Whakapapa Ski Resort 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 (12)
    1 Gondola
    1 High speed quad
  • Ski Hours
    9:00am - 4:00pm
    Early June - Late October
  • Terrain Summary
    Size – 550ha
    Beginner - 25%
    Intermediate - 50%
    Advanced - 25%

Whakapapa Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Whakapapa Ski Resort is large by New Zealand standards, with 550 hectares of skiable terrain. Like Turoa it’s a wide ski area at the top, whilst the lower part of the mountain funnels into a mess of narrow passage and merging trails. Of course, being situated on Mount Ruapehu, the size of Whakapapa Ski Resort on any given day is dependent on the weather and whether all the lifts are operating.

Whakapapa Lifts

Whakapapa Ski Resort has 12 lifts, of which there is 1 gondola, 3 quad chair lifts (only one high speed), 3 T-bars, and 4 magic carpets.

The Sky Waka Gondola is a major blessing and a curse. Having a gondola is very impressive for a New Zealand ski field (unlike skiing in Japan and other countries where gondolas are a dime a dozen) and the enclosed cabins are toasty on those nasty weather days. However the gondola is also weather plagued and when it can’t operate in bad weather there’s no other way to get up to the T-bars, which could operate in windy conditions. Another con is that there’s no mid-mountain lift so if you want to ride this section you have to ski all the way down to the base to the gondola. The lift queues for the gondola on weekends are horrendous, which is mostly due to the throngs of sightseeing enthusiasts who want to head up to the café to have a hot chocolate and post a picture on Instagram to boast that they’ve seen the mountain. There’s no priority system for skiers and snowboarders who want to ride the lift repetitively.

Some people feel that having T-bars in the upper mountain is rather antiquated, but at least they’re not nutcracker ropetows and the T-bars are great for operating in windy conditions (that’s of course if the gondola is operating to get you up there).

Lift Tickets

Any lift pass is valid at both resorts, Whakapapa and Turoa. The lift tickets are rather expensive relative to some of the NZ ski fields, but these are ski areas with facilities and infrastructure that are way inferior.

You can make major savings by purchasing a multi-day pass, but it could be a major risk considering the fickle weather. Perhaps just buy a 3 day flexi pass if you’re heading to Ruapehu for 5 or 6 days to give yourself some leeway for weather.

Sledding is not included on any lift pass.

Whakapapa Snow and Weather

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, although Whakapapa doesn’t publish the snow volumne (it’s thought to be about 4 metres).

Unfortunately for true powder hounds, this doesn’t frequently translate into the white, powdery, fluffy stuff, or not for long. So powder hounds can probably leave their snorkels at home! 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. That 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.

Beginner Skiing Whakapapa

Novices can catch the elevator down to Happy Valley, which is a separate, well-protected area near the base of the ski area. Being a designated beginner area is ideal. The protection works both ways – the cordoned off area protects the beginner from the more advanced, and vice-versa!!

It has gentle slopes for beginners and a couple of magic carpet lifts which make learning safer and easier than ever. It also has a double chair lift, its own equipment rental and ski school desk, and a lovely café. Importantly, it’s covered by 100 percent snowmaking.

The next step is much harder for beginners, particularly on weekends when it’s really busy. The narrow green runs off the Rangatira Express are shared by all the intermediate to expert riders returning to the base to catch the gondola, and without good queue management, sometimes there are line-ups for the gondola up one of the trails which adds to the challenges of obstacle avoidance.

Whakapapa Skiing & Snowboarding - Intermediates

Fifty percent of Whakapapa’s runs are classified blue, so assuming that all the mountain is open, 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 small designated freestyle terrain park, located just below the Knoll Ridge facilities.

Advanced Skiing and Riding

Most black runs are found skiers’ right of the Amphitheatre, in the middle of the resort. Depending on the conditions, the black runs can be soft and relatively benign, or hard and icy, which makes them double diamond.

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!

A huge disadvantage for many of the black runs is that the exits require time on the congested green runs and a painful wait to get on the gondola.

Backcountry

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

On the other far 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.

Or there is backcountry above the ski resort if you want to haul your gear 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. Check in with ski patrol regarding the climb, because if it’s icy you’ll want crampons, an ice axe, and appropriate know-how.