Jane Jeffries looks forward to ski season at the North Island's great mountain.
Looking for adventure this winter? Mt Ruapehu is hard to pass up for winter sports.
While Whakapapa and Turoa skifields are well known, there is a third skifield on the mountain - Tukino. Some may think it is the poor cousin, but it depends on how you view skiing. Others think it is the princess.
Tukino is on the eastern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, reached from the Desert Rd, 35km from Waiouru. It's not a private skifieldbut a public one, run by the three clubs on the mountain, Tukino Mountain Club Association (TMCA). They welcome everyone, whether a day's skiing or to enjoy one of their "ski and stay" packages.
"Tukino offers a rare combination of adventure with a lack of crowds," says Bruce McGregor, treasurer and secretary of TMCA.
"On a good day we can get up to 150 people at Tukino, whereas, over the hill at Turoa and Whakapapa there can be 5000 on each field."
Another advantage at Tukino is cat skiing.
"Groups of skiers can access another two-thirds of the mountain by getting a ride on the back of the grooming cat to the skifield boundary. From there, guided groups ski down the mountain."
Growing up, I was a member of Aorangi, one of the three Tukino clubs. I remember our family meeting other members at the Waiouru pub around 10pm on many a Friday night, having driven up from Wellington. We would pile into the old, ex-army club vehicle called Marmaduke, making our way along the Desert Rd and up the access road, often stopping to shovel snow.
The road to the skifield has been greatly improved since then, thanks to Kermit, a green John Deere tractor bought by TMCA to maintain and keep the road clear.
However, 4WD vehicles are still required or there is a shuttle service (on request) operating from Waiouru or the Tukino skifield carpark.
Like most club fields in the country, the mountain lifts are rope tows with nut-crackers (a metal device that grips the rope), but if you prefer to ride a chairlift and relish a good coffee and sushi for lunch, then Turoa or Whakapapa may be for you.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts operate both Whakapapa and Turoa skifields. They are intent on providing good value for money. In doing so they have significantly reduced the price of their day passes. At both fields the adult day pass has been reduced from $99 to $95, with an online reload of only $90.
"It doesn't get much better value for money considering the size of the skifields and lift access to the varied terrain," says Simon Dickson, executive manager, commercial, at Ruapehu Alpine Lifts. "We want to make the day pass as accessible to as many people as possible."
They also have a competitive Discover package, inclusive of lessons, rental and lift tickets to attract new skiers and families to the sport.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts hope it will be a bumper season. With summer maintenance done, snow guns sited for maximum output and grooming soon to begin, they will ensure maximum skiability.