Queenstown Winterfestival

New Zealand welcomes winter with pantless races, sheep farmers.
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New Zealand welcomes winter with pantless races, sheep farmers.
Birdman, Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown NZ

Winter is under way in New Zealand. Five resorts are already turning lifts and 15 more are slated to open within the next week. In Queenstown, the center of South Island skiing, the season kicks off with Winterfestival.

There are typical skiing-related events—ski movies, bands, avalanche awareness classes, and a rail jam—but the Kiwis also pray for snow in some pretty unique ways.

For instance, if you’re feeling warm and body confident you can enter the Undy 500 on Sunday, the 27th. Strip down to your underwear (mandatory) and race around an obstacle course on the beach in downtown Queenstown. First prize? Jockey gift certificates.

There is also a Birdman contest the same day. Competitors launch off of the docks into Lake Wakatipu, where water temperatures hover around 45 degrees, with whatever kind of human-powered flight device they can attach to their body. Farthest launch wins. Previous semi-successful getups have included balloons and water wings.

On Thursday the 1st New Zealand’s finest sheep farmers show up at Coronet Peak to race their sheepherding dogs down the ski slopes. After the race there’s an in-town dog-barking contest, so, if your dog isn’t particularly fast or coordinated it can still win a prize for being loud. No sheep are harmed in the process.

The 10-day festival is based in Queenstown and all the on-snow action, including the Dog Derby, happens at nearby Coronet Peak.