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New Zealand - Ruapehu 2018

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
First season back in NZ after many years in the UK, having up sticks at behest of Mrs Skiwi due to arrival of Miniskiwi the 1st, and after suffering the crippling blow of doing so in September thereby suffering the devastating winter withdrawal effects of a double summer, have finally manged to turn turnstiles and set edges on my old mountain, Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand's North Island yesterday.

Since NZ is upside down with cold weather and low sun angles in the south of the country, as well as all the main mountainous terrain, South Island has the lion's share of the country's skifields, and great fields they are too. But in the interests of fair representation for all us less fortunate northern NZers who have 5x fewer skifields, 5x more monsoon events, and 5x the population to compete with, why not start another NZ topic to promote the fun that can be had on the skifields of Mt Ruapehu, the North Island's "maunga in the middle", and give the snowheads Up Top some more southern snow reports to thumb through while waiting for northern hemi winter 18/19.

A bit of background for those not familiar:

Ruapehu (Roo-ah-pay-hoo) is one of 3 active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park in the central plateau of North Island, the other two being Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom's stunt double in Lord of the Rings) and Tongariro. The plateau is around 800m ASL, and around -39 degrees south of the equator - so higher sun angles and mild temps. Fortunately, Ruapehu is reasonably high (~2700m), with the uppermost lifts being up at around 2300m. Not nosebleed altitude but stays above the freezing level between July and September (mostly).

Ruapehu has 2x commercial fields, Whakapapa on the west side and Turoa on the south, which are both owned by a non-profit entity Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, and 1x small clubfield on the east side. Both commercial fields are accessible on the same season pass, which is what I have for 2018.

There are particular hazards associated with skiing on an active volcano (last eruption 2007), the obvious being eruption - the primary risk being lahars, or pyroclastic mudflows which breach the crater lake and race down the gullies. Each skifield has warning systems linked to Geonet and monitoring equipment to try to pre-empt and they close the mountain if the volcanic rumbles escalate, usually over a period of days, but if the unthinkable happens and the sirens sound it's a case of skiing up onto a ridgeline, and then trying to get down as best you can! So far there's not been an event while skiers have been on the mountain that I'm aware. The other less catastrophic but no less dangerous are the volcanic rocks, huge sharp and unforgiving. Places like Coronet Peak near Queenstown can open with 10cm of natural snowfall because it's all on tussock grass. Ruapehu needs metres and metres of snow to cool down and cover the rocks. Usually, doesn't happen properly until late-July. Until then, off-piste is usually risked by $50 ex-rental riders only.

The payoff for the wait though is superb late-season conditions. Ruapehu stores up its coverage for release as beautiful spring corn in the high sun of September and October. Fewer gales and clearer skies make spring the favourite time of year for seasoned Ruapehu skiers, which stays open long after most other fields have closed. "Snowvember" is not an irregular occurrence, and there was once still skiing at Christmas, many moons ago.

Both the main fields are used fairly equally across the demographics, but some stereotypes persist... it's often said that skiers favour Whakapapa because of the narrower, more technical terrain, with the boarders on the dark side at Turoa, with a better park and wider runs. Ruapehu has a fascinating cultural history which continues to develop. RAL recently received a renewed 30-year lease to operate on the mountain from the Department of Conservation, with plans to make big investments in both fields, within 1) the limits of the "Tuku" or "gift area" as sanctioned by the Maori cultural and spiritual guardians of the mountain, meaning (amongst other things) no new lift access above 2,300m, 2) as permitted by DoC's resource consent conditions, which are to primarily to ensure environmental protection and fair access of the public to the World Heritage-status Tongariro National Park, which Ruapehu is within, and 3) as permitted by RAL's own terms of reference as a non-profit, founded by skiers for skiing in 1953. A real hotmix of stakeholders and interests which continues to face challenges in the years to come.

A few photos from the day...



The three maunga, viewed from State Highway 38 (l to r - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu)



Up mid-mountain at Whakapapa with the sabre-tooth Pinnacles behind



View up the Knoll Ridge T-Bar (not yet in service)



View back past the Knoll Ridge cafe, Mt Doom and Tongariro behind the Pinnacles



View up towards the Valley T - t-bars just getting put on and tested



Snowcat building a trail out to the Far West area, likewise not yet open



View up towards Valley Exit



Whakapapa's aging infrastructure (the chairlift switchgear, not the awesome lifties! Toofy Grin ) - due for replacement by a gondola in the summer



Another view of the Pinnacles behind the Knoll Ridge cafe - not many crowds around



Lunch menu not bad...



...view's ok too Very Happy



Mid-mountain runs



Mt Doom looking somber



Chateau Tongariro with Ruapehu behind



Tongariro itself, innocuously smoking from one of its two active vents... happy reminder of another safe end to a day's skiing!

I'll be popping down fairly regularly, now that we are at the business end of the season, doing more powderchasing after a storm rolls through and will post updates when I do - if anyone has any queries about either skifield I'm more than happy to help Smile
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
How nice to read all that - and see the pics - thanks, @Skiwi 55. I visited Ruapehu many years ago driving across North Island with a non-skiing work colleague. Couldn't resist - after seeing that snow covered volcano in the distance and just drove up for a few hours, hired gear and spent a few hours with him on the nursery slope. I think it was the year before it erupted. About 1990 or 1991? I was impressed by the friendly welcome and being able to hire everything we needed (we were in light clothing, based in Fiji at the time).
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Awesome photos! Only ever flown over it, you've got me thinking about a visit Very Happy
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@Skiwi 55, Thanks for that report. 😀 I visited Auckland a couple of times while my daughter was living there and although I saw Mount Ruapehu on a road trip I didnít manage to ski there as the season hadnít started. My daughter and SIL did take me to visit the South Island though and I was able to manage a few hours skiing at Coronet Peak. Unlike pam w, Iíd taken all my ski gear apart from my skis with me on the off chance that I might be able to ski! Laughing snowHead
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Skiwi 55, Thanks for that, maybe Iíll get out to see my mate that got me into skiing. Very Happy

@Iski, Iíd expect nothing less of you. Laughing snowHead
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You'll need to Register first of course.
Good to hear RAL are investing. Even got that fancy snow making for Happy Valley.

They should be able to invest as they have a lock on everything on the slopes (including declaring when you need snow chains then renting them out on the road up!) and day passes are pretty pricey with season tix the way to go.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Nice to read the messages and memoirs from others who have visited (or driven past/flown over) Smile

Taking stock after a Pineapple Express over the weekend, very warm northerly storm out of the South Pacific. Heavy rain up to mid-mountain on Sun night, slow to turn to snow on Monday afternoon, but then continuous snow down to the villages over the past couple of days with the southerly change. Feeling wintery in Auckland again with the fire roaring and mainlining cups of tea. Whakapapa now looking very well covered above 1700m. Many are saying the best start to a season in 10 years. Still waiting for RAL to put the blimming t-bars on the upper mountain lifts... (R)eady (A)fter (L)unch still applies... Laughing

Turoa being on the south side of the mountain however was sheltered from the worst of the driving rain and lapped up the snowfall borne on gentler southerlies and is consequently loaded top to bottom. Weekend weather looking conducive to an impromptu weekend in Ohakune to sample the guilty pleasures of the "Dark Side"... Twisted Evil
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Good pix.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
Didn't make the effort this weekend in the end, middle weekend of July school holidays not the ideal time to compete for slope space. Bullet dodged - reports of overflowing carparks, 2-3 hour waits for shuttles from Ohakune/National Park, absurdly long lift queues etc leading to a lot of angry mums and RAL scrambling to extend lift hours to 5pm and offer impromptu free passes for night skiing. Looks like conditions up on the hill were superb, once you got there! Far West sector now open at Whakapapa, much earlier than in the past. Seems like RAL's new management structure (different GMs for Turoa and Whakapapa, historically the same) is shaking things up for the better, bit of friendly competition between the fields to open their terrain asap isn't doing the punters any harm at all. Or could just be the bumper snowfall had to date. Puzzled

Couple of fine days in the forecast this week, Friday looks an option, fingers crossed.
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
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I remember it very well 20 years ago, maybe time for a revisit Very Happy
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
@stanton, very welcome should you wish to make the Jules Verne-esque effort next winter - great memories of skiing and apres in St Anton, well I remember the skiing better Madeye-Smiley Skullie the Powderkeg isnt exactly the Mooserwirt but still tables to dance on and good times to be had Madeye-Smiley
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