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    Mount Ruapehu

Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 1,630 metres

Top elevation: 2,300 metres

Number of lifts: 14

Number of runs: 67

Access: The closest airport in Taupo, a one and half hour drive away. Most people drive down from Auckland.

Whakapapa (pronounced “fukka puppa” – get it out of your system) is one of the two ski resorts on Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand’s largest active volcano. These are the only ski resorts on the North Island, where you’ll find views to match anything found down South and, if the stats are to believed, more snow. However, this is a completely different proposition to the skiing down near Queenstown - up here it’s more low-key, everything’s understated and it all feels like a bit of an adventure. You won’t find the glitzy nightclubs and a cool-dude après-scene. There are no Warren Miller film crews on the mountain and lip balm promotion booths with scantly clad models handing out samples.

Instead there are 65 trails, served by 11 lifts - New Zealand’s largest ski area. They have the highest lift in New Zealand, and the longest vertical descent in Australasia. As the advertising correctly claim - more terrain, more choice and more freedom. Let them take all the plaudits down south, up here you’ll find a rugged pristine wilderness, skiing on quiet slopes on the side of a huge volcano. How elemental and cool is that!

The sister-resort Turoa lies on the south-western slopes of Mount Ruapehu and it is perfectly possible to ski both as they are covered by the same lift pass. However, the ski areas are not interconnected.

The season up here lasts longer than down south. The ski slopes on Mount Ruapehu can still be open as late as October / November, though we’d advise that you stick to the July through mid September period if you wish to make the long journey with any kind of assurance of decent snow.

Skiing in Whakapapa (Mount Ruapehu)

Skiing on a huge volcano is anything but conventional. Mount Ruapehu is not part of a larger mountain range. Instead it sits with only two other volcanoes for company (one served up as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings),  slam-dunk in the middle of the North Island. They are exposed to all the elements, all the time. This is a good thing, because it results in plenty of snow, but you do need to head up the mountain each day prepared for all the weather; one minute it’ll be sunny, then foggy, then a freezing cold spell and next the winds arrive…and all before lunch.

Half the slopes are designated as intermediate terrain, with the remainder split evenly between advanced and beginner - Whakapapa is a very egalitarian experience. It’s all above the tree line and the 67 named runs are serviced by quad and double chairlifts, along with surface tows. As it stands, it’s not the most efficient lift system, but queues are rarely seen and investment is on-going - there are plans afoot for a brand new super-fast six-seater chair. Whakapapa also has snowmaking capability covering 20% of the skiable area.

Because of old volcanic eruptions, lava rivers formed and this makes for some wonderful varied terrain. The “Black Magic” backcountry area is more open, giving access to steep chutes, drop-offs and secret powder stashes. From all over the volcano the views are just….wow!

With a quarter of the mountain given over to novices, Whakapa is a pretty cool place to learn and improve.  ‘Happy Valley’ is aptly named, a cordoned off area made up of gentle, well-protected slopes close to the base with magic carpet lifts and nothing threatening to negotiate.

Ski schools are professional and friendly, teaching the generations of New Zealanders how to ski – this is where the populace of Auckland and Wellington come to learn.

Paradise found, with a surfeit of wide-open groomed pistes to choose from with a varying pitch and the opportunity to carve from top to bottom. It can feel like the whole mountain is yours alone and, when ready to push on, the terrain just off the sides is enticing.

In Whakapapa the blacks really are black. Right in the middle of the mountain is a natural amphitheatre, and many of the more interesting runs skirt this area – you’ll find bumps and you’ll find chutes. When the snow conditions get icy, this central area can become a real challenge even for the most expert skier or boarder.

The ‘Black Magic’ backcountry zone, on the far right as you look up the mountain, offers up some of the best lift-accessed off-piste we’ve ever been fortunate enough to find. As always it’s a race to create first tracks on a powder day, but make sure that you’re at least on the starting line. It’s worth it.

On the whole, Mount Ruapehu can be a wild mountain, with plenty of hazards – it is a volcano after all! However, the organization is outstanding and you’ll find ropes, nets and safety signs steering you away from danger. They are reasonably relaxed about heading outside the ski area boundary, but – as is always the case – only those with the confidence, experience and skill should even consider this, and then only with the correct safety equipment and having told ski patrol where you are heading. Seeking the benefit of local knowledge is of paramount importance on Mount Ruapehu.

Most snowboarders (of an appropriate standard) love the “Black Magic” backcountry area, which is on the far right as you look up the mountain.  On the opposite left side, there are diverse lines available thanks to volcanic eruptions and the subsequent lava rivers.

You won’t find plenty of facilities, kids centres or child care at Whakapapa.  However, the wonderful ski school caters for kids of all ages.

There are five restaurants, pubs or cafés in the village. That’s your lot – you’re not coming here to party! The vibe is sedate, though we did once manage to have a reasonably riotous night out in The Tussock  - Whakapapa’s only real pub.

With a quarter of the mountain given over to novices, Whakapa is a pretty cool place to learn and improve.  ‘Happy Valley’ is aptly named, a cordoned off area made up of gentle, well-protected slopes close to the base with magic carpet lifts and nothing threatening to negotiate.

Ski schools are professional and friendly, teaching the generations of New Zealanders how to ski – this is where the populace of Auckland and Wellington come to learn.

Paradise found, with a surfeit of wide-open groomed pistes to choose from with a varying pitch and the opportunity to carve from top to bottom. It can feel like the whole mountain is yours alone and, when ready to push on, the terrain just off the sides is enticing.

In Whakapapa the blacks really are black. Right in the middle of the mountain is a natural amphitheatre, and many of the more interesting runs skirt this area – you’ll find bumps and you’ll find chutes. When the snow conditions get icy, this central area can become a real challenge even for the most expert skier or boarder.

The ‘Black Magic’ backcountry zone, on the far right as you look up the mountain, offers up some of the best lift-accessed off-piste we’ve ever been fortunate enough to find. As always it’s a race to create first tracks on a powder day, but make sure that you’re at least on the starting line. It’s worth it.

On the whole, Mount Ruapehu can be a wild mountain, with plenty of hazards – it is a volcano after all! However, the organization is outstanding and you’ll find ropes, nets and safety signs steering you away from danger. They are reasonably relaxed about heading outside the ski area boundary, but – as is always the case – only those with the confidence, experience and skill should even consider this, and then only with the correct safety equipment and having told ski patrol where you are heading. Seeking the benefit of local knowledge is of paramount importance on Mount Ruapehu.

Most snowboarders (of an appropriate standard) love the “Black Magic” backcountry area, which is on the far right as you look up the mountain.  On the opposite left side, there are diverse lines available thanks to volcanic eruptions and the subsequent lava rivers.

You won’t find plenty of facilities, kids centres or child care at Whakapapa.  However, the wonderful ski school caters for kids of all ages.

There are five restaurants, pubs or cafés in the village. That’s your lot – you’re not coming here to party! The vibe is sedate, though we did once manage to have a reasonably riotous night out in The Tussock  - Whakapapa’s only real pub.

Getting There

Whakapapa is an easy and scenic four to five hours drive from Auckland or Wellington. If you’re flying in from overseas, it’s best to rent a car or you could fly onwards to Taupo, the nearest airport. From there, it’s a mere one and a half hours to Whakapapa.

The Whakapapa ski field is accessed from Whakapapa village, at the foot of the volcano. Resort access is via the toll-free, two-lane Bruce Road…or “autobahn”. This must be one of the fastest mountain roads in the world!

Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 1,630 metres

Top elevation: 2,300 metres

Number of lifts: 14

Number of runs: 67

Access: The closest airport in Taupo, a one and half hour drive away. Most people drive down from Auckland.