Being big fans of sliding around the snow on a pair of planks, it was only a matter of time before Guy and I hit up the New Zealand ski scene.
Living on the North Island the go to mountain is Mt Ruapehu, a volcano almost directly in the centre of the North Island that boasts two great resorts. Having nabbed ourselves an early bird ski pass, a fraction of what we would pay for just a week in Europe, we made the four hour drive down to Ruapehu a regular fixture of our winter weekends.
Understandably skiing in the Southern hemisphere is very different to Europe’s Alps, Japan’s powder and Canada’s big mountain skiing. We went in with dampened expectations but although different it was fantastic! Sure they don’t get as much snow down here, yes its sometimes icy and covered in death cookies, and at times it’s so windy it’s a wonder they can run any lifts at all, but skiing is what you make of it and there is fantastic open terrain to found, amazing scenery and friendly locals. The terrain and snow conditions in New Zealand are well suited to an all mountain twin, with a mid-width under foot. My weapon of choice the K2 Missconduct’s which rip through anything that you put in their way, and for Guy a pair of Rossignol Storm’s.
Being a volcano the mountain is stand alone and surrounded by green plains below. On a good day you can see all the way to the coast, and if there’s a morning mist or low cloud then the views are stunning, often with Mt. Taranaki just popping its peak out in the distance. We wouldn’t recommend you base your holiday on a ski trip to New Zealand but if you are here and passing through its well worth a shred. Of course I cannot vouch for the South Island Mountains either which are meant to be stunning and a bit gnarlier than the North.
The first resort we explored is Turoa, the terrain here is set over a narrow section on the South-west of Mt Ruapehu. The benefit of skiing here is staying in Ohakune the town at the base which is a cool little ski town, with a few great bars and restaurants to keep you entertained. Most notably the Powderkeg where everybody heads for après in a lodge like hotel. We did our fair share of trying out different accommodation here, first up a book a bach which was a bargain however, kiwi’s don’t seem to rate central heating and double glazing like we do back in the UK so this was a fairly chilly stay and we decided it was worth the extra dollars for warmth next time! We also stayed at Kings, a motel style hotel with hot tub, bar and awesome Texas style restaurant with some of the best burgers we have had in New Zealand. Our final stay for the last weekend of our season we decided to splash out and stay at the Powderhorn Chateau, home to the aforementioned Powderkeg bar, and by far our favourite. The Powderhorn has a great mountain feel and an incredible pool which you can order drinks too!
Anyway enough about the accommodation I’m sure you’re here to hear about the sliding! Turoa fast became our go to resort, although it’s a little further from Auckland it’s a great resort. The bottom half does get pretty wild at the end of the day as there are limited routes all the way to the base, but once half way up the terrain spreads out and there’s plenty to choose from. With high speed chairs and the different sections of the mountain the queues move quickly, and we got plenty of time going downhill. Our favourite part is the slopes accessed from the High Noon chair which, apart from the amazing views all the way to Mt Taranaki on the west coast, are the steepest runs and also allow you to traverse out into the off-piste areas to the skiers left. When the snow is good you can find some great bowls and plenty of untracked snow to play in. Out to skier’s right you can find some awesome natural gulley’s, drops and down the centre fast and steep groomers for a good carve. Below High Noon the Giant chair is a great option if it’s too windy up top, ending mid mountain it means you can go almost anywhere from the top. Off to the side of the ski field the Nga Wai Heke Chair has a nice steep black into some playful mellow meadows.
On the North of Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa is a great wide ski area with lots of space and variation. When skiing here we stayed in National Park, this is a small place with just a couple of restaurants and bars. We stayed at the Park Hotel which is great value accommodation, things here are a bit cheaper than neighbouring Ohakune, with hot tub and cosy little modern rooms. Next door is the Schnapps Bar which has a mellow vibe but great beers.
Whakapapa ski field is about a twenty minute scenic drive up the mountain passing Mt Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings, it’s an amazing stratovolcano all covered with snow. From the base a series of chairs take you up to the highest point and from here the main area of the resort starts in a wide bowl and funnels down to the base. The Pinnacles off to skier’s right are great on a snowy day for some powder and make for a dramatic backdrop and further down where it narrows there are a number of chutes to test the better skiers. Traversing through the ridge the furthest point is The Far West T-bar (plenty of T-bars at Whakapapa can make for a tiring leg day) this is steep fast terrain and great for carving and a few laps. Beyond this point the off-piste areas of Black Magic and Wizards have great bowls and powder, there are a few small cliffs to watch out for though as Guy found when he tumbled off a 15ft snow covered steep into the powder below. Unfortunately the GoPro had chosen that exact moment to run out of battery but it gave me a good laugh all the same (I checked he was ok first of course!). The nearby west ridge chair has some gentle runs with plenty of gulley’s and little jumps to keep us entertained and you can ski pretty much everywhere between the piste too.
So there you have it, a whistle stop guide to Mt Ruapehu, two resorts each offering something slightly different and with terrain for everyone. We had an epic time this season. We will be working on our surfing through the summer, but maybe see you out there next winter!