The death of a man found in Mt Ruapehu's crater lake has been referred to the coroner.

A 39-year-old Taupo resident was reported missing to police on Friday night.

He had left his home the day before to go skiing at the mountain's Whakapapa skifield.

The man's car was in the skifield carpark but bad weather meant a search could not begin.

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Ground teams and helicopters searched the mountain from first light today and found him dead in the crater lake.

It appears he fell into the lake.

His family had joined the search earlier today and police have told them of his death.

Senior Sergeant Grant Alabaste said it was "an absolute tragedy".

"He was at an area where many people go to get views of the lake."