The Central region of New Zealand’s North Island is home to three active volcanoes, the centerpiece Ruapehu being the largest active volcano in New Zealand towering to 2,797 meters (9176 feet) and overlooking the two smaller cones of Mt Ngauruhoe at 2,291 meters (7516 feet) and Mt Tongariro at 1,967 meters (6453 feet).
Skiing a (semi) Active Volcano
The pure majesty of these three mountains prompted acknowledgement by UNESCO and it was made a ‘Natural World Heritage Sites’ in 1990.
Of particular importance to winter sport lovers Mt Ruapehu hosts two of the North Island’s best ski/board area’s Turoa and Whakapapa. If you have a multi-day ski pass, you can ski both of these unique area’s at anytime, this is especially significant if one side of the mountain is experiencing bad weather.
Ruapehu is not your usual alpine resort, roughly translated in Maori it means ‘exploding pit’ or ‘pit of noise’, this is the only ski field in the world within 500m of an active volcanic crater - it last erupted on September 25, 2007.
Monitoring & Early Warning System
This very popular mountain shouldn’t be feared, there is a state of the art early warning system are in place with well-rehearsed evacuation plans in place. The continued monitoring of the volcano is done by the New Zealand’s Geological and Nuclear Science institute with early warning system including 9 continuous GPS stations recording ground deformation,10 seismographs and 6 microphones detecting volcanic explosions, 2 web cameras, water and gas monitoring of the crater lake with airborne gas monitoring also carried out regularly. Any indication of increased volcanic activity or perceived risk will result in the fields being closed and evacuated.
1) Whakapapa Ski Area
Located on the northwestern slopes, Whakapapa on a clear day has spectacular views across central North Island. Ideal for intermediate and advanced skiers/boarders looking for a challenge, the field boasts more than 65 trails over 1,050 hectares (2594 acres) providing a large variety of volcanic terrain with old lava flows making great natural half-pipes surrounded by many steep faces, slopes, and gullies.
The dedicated beginner’s area, Happy Valley, is perfect for lessons and is child friendly. Other facilities include cafes, retail stores, terrain parks, medical centres and childcare facilities.
2) Turoa Ski Area
Located on the southwestern slopes, Turoa has spectacular views out towards Mount Taranaki. Snowboarders will love, what some say, is the best-dedicated terrain park in the country. The intermediate terrain is mainly wide and smooth, sprinkled with a few chutes and bowls to keep it interesting. Many of the 12 intermediate runs are interlinked and access is gained by riding all the way from the top of Australasia's highest lift to the base area.
As an advanced skier you have the choice of 25 black and black diamond runs with two spectacular lift-accessed backcountry runs’ offering an exciting variety of terrain with natural chutes and half-pipes through the Organ Pipes and the Solitude backcountry area.
Like Whakapapa there is a dedicated beginner’s area, Happy Valley, that is perfect for lessons and is child friendly. Facilities include cafes, retail stores, terrain parks, medical centres, childcare facilities.