The move to alert level 1 is a welcome one for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, and so is the spring snow.
This Local Focus video looks at the operations of the company that operates Ruapehu and Tūroa ski fields, and is extending its season through to mid-November. Whakapapa is extending its season and Tūroa will be open well after its official closing date for long, Friday to Monday weekends until November 18.
While it will be weather dependent, the longer season will go some way towards making up for the slow start to another challenging year for RAL. Warm weather in June and July delayed opening and hampered snowmaking. Then the number of people allowed on the mountain was drastically reduced due to Covid-19.
The company's future operations have been in jeopardy but recent bank funding will ensure both the Sky Waka summer tourist season and winter 2021 will go ahead.
Even with the late start and reduced capacity almost a quarter of a million people have been on the slopes since July. And every day on the ski field is a big event.
With more hazards than most attractions, the highly trained and experienced crew must decide whether to open the mountain and then keep them safe. Advanced forecasting including avalanche forecasting starts well before most skiers are awake. Alpine conditions are so changeable the decision to open the mountain is a daily one.
Before arriving at base, snow safety officer Richard Te Ua will have built a picture of what the snowpack will be like. And he is constantly adding to the "map" using data collected from weather stations and even drilling through the snowpack to collect core samples.
"This is my 50th winter back to back," Te Ua said. "My primary responsibility and concern is making sure that people are safe in the ski area in regard to avalanche concerns."
The ski patrol have a chain of procedures in place before the lifts can start to operate. Once they give the all-clear, the public is allowed on the mountain.
"We'll start off having a meeting in the locker room," said ski patrol manager Brendon "Bendy" Nesbit. "We'll designate all the patrollers out to where they should be - they all have zones up here."
Phil Couch, better known as "Couchy", is the ski patrol supervisor and when Local Focus spoke to him he was in charge of dispatch, the "nerve centre" of operations.
"If there's any incidents or accidents that come in, then it'll come through this radio-telephone. Then I'll log it on the computer and dispatch people," Couchy said.
"We are all trained up to a level to respond to pretty much everything the mountain can throw at us."
The alert levels are lifting in time for school holidays and spring weather is sure to bring out the tourists. Bendy, Couchy and Te Ua are urging guests to stick to boundaries on the mountain, emphasising that if something is closed it's for a reason.
Whiteouts, ice, rocks and challenging alpine conditions are a hazard for even the most experienced.
"A lot of times when we are making those decisions we are looking at things like, can we get a chopper in? What is the cloud doing today? Is this is going to be a big event if we can't get these people back?" Bendy said.
The challenging conditions of Mt Ruapehu make it a difficult mountain to run, but it is also unique.
"That's what makes this place and the riders of Mt Ruapehu such great riders. It's because they are very adaptable to many conditions from ice to slush so it does make a very good skier or snowboarder here at Mt Ruapehu."
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