Whakapapa (pronounced fukka puppa – meaning family in Maori) is located on the northwestern side of Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand’s largest active volcano, which is also the highest peak in the North Island. Ruapehu is also home to the neighbouring commercial field of Turoa, and the much smaller club field of Tukino. Both Whakapapa and Turoa are run by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL), however the fields are not physically linked.
Whakapapa is New Zealand’s largest ski resort. Skiers can enjoy over 550 ha with 9 lifts and a total vertical drop of 670 metres.
Whakapapa is set in a series of large volcanic valleys and amphitheatres, with little to no vegetation due to the volcanic origin of the mountain. The resort can be split into three zones: the lower mountain with the Happy Valley learners area and Rock Garden; the upper mountain, which is accessed via the Waterfall Express; and then the Far West zone.
From a skiers perspective the terrain is varied and often obscured. The upper mountain consists of volcanic gullies and large cliffs, bordered on the eastern edge by the imposing Pinnacles. The western side is much more open, fun and playful. On the right day Whakapapa’s terrain is truly epic, with something for everyone, unless you like skiing trees.
There is normally a small park, but if you are a serious park rat, you should head to Turoa.
Snow and Weather rating:❆❆
What lets Ruapehu down as a ski destination is the weather. Being a large singular mass in the middle of the North Island means it can get gnarly weather from every angle. Whakapapa’s average snowfall is 4.6 metres. However, because there are few preceding ranges to dry the snow out, on it’s way from the sea, Ruapehu snow is often wet. The snow can be somewhat wind affected too.
Lifts and The Crowd factor:❆❆
Crowds are only really a problem if you are a weekend warrior. The crowd problem is accentuated by the limited lift capacity offered by many of the field’s older lifts. RAL is currently trying to solve this, with planned upgrades the lift system.
When to ski it:
Best to avoid weekends and school holidays. Crowds thin out in the spring. Ironically, this is often when the skiing is at it’s best. The snow goes into a melt/thaw cycle, and you are rewarded with five star corn.
This is also a good time to take advantage of Whakapapa’s epic backcountry. The daunting Pinnacles, at Whakapapa’s eastern edge, provide endless lines for a range of abilities. Black Magic off the Far West T-bar is also a good option, as is the hike to the summit. This springtime bonanza normally continues late into October and often only shuts due to a lack of customers.
At Whakapapa you have a range of accommodation options, from the very Grand Chateau, to budget backpackers. If you want to stay on the mountain you should take advantage of one of the 29 ski club lodges on Whakapapa. Night life on the Whakapapa side is a little dampened by the lack of a singular mountain town. There are five or so bars spread between National Park and Whakapapa village that do good aprés. If you’re after a proper mountain town vibe you should head to Ohakune.
Dollar per turn:❆❆❆❆
Day pass: $90.00
Season pass: $400ish early bird, both fields
Bottom line: overall stoke factor 3.5
Skiing on an active volcano is pretty sweet, in the right snow and weather Whakapapa offers up some truly world class skiing, and in the wrong conditions it can be rocky, windy, and wet. Skiing here is generally the best in the spring.
Ski FIELDS Nearby