Whakapapa Lifts & Terrain

Whakapapa Lifts & Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded
  • Whakapapa Trail Map
  • Vertical (m)
    1,630– 2,320 (690)
  • Average Snow Fall
    4.0  metres
  • Lifts (13)
    1 High speed quad
    1 Quad
  • Ski Hours
    9:00am - 4:00pm
    Early June - Late October
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 62
    Advanced - 25%
    Intermediate - 50%
    Beginner - 25%

Whakapapa Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Whakapapa claims to be the largest lift accessed ski area in New Zealand, yet when only considering the in-bounds terrain the size is equal to that of Treble Cone ski resort. The 550 hectares of terrain at Whakapapa has 62 runs to suit all ability levels with 50 percent intermediate, 25 percent beginner and 25 percent advanced.

There are two main areas at Whakapapa, linked by the National Chair Lift, a practical but very slow affair at 17 minutes. Which brings us to the point: the lifts at Whakapapa it must be said are rather slow. There are two platters and four T-bars (a relic from the 80s surely!) and no six-seater. Thankfully, there are two quads, one of which runs at high speed.

Most black runs are found between the two lift areas, left of the Amphitheatre.Expert riders might also consider the Black Magic lift accessed backcountry area, situated to the far right as you look up the mountain. There, following snowfalls, you should find some awesome powder. However, do not expect the powdery stuff to lay around for too long.

Similarly, if you’re tired of the groomed runs, you may want to follow the locals and shoulder your gear and climb all the way up to the volcano’s rim. It’s an easy one-hour climb, and the views of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie) just keep getting better. But be careful as you will be leaving the patrolled area and will be considered a backcountry snow user.

Whakapapa Lifts

There are 14 lifts at Whakapapa, capable of transporting up to 15,000 people per hour. As a result, the queues are minimal. Lifts run from 9am to 4pm. Ride times range from 1 minute (for the Happy Valley Chair in the beginners’ area) to 17 minutes (the painfully slow and long traversing National Chair lift).The lifts are definitely a bit dated compared to overseas resorts, but in comparison to nutcrackers at the club fields the infrastructure is pretty impressive. Thankfully there are plans for a serious upgrade, including a new six-seater capable of carrying up to 3,200 people per hour, with a top speed of 5 metres a second. Now that’s fast!

Lift Tickets

Lift prices are very reasonable for what you get. There are no discounts for students, and any lift pass is valid at both resorts, Whakapapa and Turoa.

Kids aged 4 and under receive lift passes free of charge, and there are discounts for those aged 5 to 18 years. Afternoon passes are available from 12pm.

Whakapapa Snow and Weather Conditions

Mount Ruapehu is quite a remarkable mountain. It stands tall (2,797 metres) and proud - the highest peak on the North Island and New Zealand’s largest active volcano. As a result of its splendid isolation, it’s exposed to all four wind directions and their many variations. This means it gets a lot of snow – far more than you would expect.

Accurate unbiased figures are hard to come by, but it’s generally accepted that Mount Ruapehu, and as a consequence Whakapapa and Turoa, get up to 4 metres of snow per year. Unfortunately, for true powder hounds, this doesn’t frequently translate into the white, powdery, fluffy stuff, or not for long. So powderhounds can probably leave their snorkels at home!

Humour aside, count yourself lucky if you can ski for more than four days a season in fresh powder at Whakakpapa. Nine times out of ten, the wind will be too strong, the sun too harsh, or the temperature too high to make it last. This said, there’s plenty of fun to be had in softer conditions, and if it’s icy, make sure your edges are nicely tuned.

Whakapapa also has snowmaking that covers 20 percent of the skiable area.

And don’t forget to dress for all occasions: It can be sunny and warm, freezingly cold, foggy and windy – all in one day. So do check the forecast before you head out, but then prepare for all weather conditions anyway! Be prepared too for the mountain to shut down completely in inclement weather.

For the Beginner

With 25 percent of all runs suitable for beginners, this is a great mountain to start honing your skills. Your first steps will be in a separate, well-protected area called “Happy Valley”, situated next to the car park at the base of the mountain. It has gentle slopes for beginners and a magic carpet lift which makes learning safer and easier than ever. It also has a double chair lift, and a 120-seat café. Importantly, it’s covered by 100 percent snowmaking.

The protection works both ways – the cordoned off area protects the beginner from the more advanced, and vice-versa!!

Intermediate Skiing and Boarding at Whakapapa

Once you’ve mastered the green runs, you can head for the blue runs. Fifty percent of Whakapapa’s runs are classified blue, so you’ll find oodles of nice wide groomed runs. They can be found all over the mountain, so you are free to move around.

Terrain Park & Pipes

Whakapapa has lots of natural chutes and jumps, and a designated freestyle terrain park, located just below the Knoll Ridge facilities. It includes jumps, boxes, rails, half/quarter pipes, including the Moro Halfpipe, and other natural or constructed terrain features.

Advanced Skiing and Riding

Most black runs are found left of the Amphitheatre, in the middle of the resort, between the two main lift areas. Depending on the conditions, the black runs can be soft and relatively benign, or hard and icy, which makes them double diamond, in our view.

However, in “normal” conditions, there are stacks of great, “manageable” black runs. The options of chutes, bowls and bumps should keep you on your toes!

Backcountry and Off-Piste

Whether on a board or skis, venturing out of bounds is great at Whakapapa, especially in the “Black Magic” backcountry area, situated to the far right as you look up the mountain. Nobody will shoot you for going outside the ski area boundary (unlike some resorts in Japan!), but take the usual precautions and be mindful that you might be in for a long, hard hike out.

On the other, far left side of the resort there is really diverse terrain thanks to volcanic eruptions and the subsequent lava rivers, and the area has spectacular views for skiers and boarders of all levels to appreciate. This side of the Whakapapa ski area is the resort’s natural boundary; a gorgeous ridge of rocks and boulders called The Pinnacles.

Ski Patrol

We found the resort to be managed very pro-actively with ropes, nets and safety signs placed in all hazardous areas. With cliffs, holes and other hazards aplenty, it’s reassuring to know that snow users are being looked after. The response time from the ski patrollers and resort’s first aid staff is spot-on too, should anything go wrong.