Mt Ruapehu ski group

Some Frustration in the Land of Mordor

Since I last wrote we have had more top ups of snowfall, but no big falls. However the snow base on the mountain now sits at about 3 metres according to the companies marketing department. Most people are saying this has been the best season for quite a few years.

There have, however, been a lot of closed days due to high winds probably, though sometimes I think commercial considerations have been taken into account too. This has inevitably affected the amount of work I’ve been getting. I don’t think I’ll be saving much this season!

Possibly the closed days have been partly attributable to the age of the lifts, most are at least 30 years old and inevitably they can’t cope with even moderate winds. As the company will soon hopefully have its lease to operate the mountain renewed, hopefully they can start to make the investments needed to improve the lift infrastructure to make it more reliable on poor weather days.

In skiing terms I’ve had a few good days, but the weather often scuppers any really adventurous days off. My latest trip involved a 500 metre boot pack up a steep open slope to reach a ridge line on the Pinnacles, which is a steep ridge on the ski area boundary. Then I planned to ski a steep, narrow couloir called The Keyhole’.After laboriously kicking in steps all the way up I managed to lose my footing all of 3 metres from the ridgeline and then promptly fell back down the whole lot! I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop the fall as the snow surface was firm, so my main thought was to get in a position so I could divert myself away from any rocks. Fortunately I was successful and only ended up with some ice burn grazes, bruising and dented pride!

Surveying the damage at the bottom I had lost all the compression straps on my backpack owing to the skis ripping them off during the fall, my beanie was gone and the last I saw of my helmet (it had been strapped to my pack) was of it bouncing off down the hill into Skippers Canyon, which is a steep fairly inaccessible ravine.

Fortunately ski patrol retrieved my beanie (it has sentimental value), but the helmet is gone for good I think. However all in all I came out of it fairly intact. I’ve now managed to get the pack repaired, but I’ll need to buy a new helmet.

So, would I come back to Whakapapa? Well from a financial view point probably not. There is not enough work, mainly owing to the number of closed days (I’m writing this on another one).

However although the ski area is small, I love the mountain, it also has a couple of the steepest marked runs I’ve ever seen anywhere in ‘the chute’ and ‘the chimney’, in many other places Health and Safety would have got rid of these two pronto! There is a lot of character to all the runs and we do have a fantastic beginners area for teaching on. Sadly the lift system is currently, frankly rubbish! Hopefully this will change soon. Another negative is that we never get any moguls building up as they get pisted out of existence overnight. This for me is very sad. One of the higher end skills and joys of skiing is bump skiing. To remove any opportunity to ski bumps effectively de-skills skiing. Not everyone wants to ski glass smooth pistes. Perhaps the advent of the push by manufacturers and the media to promote ‘carving’ is leading to the loss of our moguls. I say ‘let the moguls live too’!

I’m still very tempted to come back though. The staff here are generally fantastic and it is they that in a large part really make the place work and be a great place to be.

Also I’ve been working throughout the season with the Ruapehu Ski Club, which is, I’m told, the second oldest ski club in the world after the Ski Club of Great Britain. RSC was founded in 1913 and its founder members basically instigated skiing on Ruapehu and have had a huge influence on its development particularly in the earlier years.

RSC would be another large factor in my deciding to return owing to the wonderful club atmosphere that I have been allowed to be a part of for the season.

So what’s next? Well I head to Bali at the end of October for a month of scuba diving courses and then I return to Rusutsu, Japan. Which I cannot wait to return to.

Bring on the Powder!