Mt Ruapehu: New Zealand’s Epic Winter Playground

Eight months! It’s hard to believe my son, Chris, has been in New Zealand with his one-year working holiday visa for almost 8 full months. He’s recently had phone issues, so here on the home front we haven’t received as many photos.

However, he gave me some very cool winter mountain videos to share with you in this 7th post of my New Zealand Adventure Travel Series “as told by mom.”

Other than a brief post with a great video of Omanawa Falls that I missed in a previous post, the last update in this series was published almost 3 months ago, and pretty much everything has changed since then.

You can read the last post here: New Zealand’s Northland: Hiking & Picking Kiwi.

Living the Dream

Before I jump into his new adventures, I have a few motherly thoughts I’d like to share.

Ellen with her son, Chris who is traveling in New ZealandAs Chris’ mom, on one hand I miss him like crazy and would love to be able to give him a big momma bear hug. On the other hand, it’s extremely fun and heartwarming to watch him soak up life and doing exactly what he wants to be doing.

He’s living in a different culture, and putting himself in situations where he gets to meet lots of new people.

Material items and living a life of luxury seem to be of little priority to him. Chris is all about experiencing life while living within his means. And by living within his means, I mean for the most part living off what he’s making from the jobs he works in New Zealand between his intermittent extensive travels.

His money in a U.S. bank apparently is going to stay there – something I learned when he said to me with an “I’m not budging on this” tone after I suggested he transfer some fun money to his New Zealand account.

In my last post I got a little sappy and quoted lyrics from Somewhere Out There. While listening to Jason Mraz’s song, Have It All, a song once again reminded me of my  “baby” on the other side of the globe:

No matter what your path is
If you believe it then anything could happen
Go, go, go, raise your glasses.
Go, go go, you can have it all.
I toast you.

New Adventure: Ski Mountain

First, let me remind you that New Zealand’s seasons are opposite compared to the U.S. So at the end of May while we were starting summer here in the U.S., winter was just starting in New Zealand.

Beautiful Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand

Prior to leaving home last January, the one thing Chris knew he wanted to experience was working at a ski resort. He loves to snowboard and wanted to take advantage of New Zealand’s mountains and free snowboarding.

In April he interviewed at the largest ski mountain in New Zealand and was offered a job in the ski equipment rental area. He continued his kiwi picking job until the end of May when the new job started. He packed up his suitcase and moved a few hours away.

New Zealand’s volcanic mountains that he hiked during the summer months are now his new “office” as well as his winter playground.

Chris was part of the first crew that started working the ski season on May 28. The bunny hill was open but there wasn’t yet enough snow on the upper mountain for skiing. There was training and prep work that needed to be done, but he had 3-day weekends until snow conditions became good enough for skiers to start swarming.

Webcam screenshot of Mt Ruapehu
Screenshot from the webcam on Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand.

And by swarming, that is exactly what I mean. On heavy days there are 7,000 people on the mountain! There is a webcam in a few areas and I’m shocked at the large number of skiers. Of course the upper mountain is quite large and it’s not nearly as packed as the smaller, less difficult area.

Mt. Ruapehu and Whakapapa

The ski mountain he works at is Mt Ruapehu, which is located in Tongariro National Park, and is an active volcano. That’s right, my son works on an active volcano. (Tiny momma gasp.)

Fun(ish) fact: I didn’t expect his answer when I asked what was the most interesting thing he learned during employee training, but his answer was “volcano eruption evacuation.” 😕

Chris works in the Whakapapa area of Mt Ruapehu. It has the Happy Valley area with mellow slopes for beginners, and an upper mountain with steep slopes, rocks and ledge drops for the more experienced. (Another tiny momma gasp.)

Watching videos on the Mt Ruapehu Facebook page frankly frightens me. People snowboard off what I call a cliff. I might be slightly concerned.

Here’s a video Chris made that briefly shows the rental area where he works, and then a cool tour of the mountain including Crater Lake. The snowy mountains are an incredible view.

Snow conditions on the upper mountain were ready for skiers on June 28. I know that exact date because he sent me a SnapChat picture of his view from the chair lift during his lunch break that day. He was anxious to snowboard that upper mountain, so there was no time for rest on the first day it was open.

Young skier who grew up to love snowboarding
Chris at the age of 5 during his first ski experience.

We taught Chris to ski at a very young age, but here in the Midwest the hills are 1. not mountains and 2. groomed.

Let’s just say there is a huge difference in the skills needed to ski the hills of Wisconsin and Michigan compared to the upper mountain of Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand.

However, it didn’t take him long on Mt. Ruapehu to take his snowboarding skills to a new level.

Here’s a video of his first 360 on a snowboard:

Lodging and Friends

His group of German friends that he worked and traveled with for the first four months of his New Zealand adventure all went their different ways, most back to Germany. So when he moved to the ski mountain, he was starting over as far as meeting people and making friends.

Lucky for him, socialization comes easy. He quickly met new friends, mostly people who also worked at the mountain. Since the majority of skiers are English speaking New Zealanders, the mountain prefers English speaking employees. So his new friends are mostly from the U.K., Canada, and a few from the U.S.

Snowboarding friends taking a break on Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand.

He’s staying at a hostel-like lodge that is reserved for mountain employees. He has a small, dorm-like room and was assigned a roommate. He gets along very well with his roommate who is about Chris’ age and is from Canada. It costs $150 NZD per week (about $120 USD) for lodging. Like everything in New Zealand, lodging is expensive.

The lodge is in a fairly remote area. There is one bar/restaurant that is a short drive from the lodge, and that’s about it for entertainment. It’s a grand group of friends, so being remote doesn’t mean lack of fun. There seems to be plenty of gatherings with plenty of beverages.

Friends having fun in the lodge at Mt. Ruapehu ski mountain in New Zealand.

They do A LOT of snowboarding together on a mountain that I say looks like a snowy Mars! Here’s a quick video of some of their fun “shredding”

Bumps in the Road

Backpacker van camping in New ZealandThere have been a few minor issues, such as his van broke down. There are only a few mechanics in the area so it’s difficult to get anyone to fix it.

The transmission is the suspected issue, so repair expense might be more than it’s worth. His fun van that also doubled as his traveling home for a few summer months  sadly may be scrapped rather than repaired.

Another issue is that he dropped his phone in water. It still worked, but the camera was useless and the battery didn’t hold a charge very long.

We mailed him a package with a used phone and a few other items he wanted from home, but the U.S. Post Office lost the package. I won’t even get started on that mess!

Meanwhile he lost the dying phone. Long story short, he got another phone which makes us very happy because I like to be able to communicate with him!

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Resources: Thinking New Zealand should be on your travel list?
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What’s Next?

The ski mountain asked for a 4-5 month employment commitment to cover the whole ski season. The exact end of ski season will depend on snow conditions, but typically it ends at some point in October.

He has a few ideas about what he might do next, but typical Chris – he has no idea what he’ll end up doing. Momma is still hoping he will be home for Christmas, but I’m not getting my hopes up too high.

The van issue will likely affect his next adventure, so we’ll have to wait and see what he decides to do.

What do you think of Mt. Ruapehu? Leave a comment below with your thoughts or messages for Chris if you wish.

Road near Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand

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Read More Posts in this New Zealand Adventure Travel Series:

  1. New Zealand Travel Adventures as Told by Mom
  2. New Zealand Work Visa: First Few Weeks
  3. New Zealand Adventure: Working at a Vineyard
  4. New Zealand Adventure: Exploring the North Island
  5.  New Zealand’s Northland: Hiking & Picking Kiwi
  6. Omanawa Falls: New Zealand Adventure
  7. This post! Mt. Ruapehu: New Zealand’s Epic Winter Playground
  8. New Zealand Travel Adventure: It’s a Wrap!

Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand is an epic winter playground!

10 Replies to “Mt Ruapehu: New Zealand’s Epic Winter Playground”

  1. Ellen, another amazing post! So love following along with Chris’ adventure. I agree with you that the snow covered mountains do look a little like a snowy Mars! Really interesting and it looks like he is surely having a fun experience.

  2. What a wonderful exciting experience this is. You will have memories to last a life time. More power to you Chris and enjoy every minute.

    1. Hi Marie,
      They really are interesting. And then with Crater Lake right there it just reminded me of an undiscovered planet. Maybe because I’ve only been to one mountain range in my life and it was just quite different. Have a great day!

  3. I love all of your posts of Chris’s adventures! What a great kid you have!!! I hope he comes home for Christmas so we can do another dinner at TJs and drinks at the Mauel’s. You can Uber back to Jamie’s! Such a great night I want a repeat!

    1. Oh that was so much fun! I think us moms should declare it an official tradition. If it were only that easy lol. Thanks for the comment, glad your enjoying following along.

    1. Thanks, Anne. Writing about his adventure helps me feel connected to him. I also end up researching the various areas of NZ. Our kids sure keep us moms hopping!

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