Liam Dann doesn't let a forecast storm stand in the way of a warming family holiday on the slopes at Ruapehu
New Zealand weather is always a challenge for holidaymakers. Camping in January can be risky but heading for the mountains in September with a forecast week-long storm is really living on the edge.
So, with all three kids in tow, we headed to Ruapehu with expectations of plenty of indoor activities and some soaking in the hotel hot pool.
Remarkably, despite the weather forecast being pretty accurate, we managed to get three of a possible four planned days skiing up on Whakapapa.
New facilities on the field, including a glass elevator from the carpark down to the Happy Valley learners' slopes and an express four-seater chairlift that can handle stronger winds, have greatly improved its ability to stay open.
So, while we didn't get any blue-sky days, the whole family managed to have a blast on the mountain, challenging ourselves and vastly improving our skiing.
None of us are advanced skiers. My wife and I have done enough over the years to feel reasonably confident, but we're getting to an age where major wipe-outs are harder to shake off.
Our 12-year-old and 9-year-old remembered the basics from the last time we skied a couple of years ago, but our 7-year-old needed to start from scratch.
So a family lesson on the first day was well worth it and the young instructors did a great job at tailoring things to our relative skill levels.
By the end of the day, the younger two were zipping up and down Happy Valley on their own and I was embarrassing myself by wiping out on the next slope up.
We pushed ourselves so hard that when the rain and snow closed in the next day it was something of a relief.
Because skiing can be weather-dependent it helps to stay near the fields so you can leave calls about heading up the mountain to the last minute.
For most of our stay we were based at The Park Hotel in National Park, just 10 minutes down the road from Whakapapa Village. It's a cosy, rustic complex. It has a central courtyard with two spa pools and a large restaurant and bar attached, complete with roaring open fire.
For the child-free, that combo would be enough for a chilled-out down day — drinking and watching the impressive storm rage outside. But to break up the day for the kids we headed to the youth hostel across the road which has an impressive indoor climbing wall — an inexpensive way to kill a couple of hours and burn off plenty of energy.
The next morning the weather was still rough but the mountain was open and we were able to get in a full day's skiing based mainly around Happy Valley — with plenty of breaks for hot chocolate.
The next day the conditions were better again. As well as providing the opportunity to get our middle child up to the intermediate slopes, the chairlifts were open all the way up to the Knoll Ridge Cafe. At 2020m above sea level, Knoll Ridge is New Zealand's highest cafe. It represents an impressive feat of logistics and is reminiscent of mountain facilities in Europe.
In fact, it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for non-skiers. Ruapehu offers non-skiing lift passes for those who just want to get up the mountain and enjoy the views. In summer there is the opportunity to go hiking — without having to slog it up all the way from the bottom.
The whole family was able to take the chairlift up, and everyone except the idiot dad rode it down again.
Determined to challenge myself, I think I'd have been fine if the visibility hadn't deteriorated. Okay, I was fine, I got down eventually but the lack of depth perception in a blizzard certainly makes things a bit more intense.
That's what being on the mountain is about, challenging yourself. Whatever level you are at, you always feel best when you feel the fear and do it anyway.
All three of the children came away with a sense of accomplishment and feelings of self-confidence. Whether it was Casey mastering Happy Valley or the older two beating the conditions to make it down the next slope up, we felt the experience was about something more than mindless fun.
For a treat, we were booked for our last night at the immaculate Chateau Tongariro. It's a stunning building, built in 1929 and steeped in the style of that era — but unlike some other historic hotels I've stayed in, the facilities (and fittings) are of the 21st century.
A sauna and swim in the hotel's hot pool, followed by an easy meal at the most family-friendly of the Chateau's restaurants capped off a wonderful week.
CHILDREN AND SNOW — THE GOLDEN RULES
Make them take breaks. Children forget to feel the cold until they are crying, shaking and heading into shock. Bribe them inside for a hot chocolate or snack every hour or so.
2. Don't let them take off their gloves. Snow is so fluffy and fun you just want to touch it.
But nothing kills fun quicker than the burn of frozen fingers.
3. Take two sets of gloves for each child.
4. Snowballs are really hard. Yes, it looks funny in the movies, but a serious snowball fight is almost as painful as a rock fight.
5. For young beginners, skiing is a better bet than snowboarding. At least that's the advice we got and it seemed to stack up.
6. A lesson pays off. From toddlers to fully grown beginners, an hour or two of instruction is fun and sets you up to make the most of the rest of your experience.
is a great family-friendly spot with handy self-catering apartments. You can get a room for between $145 and $210 (per adult — high season).
Or take it upmarket and treat yourself to a stay at the Chateau Tongariro, where you'll pay $125-$1000 (per adult — high season).
Details: For information on ski passes and deals, see packagesmtruapehu.com.