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  • Mei Anne Foo

Life In NZ: First Time Skiing At Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu

We came, we slipped, we skied, we conquered.


Winter is here.


And last weekend, almost everyone living on this southern hemispheric island decided to head up New Zealand's largest ski area: Whakapapa (Pronounced fa·kuh·pa·puh; yup, you read that right. "Wh" is essentially an "F" in Māori). It sits on the north-western side of Mount Ruapehu, North Island’s highest peak at 2,797 metres.


We didn't realise when booking our first ski excursion here that we'll be sharing the powdery slopes with loads of kids and their parents (Pronounced pier·ants by most Kiwis).


Winter is here, and so are the school holidays.


Nonetheless, last Saturday was a true Goldilocks day up there. Not too cold and not too hot. The sun was shining, the snow was glistening. And though we spent most of our time queuing, and oohing and ahhing at little puffed-up cuties in their puffer jackets, we also managed to clock in a solid three hours of click-slip-ski time.


By click, I mean, trying to put on my skis. As someone who hasn't skied since 2011 (My first and last time actually), I must have forgotten how hard it was to stand in my boots and securely clamp them to my skis. Took me about five minutes each time I had to do it! And I had to clamp and un-clamp a few times too because I slipped, landed on my butt and couldn't get back up again. I'll tell you this: Getting up with your skis on is a workout in itself and that explains why my limbs are currently sore as I type this.


I only had the guts to try out Happy Valley, Whakapapa's sole beginner-friendly ski terrain. My husband, a first-time skier, definitely had more balls than I did, graduating from Happy Valley and venturing onto the Rockgarden, an intermediate trail that is both steep and somewhat scary. He survived, albeit with a couple of slips here and there but hey, if you're a beginner, there's definitely going to be more slipping than skiing for sure.


Still, we had loads of fun and will be back. Perhaps even trying our hands, I mean feet, at snowboarding.


If you need some tips, here are some dos and don'ts as a novice when planning your ski trip to Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu:


Dos


1. Book and purchase everything early

This includes your mountain passes (buy online, it'll save you so much time!), accommodation, and if you don't have a four-wheel drive or snow chains for your car, book a shuttle.


For our accommodation, we booked two nights at Mountain Heights Lodge (A motel unit for four pax) located on State Highway 4. Since none of us owned a 4WD or chains (and whips), we had to ring up Colin from Ruapehu Scenic Shuttles at 9pm the day before our ascend (Sorry Colin!) but thank God we decided to bug him so late (Again, sorry Colin!) because he was about to be all booked out! Right on time, he picked us up from our lodge at 9.30am the next day. And as he drove along the steep and frosty road, he kept receiving calls and had to patiently turn down each and every late booker. He's also incredibly funny and though it was quite an expensive ride ($40 per person for two-ways!), it was totally worth it, I dare say, only 'cause of Colin. Like I said, be sure to purchase your mountain passes and rentals online. Which means you can go straight to one of the many "Click and Collect" kiosks, which hardly had anyone using them when we were there. Though, be prepared to spend some time at the (thankfully heated) gear rental unit. School holidays probably played a factor but we spent two hours sorting out our rented boots, poles and skis (which had to be individually customised and screwed to the size of our foot and level of expertise, which for us was ZERO). It was a miracle we found an open locker too so yes, book early and head up early.


2. Check the weather forecast

Now, ski season differs each year depending on snowfall. But it's roughly from the start of July to mid-October. Always check the official Mount Ruapehu website for updated weather reports. There's even a live cam so you can not only see how cloudy it is, but also how crowded it is.


Don'ts


1. Go during the school holidays

If you're a DINK like us, try to avoid going up during the school holidays. While it was a total joy to be surrounded by little pastry puffs in their teeny beanies, it's not very joyful skiing into them. I didn't, thankfully. But I could have easily rolled over a couple of puff pastries, deflating them in mere seconds.


2. Waste time having a long lunch

We made the mistake of spending an hour and a half consuming our hand-assembled ham and avocado sandwiches with a side of coffee purchased from Pātaka, the "highest cafe in New Zealand" apparently, located at the top of the mountain's gondola aptly named Sky Waka. Well, at least the view was nice. The coffee was not bad either. But we could have spent that time slipping, I mean, skiing down more slopes!


See, the mountain pass isn't cheap. A full-day pass alone is about $149 for an adult. We purchased the lift and rental package, which includes equipment rentals and an all-day mountain pass for unlimited access to all operating ski and ride facilities on the mountain, totaling $169 per person excluding a reusable $5 snow card that gives you access to all the different ski areas. All in all, we spent about $180 per person up the mountain, including locker rental ($10 for the whole day, split among four) as well as a cup of coffee ($6.50 for a large cup, split among two). Super steep, aye? But so worth it.


Happy s̶l̶i̶p̶p̶i̶n̶g̶ skiing!

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