While warm weather means perfect white peaks are still a little way off, conditions last weekend were finally right for snowmaking.

"We are under way now and that's the really exciting part of the year," Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) chief executive Jono Dean said. "It's a little later than we would've normally started but that said, we have now had the opportunity to get going with snowmaking."

The usually bustling ski area has been eerily quiet in the lead-up to the season, Covid-19 closing borders to the large contingent of international staff and halting the usual preparations.

When the mountain opens on July 1 there'll be fewer lifts operating and a reduction in the skifields' capacity, meaning punters could be turned away on busy weekends.

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Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, the operator of the Whakapapa and Tūroa skifields, is looking at ways to manage this and plans to inform would-be customers before they make the decision to travel.

"The tools we are looking at are to be able to communicate with people prior to their arrival - what the ski area capacity is looking like so they can make that decision," Dean said.

Less staff also means some of the usual services won't be on offer.

"A lot of the kids would ordinarily be in lessons, which we are not necessarily able to provide this year," Dean said. "So we encourage people to just come up for a 'free ski'. Free-skiing is getting out and just creating your own path, finding your way around the mountain, as opposed to being under instruction."

For beginners and young families, Dean recommends Whakapapa's Happy Valley facilities as the best place to learn to ski.

"If you're an intermediate or an advanced skier, certainly the Tūroa skifield is going to be ideal with the spine of the mountain open and operating," said Dean.

While a downturn in profits is inevitable, RAL is remaining positive for its business and other complementary operations, such as Edge to Edge Ski Hire, based at Skotel. It's New Zealand's highest hotel, located within the Alpine Village only 6km down the mountain road from Whakapapa.

"We've got the ski hire downstairs which caters to everything you might need for tramping, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, or just playing in the snow," said Sam Clarkson, owner of Edge to Edge and more recently the Skotel. "Funnily enough I ran that downstairs in the Skotel for the fat end of 30 years and eventually bought the whole hotel, a bit like the parasite taking over the host."

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From being a "clubby" with the Havelock North Ski Hut to new owner of Skotel, Clarkson has spent most winters on Ruapehu - but he won't try to predict how much snow there'll be this season.

"You can't do it! It doesn't work," he said. "I've seen seasons start terrible and end brilliant, start brilliant and end terrible, and start brilliant and end brilliant, and every combination in between - you just don't know."

For people planning a trip up the mountain this winter, RAL is asking them to consider midweek skiing.

"Ask your boss for a bit of flexibility and come up midweek because there's plenty of availability and plenty of space to enjoy skiing on Mount Ruapehu."

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