Mt Ruapehu: Under the volcano

By Andy Kenworthy

You're never too old to enjoy your first outing on a pair of skis, discovers Andy Kenworthy during a weekend on Mt Ruapehu.

Beginners learn to ski on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Supplied
Beginners learn to ski on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Supplied

At first glance, taking your two-year-old and your 20-weeks-pregnant wife up Mt Ruapehu in the middle of winter doesn't look like a recipe for family fun. It sounds like a one-way ticket back to buying ready meals for one.

This is especially true for me: when I first met my Auckland-raised wife Fiona in Britain I used to refer to her as my "tropical girlfriend" because to keep her I had to set up extra-special heating equipment in my home.

Thankfully our spacious and well-appointed two-bedroom accommodation at the Rocky Mountain Chalets in Ohakune was warm as toast. It had a spa and sauna, and separate drying cupboard so we didn't spend the weekend surrounded by damp ski gear.

And at least my wife knew how to ski. I had never tried and suspected I would be about as successful at it as a shire horse would.

I have snowboarded twice before. The simplicity of sliding down the slopes while strapped to a plank appealed to me much more than having to contend with four separate bits of equipment.

Thankfully Joseph, our friendly instructor at the Turoa ski area, kept things very simple and friendly. In just under two hours I learned how to glide along on a very shallow incline, turn very roughly in the direction I was considering going in, and come to an eventual unsteady halt without losing all my teeth.

While my wife and I were busy doing this, our son Balin was safely playing at the Turoa Yeti Kids' Centre only about 100m away.

The facilities there are excellent, and we returned just in time to give him the great salad sandwich we bought from the Chocolate Eclair Shop in Ohakune, instead of the hot chips and tomato sauce they were offering for lunch.

We had stocked up ourselves before heading up the mountain: advisable if you are watching the dollars as almost everything edible up there costs roughly double what you can get it for at a lower altitude.

Speaking of dollars, our little 1.4 litre Ford chugged down about $130 worth of fuel getting there and back from Auckland.

Our lesson and ski hire package was $108 each. Balin's childcare would have come to $80 if we left him for the whole day, plus $15 for the staff to watch him eat his chips. And renting our two-bedroom chalet costs from $190 a night, depending the number of days and whether you book mid-week or weekends.

If you have more time, there are also deals for $39 per person per night, based on four people sharing.

As always on a mountain, whether you feel you really get value for money may come down to the weather.

After a morning of blazing blue skies reflecting from gold-tinted goggles, our Saturday afternoon turned into a virtual white-out that shut everything down above the beginners' slopes and sent most people packing. Sunday was cloudy too, which was enough to send us home early.

Regulars we spoke to were philosophical about this as an unavoidable feature of enjoying nature's playground, and I have to admit my family agreed.

Next time, I think we should go for longer, go higher, and pre-plan some poor weather excursions nearby, just in case. But I will stick to my plank.

MT RUAPEHU

Where we stayed: Rocky Mountain Chalets, SH49, Ohakune (just past the carrot), ph (06) 3859545.

Where we ate: Old Coach Road Eatery and Wine, Bay 2, Tyne St, Ohakune, ph (06) 385 9423. A great line in apres-ski mulled wine and tasty cakes.

Getting up the mountain: There are sealed roads to both ski areas, although these may require snow chains or be shut in adverse weather. Shuttles are also available. Check mtruapehu.com for details.

Equipment hire: There are two on-mountain rental outlets at Whakapapa and one at Turoa. You can hire skis, snowboards, toboggans, waterproof jackets and pants, helmets and wristguards.

Access to the slopes: Multi-day ski passes for the whole mountain, including Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas, can be bought online at mtruapehu.com, and all passes can be bought at the ski areas themselves.

The weather: Conditions can change rapidly on the mountain. It's worth checking metservice.com before you go.

Andy was a guest of Mt Ruapehu and Rocky Mountain Chalets.

- NZ Herald

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