Getting up at 5.45am was a lot easier than 3.15am, the extra two and a half hours of night time really helps. I left my cousins place just after six in the morning to head back to the snow. The first mission of the day was to remove the ice that had formed on my car, my uncle hosed it off but while I was loading my gear into the car it refroze so it had to be hosed off a second time.
The trip up the Paraparas was good. At one point I come around a corner and ran over what I thought was a paper cup, only a little while further up the road I came around across another paper cup, only thing was this one was flat, and had guts sticking out, it turns out I hit a Hedgehog. I will add that to my road kill tally.
I was expecting the Paraparas to be quite icy however lucky for me they were not bad. Only on final corner close to Raetihi where as I approached I could see a lot of glare coming back off the road, I slowed down and took the corner very carefully and I was glad that I did it was covered in Ice. I managed to drive the Paraparas in a little over an hour and twenty minutes, I have figured if you drive it in the dark it is a whole lot less scary because you can’t see the steep drops on the edges of the road.
Once I got to Raetihi I got my first glimpse of the mountain and it was stunning. The road from Raetihi to Ohakune and then up the mountain was very icy but I took my time. Only once did I get myself in a spot of bother and that was around half way up the Ohakune Mountain Road where the car in front of me went around a corner and cut across into the oncoming lane before sliding slightly across the road back into their lane on ice. I thought to myself okay take care and don’t do the same thing, the very next second I did the same thing (lucky there was no oncoming traffic), it really tested your reactions to it.
I got to the top of the Mountain around 8am and headed off to get my rental equipment. There I asked for some good skis to do some nice carving both on trail and off, I said I didn’t want to go fast, that I wanted to go to the top of the High Noon Express and safely make it down without coming off. The girl on rental was really nice and gave me some sweet as Fischer Skis, instead of being narrow at the front to give you speed they are really wide so that you have more control. They were absolutely awesome to ski on.
Once I got outside I joined the queue to head up the Movenpick Chair which opened at 8.30am. It is by far the longest chairlift that I have ever been on, up and down, and through valleys and up some more, it took around 15 minutes for the ride but took you ages up the mountain (in some ways better than Whakapapa’s two shorter chairs where you have to get off and then back on).
At the top of the Movenpick I went to the base of the High Noon Express but they were still de-icing it, so instead of waiting like others were I headed down for my first run of the day down the aptly named “boneyard” to the base of the Giant Chair, back up to the top of that and then back down to the High Noon Express just as it opened, I managed to be one of the first people to the top of the mountain for the day.
The High Noon Express is an amazing chair, in places the towers are 60m high, it carries 6 people on each chair, loading is done by riding onto a magic carpet the puts you into a perfect position to get on, it has padded seats, and foot rests and goes so fast. The really bad downside is the queues (see previous blog).
Coming down the runs off the Highnoon I headed to the giant cafe for my morning hot chocolate and packet of hot chips. After that I did two runs down the terrain park before deciding I didn’t yet have enough confidence to go very high off the jumps (one time I slowed down so much I almost didn’t make it to the top of the jump). So instead I went back to the top of the High Noon and then ventured out west, the first time coming down a run near the unused T-Bar, and the second going off-trail even further west into the Backcountry area.
The snow in the backcountry was awesome, knee deep in places and just so much fun, as well as challenging. I was really glad that I had done a private lesson last year on Whakapapa so I knew how to turn in the deep stuff and not get myself stuck, hurt, or off the skis. In places you still had to dodge rocks and ice but that comes with the territory, I was also quite lucky that I kept my wits about me and figured out the perfect time to cut back across to the ski area right at the base of the Giant chair so no worrying about having to spend ages walking back up hill.
After all that fun I decided to head off to Snowflake Cafe for lunch, bad idea. It was only ten past twelve but the place was already packed, I had to wait 25 minutes just for a packet of hot chips, but the one really good thing there was the cheese burgers. At $9.50 they were on the expensive side however they had a beef paddy that was close to an inch thick and tasted great.
After lunch I gave myself the biggest challenge of the day going down Hamilton’s run out East, it goes around the top of a frozen waterfall and then down the side of a steep valley. Very much black diamond, no groomed trails here, no markers either, only signs saying margin snow conditions take care.
The run down was indeed a challenge but a very fun challenge, in the end I made it down safely and like out west the snow was awesome, however this time I did have to hike out of the bottom of the valley and even though it only took five minutes it was still so exhausting that I decided not to do it again and go back out west where I knew I could make it back without walking. After a few more runs I headed back to the Giant cafe for another hot chocolate.
For my final runs of the day I headed back to the terrain park where I had now built up enough confidence (partly because all the annoying snowboarders had moved onto another area that had opened) to go off the jumps. I didn’t go as high as others on the jumps but I was able to get a second or two of air off the ground and I landed every single jump I did. Very pleased with myself I headed back out west to find a creative way back to the base area to head home.
The drive back to Auckland was much better than the drive down two days earlier. To keep myself awake I had the cd player playing and I consumed lots of V, a One Square Meal Bar, Moro Bar, and Hot Chocolate. After leaving the top of the mountain at 4.30pm I made it home at exactly 9.30pm a perfect five hour drive.
My only annoyance on the drive was people who do not use their high beams as they should. On the drive from Taumarunui to Te Kuiti I got stuck behind a car. That road does not have many passing spots but there are some if the driver in front will let you through. However this twat (and that is the nice way of putting it), would not let you through, and to make matters worse would low his lights to dip on the straights so you could not see far enough ahead to safely make a pass. I used my GPS to be able to see where the next straights and corners were so I knew where I could potentially look. But the only issue with GPS is that you do not know the scale that you are looking at as the map dynamically zooms in on corners and out on straights.
I finally got past just before Te Kuiti where I knew I had a straight piece of road, but it was still a challenge because the fool sped up well past the speed limit to block me getting through. The second annoyance in this saga was one the cars behind me. When you are in a queue of cars do not run your lights on high beam. It is really annoying because it reflects in the rear view mirror and into your eyes when you are trying to drive in the dark. High beams are meant to be used where there are no other cars in front of you and you need them to see, if you have cars in front of you then you do not need high beam.
My final rant for now is on the time advertised to travel from Turoa to Auckland. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts advertise it as four and a half hours. Last night bar one twat I had a near perfect run, and it took exactly five hours. Sure if there is not a single other car on the road and you are at the speed limit the entire time and do not stop you could do it in a perfect 4 hours 30 minutes but that would be near impossible. They should advertise it as 5 hours, that way it does not become an expectation that you need to do it in an impossibly short and potentially dangerous time. It also explains why coming down on Tuesday I didn’t have a hope of making it in time.
When I left on Tuesday I left at 3.30am with the aim of getting their at 8.30am (I had already guessed that 4 hours 30 was impossible), the fact that I didn’t make it to Whakapapa until 8.45am shows how crazy the timing is if you have a bad run. The same applies for Whakapapa it is advertised as 4 hours. The best I have ever done is around 4 hours 10 minutes and that was flying in perfect conditions. On Tuesday it took 5 hours 15 minutes. End of Rants.
Final comments: This was the best day skiing I have ever had, and my very first bluebird. If I went again given the same conditions I would go to Turoa over Whakapapa, having said that I have never been up Whakapapa when the weather has not been cloudy at best, and snowing heavily at worse, and I have never been up when the Far West has been open.
Also if you are a parent and sending your kids to the snow for the holidays be smart in what you give them to wear, I saw people yesterday with no gloves (really dumb), woollen gloves (almost as dumb, when they get wet they get heavy and freeze), Hoodie (wear that under a jacket not as your outer layer), woollen jumper (probably even worse than woollen gloves you need to keep your core warm). Skiing can become an expensive sport, but use some common sense always take gloves, do not use wool unless it is merino and then only as a base layer, and always wear a jacket.