Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Mt Ruapehu: Adventures in the snow

Rachel Grunwell offers tips on how to survive taking the kids on a ski holiday.
Skiers head home from Turoa skifield after a day on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Alan Gibson
Skiers head home from Turoa skifield after a day on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Alan Gibson

Taking my young sons on a skiing holiday felt too tough a mission - tough enough that I put it off for so many years my son Zach was eight before we finally braved going. He obviously suffered the first seven years of his life from some form of snow deprivation, poor kid.

The thing is, I had visions of three kids going in three different directions and slip sliding away down the mountain - or down the active volcano, in the case of Mt Ruapehu. Add my husband Damien to that tally and I was facing a fear of four bodies flying in four different directions.

To be frank, I thought life was complicated enough without the prospect of my whole family going off-piste. I reckoned, give me Fiji any day.

But I secretly wondered how friends enjoyed their snowy escapes - I couldn't get my head around how we could all enjoy time on a mountain with different family members at different ski capabilities. My husband is an experienced skier, whereas I'm just intermediate level. Zach (8) and Lachie (6) are beginners. Then there is two-year-old Finn, who is just capable of snow play.

Anyhow, in August last year we went to Mt Ruapehu and ended up having a blast. The kids were so excited - "does Santa live here?" squealed a joyful Lachie when we arrived, which melted my heart. And what a delight it was to watch the kids trying to conquer a new sport in a wintery wonderland. We can't wait to go back.

Tips for a successful trip:

Arrive early at the mountain to get good parking close to the skifields (this saves children from whining about walking miles from a far-away car park).

Have breakfast as a treat at a cafe on-site so the family is ready to go skiing as soon as the lifts open. Our kids loved eating while looking out to the snowy vista, the chairlifts operating and all those half-a-million-dollar ski ploughs carving up courses. It was also good to know the kids were loaded up on calories right up to the last minute before skiing. The hot chocolate with marshmallows got the thumbs up from my guys at Turoa.

Lessons for the kids are essential - so they can learn the proper techniques and enjoy themselves more (and they'll also be safer). It also gave Damien and me time out to head off together further up the mountain to enjoy some longer runs.

The adults can take turns at hanging out with the kids and going for thrill-seeking fun on higher slopes. That way everyone gets the most fun out of skiing. Everyone can meet up later in the day for family time together. It's a great mix.

Make sure the kids stop for breaks. Children tire more easily and it's good to keep check on when they've had enough (even though they will likely protest that they want to stay until night time).

Keep chocolate and nuts in a pocket for a quick energy boost.

Take lots of spare warm layers on holiday. Warm kids are happy kids. And don't forget all those goggles, gloves and sunscreen. You can hire most gear there. Or borrow friends' gear if you can.

Consider using the Turoa Yeti Kids' Centre if you have a little one (it's for two- to five-year-olds and is fully licenced). That frees you up to spend time on the slopes and to encourage your older children. We left our little guy there to play and picked him up after lunch to show him the snow. We'd recommend the facilities and the staff who looked after Finn.

Hire accommodation close to facilities. Where we stayed in Ohakune we were near to a supermarket, playground, cafes and other shops, which was handy for a family. Our chalet had a kitchen, washing facilities and multi-rooms and was like a mini home away from home.

Try a Discover Package at Mt Ruapehu for learner skiers. It can be a great way to start your skiing experience. It includes beginner lessons of almost two hours, a beginner area lift pass, full-day rental of gear (jackets, pants, skis, poles, boots or snowboard and boots) and a sightseeing chairlift ride.

Mt Ruapehu opens on June 28 this year, snow permitting.

- Herald on Sunday

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