Alexia Santamaria presents a beginners' guide to taking your family to Mount Ruapehu
It's a romantic notion, rugging your family up, bundling them into the car and heading away for a snowy winter break. But what if you've never actually done it yourself? Will those heady fantasies of wide-open pistes and wind in your hair actually look more like something from Looney Tunes as you flail down the beginners' slopes fearing for your life and that of those around you? The answer is no, it's entirely possible to take your family to the mountain with no prior experience and have a wonderful time. Here's how.
Pre ski trip
There's a bit of preparation involved for a ski trip, but you'll be glad of every bit of effort once you're there.
Gear: Borrow what you can from friends and hire the rest there. Everyone needs a jacket (one designed for snow use, not the one you use for the school run), ski pants, waterproof gloves, thermal tops and bottoms, warm socks, goggles and hats. A chute or similar to cover the bottom half of your face can be a godsend too.
Whatever you don't have - be it clothing, accessories, helmets, skis, boards or boots - you can rent from one of the townships. We used the Ski Biz at The Alpine Centre in National Park for Whakapapa and TCB in Ōhakune for Tūroa. Both were friendly and helpful.
If you have no experience, say so and they'll give you lots of little tips and tricks. You can also hire gear (skis, boots and boards) on the mountain itself.
Ski clothing can be hired in Ōhakune town, if you need to layer up.
Accommodation: Book this ahead as it can be tricky closer to the date. The self-contained units at Plateau Lodge (National Park) and Rocky Mountain Chalets (Ōhakune) are excellent, clean and super comfortable but there are plenty of options available for all budgets, including lodge-style accommodation with shared bathrooms and cooking spaces.
It's always good to check what drying and heating facilities any accommodation might have, as you often need to dry your wet gear overnight. And look at refund policies - Mother Nature can sometimes intervene and close the fields, despite your best-laid plans.
When you're there
Conditions: mtruapehu.com has the most up to date information on conditions, with webcams so you can get an accurate idea. Don't judge whether to head up based on the weather where you're staying, as the mountain can be totally different to the town. We went up while it was grey and rainy in National Park but it was fine once we got to Whakapapa itself.
Which slope: Check the conditions on both sides before you decide. We found Whakapapa great for our beginner boys and the next day they were able to navigate the lifts at Tūroa and head just a little higher with confidence. Both sides have beginner slopes but Happy Valley at Whakapapa is a bit wider and longer and it's probably better if you have any non-skiers in your group.
The Sky Waka (gondola) is pretty cool and it's lovely to head up on it for a hot chocolate or a coffee with a view.
Driving and parking: Before you drive up the mountain it's imperative to check mtruapehu.com for road status; that way you'll know if you need chains or not. You can't get these on the mountain so will need to hire from your accommodation or a rental place. The site may say "Open - no restrictions", "Closed - spaces full" or "Chains or 4WD required". Again, people in the townships are really helpful if you're not sure what to do.
If you are skiing or snowboarding mid-week it's pretty straightforward. You just drive up, park in a car park and walk up to the base. There are also free shuttle buses that loop the carparks if you're a bit further down.
For the remainder of the season there's no need to book a car park, though you might have to wait for a space. To cope with visitor caps, there will be a one-in one-out policy to keep skiiers spaced out on the mountain.
Further information can be found at mtruapehu.com/getting-here.
Remember you can also book a shuttle from providers in National Park and Ōhakune (there's a list on the website) if that feels easier.
Passes: You can get all your passes on the mountain itself but can also buy online beforehand to speed things up. There are Beginner Areas Passes available for first timers - these apply to Tūroa or Whakapapa learner slopes. For those wanting to pre-purchase Sky Waka Gondola Ride passes for sightseeing to skip the queue, you can get them at any of the three i-SITE Visitor Information Centres in Taumarunui, Ōhakune, and Whakapapa Village.
Lessons: These are advisable for total newbies. Our teen had never skied before and we are pretty sure it would have ended in disaster if it wasn't for the lovely Benedicte at Whakapapa's Happy Valley. There's a big difference between your parent and an instructor teaching you anything - just ask anyone who has tried to teach their child to drive.
Some families like to have private lessons if they are all beginners but the group lessons are also really effective. They will take kids as young as 6 in group lessons, and 4 in a private.
So don't be intimidated by the thought of a family mountain holiday. With a bit of pre-planning you'll have a great time and wonder why you didn't do it earlier. It's a great opportunity for quality family time, outside - minus those bloody screens!
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com
First published August 17 and updated for Level 2 visitor caps.