Opening Day at Whakapapa Ski Area

I’d been waiting for this day for weeks. I hate to admit it but I think I might be just a little addicted to the snow. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and I can’t do without it! All summer I gaze longingly at the mountains from across the lake, until finally the snow starts to fall and opening day comes around.

So there we were last Saturday at Whakapapa - opening day at last. Woohoo! We made it! My slight trepidation at the thought of digging out all our snow gear from last year, getting two small boys organised and making it up to the ski area before 10am proved unfounded. It was easy. After a bit of last minute fluffing around with mittens by my almost-two-year-old (seriously, the fascination at that age with having things to put on your hands is incredible!), we were on our way.

Tongariro National Park

It’s such a gorgeous drive from Taupo to Whakapapa. As we drove around the lake’s edge, through Hatepe and up over the bluffs, mist hung over the water and the early morning anglers bobbed peacefully about in their dinghys. We left the lake behind, headed up over the Te Ponanga saddle and through the beautiful native forest before dropping into that distinctive reddy brown, tussocky landscape of the Tongariro National Park. As we got closer to the mountain it got a little cloudier, and by the time we got to the Top of the Bruce, it was pretty misty and drizzly.

Despite the weather being less than perfect, it didn’t dampen our spirits. The novelty of the snow was a great distraction from the weather, and we had to spend the first 15 minutes in the carpark making a snowman before we were allowed to head on up to Happy Valley (hmmm, who’s the boss, Mister 3?!).

After a short chairlift ride into Happy Valley (aided by very cheery lifties who were great at lifting the kids on and off) we went into Rentals to get ourselves organised. How easy was that?! The staff were friendly and helpful and, despite most of them being new to the job, they worked things out fabulously for us in no time at all. Did I mention that it’s free for kids aged 4 and under to ski? That has been such a bonus for us in getting our family into skiing. 

Some might say we are crazy, but we decided to get young Sam (almost two) onto skis, as these days he just wants to do everything his older brother does, and the potential tantrum if we excluded him from the skiing fun was not worth it! He was an absolute trooper. He stepped straight into his skis, shuffled forward, and off he went. Once he realised he couldn’t stop he looked a bit shocked, but it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by me standing in front of him to catch him when he got too much speed up. 

Kids get hungry and tired quickly. That’s when it’s brilliant to have the Happy Valley Bistro right there, within arm’s reach. There’s nothing like a hot chocolate and a punnet of curly fries to refuel. The curly fries are seriously good, and you must try them if you’re in Happy Valley! 

The menu includes your usual family friendly fair of burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, fish and chips and wedges. There’s also a separate espresso bar for those just wanting to order coffee and/or a snack, and there’s a very popular water fountain with cups nearby. Other facilities include a baby changing table in the womens’ toilets. 

Most of the snow in Happy Valley that day was artificially made, and the Rockgarden was open too with an amazing trail of artificial snow right down the middle, flanked by rocks on either side. It was a really good example of just what a good investment a state of the art snowmaking system is. It’s enabled them to get up and running before the natural snow comes, and quite frankly, when I’m skiing with the kids in Happy Valley I can’t tell the difference between the fake and the real stuff.

Before we left we felt a visit to the Vertical retail store was in order. I was well impressed by the range of clothing and accessories, as well as all the other bits and bobs you might find yourself needing when up the mountain. We were relieved to find exactly the right camera batteries we needed, and a lovely young woman who really knew her stuff helped us marvellously with kids goggles.

So, all in all, it was a great first day up at Whakapapa for 2012. No doubt this will be the first of my many snow blogs for the season. Hopefully next time we go up there will be more snow (actually, I believe it’s falling as we speak!) so we will be able to venture further up the mountain. Yeehah! Can’t wait!

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