Winter Festival like an election you’ve got to get amongst it

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Anyone questioning whether community spirit is still a healthy part of Queenstown’s Winter Festival should rest easy. 

There’s no doubt festival – next month’s is number 38 – has grown and morphed into a very different beast to what it was originally: a way for the locals to keep entertained until the snow arrived. 

Nowadays, it’s certainly a much more commercial beast with fulltime staff and important aims like marketing to the world and the rest of New Zealand that Queenstown is open for winter. 

But the community element is alive and well, I believe. 

And it’s not just classic wacky festival events like the Birdman leap from a makeshift pier into Lake Wakatipu preserving this. 

Relative newbies like locals’ favourite Thriller in the Chiller, the charity boxing extravaganza, pump plenty of spirit and excitement into festival. 

I caught up with a training session on Monday and it was inspiring stuff. I could see the difference in attitude and energy of the contestants from four weeks ago when I first met them all – the air of the group has seismically shifted from a tentativeness to quiet confidence. And they’re looking super fit. 

It’s pretty cool to see. 

These local residents will become part of something very special come the night of June 30. For many, they’ll have been pushing themselves harder than they ever thought possible – and growing hugely as people. 

And I’m sure it’s the same with the women in the Ladies Fashion Challenge – they’ve also been training very hard, pushing beyond their comfort zones and making new friendships along the way. 

If events like these aren’t a fantastic embodiment of community spirit then I don’t know what is. 

And if I had a hat on, I’d tip it to Winter Festival director Simon Green who isn’t just organising the big 10-day party but gets fully involved to ensure these people get the most out of the experience. Okay, I’m not sure that he’s practising mincing in a straight line in heels with a book on his head, but he’s a regular fixture at early-morning Thriller sparring – as he was last year. 

Green says he’s happy to be target practice for the contenders who are putting their chins on the line for what’s become a standout festival event. 

“I’ve always been an advocate of not asking anyone to do anything you won’t do yourself,” Green tells me. 

“Plus there’s nothing like getting punched in the face before breakfast to prepare you for a day in the festival office anyway.” 

His personal involvement is nothing new – I remember one year he sang at the ball, was a back-up singer for other events, raced in the Drag Queen and arranged for it to snow on time. 

But as Green will tell you, the more volunteers, entrants and supporters, the merrier. 

Winter Festival’s a bit like an election – no point complaining afterwards if you don’t get involved. 

Believe me, you’ll have a much better time if you take part – well, more fun than voting, anyway. 

And you don’t have to break the bank – the festival’s 60-strong calendar of events boasts more than 40 free ones. 

Nor do you have to don speedos, freeze your nuts off and jump into Lake Wakatipu – cheering on others giving things a crack and making a tit of themselves is just as important. 

But if you think you’ve got the luggage to take out the suitcase race up Coronet Peak, get waxing. 

Or if you think you can outsprint Mark Wilson, who’ll no doubt turn out in his speedos again for the Undy 500 down Queenstown Bay, then, er, get waxing.