After a break from all things snowy of 3 months or so I’m now in New Zealand working for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts at Whakapapa ski field. A name which sounds a bit rude if you say it wrong!
I arrived a month or so ago and this is my first visit to New Zealand in 20 years. So I was interested to know how the place might have changed. The kiwis are still as friendly and helpful as I remember and for me New Zealand reaffirms my faith in humanity.
Whakapapa is located on Mt Ruapehu which is an active volcano! In fact part of our induction training informed us of what to do if there is an eruption. There have been a few of these in the last 30 years so the training is required!
The lift system is rather archaic if I’m honest, but in the main it gets the job done. The weather here is a challenge. As someone said to me we are on a small mountain on a small island in the middle of a large ocean. This means our weather is very maritime in nature with fast and often unpredictable changes. The weather most reminds me of skiing in Scotland. The freezing level fluctuates greatly with snow changing to rain often within the space of a few minutes. Winds can be very strong and as we are finding out fairly frequently close the upper or indeed the whole mountain. We are in the Tongariro National Park and besides Tongariro the other main mountain are Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe (better known as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. In fact many of the scenes for the films were filmed around here). Ngauruhoe is a classical volcanic cone shape very similar to Mt Yotei near Rusutsu in Japan where I was skiing previously.
Snow wise we have had an OK start to the season, we could certainly do with a season opening type dump, but we are skiing the whole field now. The terrain at Whakapapa along with the weather has great similarities to Scotland with a lot of the skiing happening on narrow runs, so the ability to ski a short radius parallel turn to get the most out of the terrain is pretty important.
The ski area by European terms is small in size, but this mountain has a huge amount of character, all of the runs are interesting and we have a great beginners nursery area, often said to be the best in New Zealand. There is something for everyone here. Cliff jumps, interesting off-piste, steeper runs and going by the nature of some of the runs I’m sure we will be getting some decent bumps before long.
Light powder is a rarity in contrast to Japan and there is not a single tree to be seen on the ski field, whereas in Japan I was only skiing in trees. So far my mountain skis have been playing second fiddle to my slalom boards, there has been no need to break out the fatter skis. Though I plan to use those to tour up to the crater and possibly ski over to Turoa which is on the same mountain. It is also possible to tour and ski to Tukino which is a small club field also on Mt Ruapehu.
We received a fresh 20 centimetres of snow yesterday so hopefully tomorrow I will get to go and play in it for my day off.
Until next time…………
Peter has worked in many places worldwide including Scotland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and New Zealand.