We took two of our grandsons, aged 3 and 5, to Ruapehu to see snow for the first time the other weekend.
None of us ski - well, I once skiied on the learner slopes at Mt Hutt for about 30 seconds and my wife claims she was going well before I slid into her - but that didn't matter.
It also rained much of the time. The 3-year-old got a stomach bug which spread to his father. My wife got a cold. And, for some strange reason, the chalet we rented was missing the microwave and oven, which rather disrupted the planned menu.
But none of that mattered either. We had a great time. No, make that a fantastic time.
We went to Turoa, which may be further away from Auckland but for that reason is quieter and cheaper, and reports suggested it had better early-season snow.
Thanks to the rain and the fact that the official opening of the season was a week away, hardly anyone was there. But we were very impressed that Ruapehu Alpine Lifts still ran the snowmaking machines overnight and used the resultant snow to make a couple of toboggan runs and a learner area.
First up, of course, the boys threw snowballs (some older people did too). Then with the aid of a carrot and a couple of stones, we made a snowman. After that it was time for serious stuff.
Our daughter had bought a toboggan at The Warehouse for $50 - and RAL had sliders for hire for $20 - which were just perfect. Within about five minutes the boys had learned how to slide down the run, take the toboggan over to the travelator, ride back up and zoom down the slope again.
Once they'd had enough the adults had a go, sometimes with a child aboard, occasionally on our own. It was terrific fun. My wife set the record for the longest run but crashed spectacularly at the end. My slow run earned some grinning barracking from a group of snowboarders who yelled, "Jump, Poppa, jump." Our daughter had a great run and dispute continues over whether it was a new record. When we got cold we went into the cafe for some yummy hot chocolate and slices of chocolate cake.
That's pretty much what we did for three days and quite a few other families seemed to be doing the same.
When the boys needed a break from the cold and damp we explored the Army Museum at Waiouru, the Tangiwai Disaster Memorial, the historic Ohakune Railway Station, the Ohakune children's playground and the bush walks and waterfalls of Tongariro National Park.
It didn't cost much either. The chalet in Rangataua from bookabach.co.nz cost only $150 a night (though that was poised to rise once the season opened) and the takeaways in Ohakune were good and cheap.
It just goes to show you don't need to be a skilled skier nor do you need to spend a lot of money to have fun in the snow.
- Jim Eagles
Pictured above: The boys give the toboggan a whirl. Photo / Jim Eagles