Whakapapa, Mount Ruapehu
New Zealand's largest and most developed ski area, right in the middle of the North Island on a spectacular and sometimes-active volcano Mount Ruapehu. Dozens of ski clubs have on-snow acommodation in club lodges at the base of the lift system. A busy day can have 3000-4000 people skiing there.
The terrain is volcanic boulders, with cliffs formed from old lava flows. This takes a good dollop of snow to be skiable. Once it gets its base, it lasts well into spring, and summer skiing is still possible after a good winter.
Stunning views. Excellent terrain. Variable snow conditions, and generally better in spring. The snow can be icy or soft and slushy, but if struck on a good day, it's fabulous.
- 1 Location
- 2 Pros
- 3 Cons
- 4 Contacts
- 5 Planning
- 6 Resort Facilities
- 7 Ride Guide
- 8 Other
- 9 Resources
Central North Island, New Zealand.
- Huge variety of terrain and snow conditions
- Good lift system
- Crowded on weekends
- Subject to nasty weather
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Ltd. Private Bag, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand.
Whakapapa Phone: +64 7 892 3738, Whakapapa Fax: +64 7 892 3732
Club lodges only, around carpark and lower 1/3 of mountain. Approx 50 of them. See Ruapehu Mountain Clubs Association
Hotel, motel, youth hostel, backpacker accommodation in Ohakune and National Park townships and Turangi and further afield to the bright lights of Taupo town.
Whakapapa and Turoa are both operated by RAL (Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Ltd) a public non-profit company. An advantage of this is that ski tickets are interchangeable between the two resorts, allowing skiers to buy a multi-day pass and choose which ski area to go to on each day. Season passes are very competitive (2006 was $359 if purchased before May 1st).
Large and well organised.
On-mountain and off-mountain easily available.
Buses go up the mountain roads from base towns. Sealed two-lane mountain roads.
Extensive and well organised.
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Usual options in base towns.
Bars & Entertainment
Ski shops on mountain, and lots to buy in Ohakune.
Very family-friendly, good beginners areas.
Happy Valley is usually regarded as the best beginners' area in New Zealand.
Runs are groomed throughout the mountain.
Advanced skiers can check out Backstage, Broken Leg Gulley, High traverse, McKenzie's Mistake, Yankee Slalom, Cornice Bowl, The Amphitheatre, Wizard's and the Milk Run.
Out of Bounds
Go to the Far West T-bar, and head out west from there. Keep going. It's awesome on a good day.
Above the ski area is another 400-500 vertical metres of mountain. You will often see people trudging up with skis/boards over their shoulders on a fine day, many of these people are unprepared for the conditions and some get into trouble.
AT skiers and Telemarkers can usually get up rapidly with skins. Ride the lifts to the top of the Far West T-bar and head up the Whakapapa Glacier towards the Crater Lake. It can be icy, so crampons and ice axe are often useful. Be prepared to walk with skis on the pack if necessary. From the summit plateau there are many descents to choose from, see the NZ Backcountry Skiing Guidebook for more details.
It is possible to traverse on downhill skis all the way around the mountain to Turoa, with skating and perhaps a short climb to gain a little altitude. Just head West beyond the Far West T-bar and keep going.
Skinny skis, fishscale bases and klisters are pretty much useless in this terrain.
Note that there can be significant, and often underestimated, avalanche danger on Mt Ruapehu. There are avalanche hazard advisory boards at the top of the lifts. Talk with the ski patrol if unsure.
Park and Pipe
The Turoa park is way better, 2006 saw a smallish pipe made mid field.
Some small mogels under the Waterfall chair.
Out of bounds is the place to find powder. It doesn't last long, due to the number of people skiing there.
Wind is a big issue. No trees. Lower mountain is generally more sheltered, but that's just relative. Inside the cafe tends to be the best shelter.
Lots of kids on toboggans and plastic bags, usually around the carpark and beginners areas.
Changeable in the extreme. Windy and icy. Be prepared. Can be sunny and warm. Expect the lot (all in one day).
Ruapehu is a big isolated volcano, 2797m high, right in the middle of the North Island, and subject to winds and weather from all points of the compass. There were major eruptions in 1995 and 1996, disrupting the ski season, but luckily nobody was hurt. Sirens on the mountain are set to warn people of impending eruption. If it goes off, get to high ground and pray.
In September 1887 the sacred mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu were gifted to the people of New Zealand by the Paramount Chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe, Horonuku Te Heu Heu Tukino thus ensuring their protection for all people for all time. This gift formed the nucleus of Tongariro National Park, the first in New Zealand, and one of the first in the world. This is now a world heritage area on both cultural and natural criteria.
Bill Mead and Bernard Drake were the first people to bring skis to Ruapehu, in summer 1913. They made the first turns down the Whakapapa glacier and promptly formed the Ruapehu Ski Club. The focus of development was in the Whakapapa area on the north-western slopes, where a road was built (the Bruce Road) and club lodges started to be built. Rope tows were operated at first, but a public company was formed (Ruapehu Alpine Lifts) and Sir Edmund Hillary opened the first chairlift in New Zealand in 1954 on the lower slopes of Whakapapa ski area (the Rockgarden).
RAL has remained a non-profit organisation ever since, putting the profits back into development on the mountain, and keeping lift ticket prices reasonable. A separate ski area nearby, the National Downhill, was developed by Roy Turner and Jimmy Johns in the 1960's, but was bought out by RAL in 1975 and incorporated into Whakapapa. Turoa, a separate ski area on the south-western slopes, was developed in the 1970's, but was bought out by RAL in 2000.