
Our catch up with Carol leaves us both feeling energised, warm and fuzzy. It makes me feel far more grateful and appreciative of the simple things in life. It reminds me not to sweat the small stuff.
They may call her Crazy Carol but you know what? She’s not crazy, she’s just got it all figured out.
Thanks for reading. Hearing and sharing the stories of others is one of the most rewarding things that I do. I'd love to hear your comments. Have you seen/met Carol? Let me know!
Jen spends most of her time following Mick around the mountain, often unintentionally off jumps and cliff drops. Currently on a mission to prove that you’re never too old to try freestyle. Aside from snowboarding, a little obsessed about tattoos, CrossFit, saving animals, learning to play the guitar and clean eating. Web designer and digital marketing nerd.