August 13, 2004 Features & Images » Feature Story

Chasing the endless winter 

What's going on Down Under in New Zealand.

If summer is getting you down, then take a 12 hour flight to Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud – otherwise known as New Zealand. It’s where Snow God Ullr goes in the off-season, from July to late October.

For a country the size of British Columbia, New Zealand manages to pack in a fair number of ski resorts – more than 25 in fact.

Now as any good Skiwi (skiing New Zealander) will tell you, the South Island is where it’s at, thanks to a long mountain chain called the Southern Alps running through almost its entire length. Dotted along that chain are where most of the resorts – or "ski-fields" – are.

However, the North Island also offers its fair share of excitement. A beautiful cone volcano called Mount Taranaki sits alone on the western peninsula, offering some old-school rope tow action to get to the top of its ski-field.

For those uninitiated in the delights of rope tows, it involves wearing a waist harness with a nutcracker dangling off the side. When you're ready, you close the nutcracker on the moving rope and it jerks you forward, up the mountain and over a series of pulleys. If the rope falls off the pulleys (as it frequently does), just hang on with grim death from ground level. It’s even less fun on a snowboard, but it makes you tough.

If you hit Taranaki on a poor "vis" day – the local saying goes "If you can see the mountain it’s going to rain. If you can’t, it’s already raining" – never fear. You can check out the mysterious Taranaki in Tom Cruise’s movie Samurai, masquerading as Mount Fuji.

Head inland to the central North Island and you'll find New Zealand’s biggest ski resorts on Mount Ruapehu. The most vertical, the most lifts, and, most exciting of all, the most eruptions. The resorts actually had to close for two years in the mid-90s when the mountain erupted during the first few weeks of the ski-season. Loads of powder and lava to boot.

Things have quieted down in the past few years, so some of the must-do’s on Ruapehu are the hike to the crater and the ski down to the lake below (don’t drink the warm water). Then take some time out to visit the underground larvae tube caves on the Turoa skifield side. Locals have carved faces into the cave walls, and candles are always burning – usually along with a big fattie.

That said however, if it’s big terrain, big variety and true powder you are after, it’s time to jump on the ferry and head south. So that’s exactly what we did last August – two Kiwis and a transplanted Whisterite hungry for powder.

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