Skiing On An Active Volcano In New Zealand

Whakapapa Skiing with the Pinnacles in the background. Photo: Mt Ruapehu

Whakapapa Skiing with the Pinnacles in the background. Photo: Mt Ruapehu



There is no gentle introduction to Mount Ruapehu. It’s more of an abrupt interruption to the central North Island of New Zealand.

Surrounded by the barren Rangipo Desert, this giant of the North Island Volcanic Plateau stands at 2797 metres.

Jutting out from tussock-covered flats, it’s the highest peak in the North Island; seemingly all the more impressive from its desolate surroundings.

New Zealand is covered with volcanoes – some extinct, some simply dormant, and some which like to remind everyone they are very much still alive.

And it is Mt Ruapehu which is in the Very-Much-Still-Alive camp. It is also home to the North Island’s only commercial skifields, Turoa and Whakapapa.

Here, you can go snowboarding and skiing on an active volcano.

Clouds and snow rolling in over Turoa ski field

Clouds and snow rolling in over Turoa ski field


skiing on an active volcano


Turoa and Whakapapa offer excellent snowsport opportunities and of course the thrill of snowboarding or skiing on an active volcano.

Both ski fields cater for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginners to advanced and expert. On the eastern side of the mountain is a smaller club skifield, Tukino with more limited facilities.

Out of the two main areas, which ski field is better – Whakapapa or Turoa?

Some say Whakapapa is best for skiers while snowboarders prefer Turoa. John snowboards & I ski – but we both tend to prefer Turoa.

Turoa typically has more ski days each season. The top lift point sits every so slightly higher at 2322m, compared to Whakapapa’s 2300m.

However, there’s a more extensive beginners area at Whakapapa’s Happy Valley and more groomed trails.

Here are the terrain details:

                                   WHAKAPAPA               TUROA

Beginner                     25%                                  20%
Intermediate            50%                                  55%
Advanced                    25%                                  25%
Groomed                     30%                                 22%

I’m an intermediate skier who tends to stick to the trails while John is an advanced snowboarder who loves heading out to untouched areas on the mountain.

We usually always chose Turoa over Whakapapa. It’s worth nothing that Whakapapa has more T-bars.

Having said that, Whakapapa’s newest lift, the Rangitara Express, opened in 2016 – the season we missed because we were in Fiji – so we’ll have to test that out in 2017.


Springtime at Turoa ski field

Looking up at Turoa ski field. Would you go snowboarding or skiing on an active volcano?




Ohakune is the ski town at the base of the Turoa ski field and has plenty of accommodation options, a supermarket and of course the highly important après-ski!

You can’t beat heading down to the Powderkeg for a post-ski beverage and bowl of hot chips. The Powderkeg, at the Powderhorn Chateau, is an iconic and buzzing spot in Ohakune after a day on the slopes, with beautiful wooden furniture, cosy interiors and good food and drink to warm the belly.

A little further out, in Raetihi, are the Tongariro Suites, a modern and comfortable stay not far from Turoa.

If you’re skiing Whakapapa then chances are you might be staying at Whakapapa Village. The village is just a 10 minutes drive from the Whakapapa ski field base. One of the most famous places here is the historic Chateau Tongariro Hotel, built in 1929. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, or dining under the chandeliers at the restaurant, it’s a beautiful old building to visit, with spectacular views of the mountain.

We’ve often stayed at the Whakapapa Holiday Park in one of their cabins, just 6km from the ski field. It’s an affordable option with cabins snuggled among native trees and bush.

Of course there are plenty more options on both sides of the mountain, so check out Agoda for some excellent hotel deals.

Alternatively, you can try one of our favourite tricks – Airbnb! If you’re not already a member of Airbnb, if you sign up through this link, you’ll get $30NZD credit towards your next stay!

As with any ski town, accommodation books out quickly during the winter, especially during school holidays, so don’t muck about with your bookings. In New Zealand, that’s mid July for two weeks and another two weeks at the end of the ski season in September/October.


Looking down to the Ruapehu region from the top of Turoa at the end of the season




The last eruption on Mt Ruapehu was in 2007, which lasted about 7 minutes. GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring system says the explosion spread ash and rocks spread over the summit and lahars in two valleys – including one in the Whakapapa ski field.

In early 2016 the volcanic alert level at Mt Ruapehu was raised due to an increase in volcanic tremors and gas output while the crater lake temperature rose from 25°C to 46°C. However as of July 2016 the alert was lowered after activity on the mountain settled.


Snowboarder looking out from the top of Turoa ski field. Photo: Mt Ruapehu

A snowboarder with the view from the top of Turoa ski field. Photo: Mt Ruapehu

Most of the time, there’s nothing much to worry about if you’re heading up the mountain but it is important to remember Mt Ruapehu is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes. Rest assured, there’s plenty of monitoring at all times and consequently there are sufficient warning systems should it start to rumble.

GNS Science has produced a hazard map for both ski fields which outlines safe areas and advice in the event of an eruption.

There’s quite a thrill knowing you are going skiing on active volcano.  But for the most part it is a quiet giant with only the occasional hissy fit – and an outstanding place to ski and snowboard in New Zealand.



DISCUSS: Have you been snowboarding or skiing on an active volcano?



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  • Amazing! My heart is pumping at the thought of going! Where you in fear of volcanic activity at all? or Avalanche? Last ski trip I was on was at Mt. Whistler in Canada and does not even compare to your photos! I can totally feel the jealousy creeping in as my ski’s sit back home in America collecting dust on my mothers porch 🙁 Thanks for sharing love it!

    • Nah not really. There have been very few eruptions in my lifetime around NZ but we are still a country covered in volcanoes in various states so it’s something you’re always aware of. My mum gets nervous though! But hey…the love of skiing…!

  • Joseph Humphreys

    Well I’m definitely a beginner skier! Couple that with the fact it’s an active volcano, and I reckon I’d be a little nervous. Still, it’s all about getting outside of your comfort zone and all that…and I have walked up an active volcano so this is no different really, as far as that goes.

    • It’s a great ski field for beginners! But you have to have common sense and look at the statistics/chances of it actually having an eruption while you are on the mountain. There’s so much warning these days before any hint of volcanic activity. The view is totally worth it 😛

  • Meg Cale

    OMG That chair lift view is worth the trip alone! I’m definitely not this advanced but it’s something to aspire to for sure!

    • I think that’s one of the beautiful things about skiing/snowboarding – the view from the top! Always stunning.

  • 2travellingsisters

    Oh my god, the title just gave me a serious adventure stroke, haha!! I have never thought about including skiing as a part of my travels (mostly because its not a major adventure here in India) but your posts are definitely making me reconsider my bucketlist :).

    • Ha ha! NZ is such a great place for skiers & snowboarders, we have some fantastic ski fields here. You get to see another view of a country when you are at the top of a mountain!

  • Wow, just the title, and I was overwhelmed. I mean New Zealand sounds just amazing, and I didn’t know there were so much volcanos and some are active! I’ve never skied, so for me, the experience you’re talking about is kind of crazy, and I definitely want to make it part of my travels adventures!

    • It’s funny what you take for granted growing up in NZ. Earthquakes, volcanoes etc it’s all part of the norm for us! Always had disaster preparation skills in school and learnt about how the volcanoes have shaped this dramatic landscape of NZ over history. Some famous eruptions from now extinct volcanoes. Actual eruptions are rare though, and they have mostly been just ash clouds rather than spewing lava.

  • Vyjay Rao

    Skiing by itself is an exhilarating experience. On top of that if the skiing is on an active Volcano, the experience goes to a different level altogether. I understand that technology has made it possible to be forewarned of any cataclysmic eruptions, but still the unknown and lingering fear does add to the excitement.

    • Yes there is so much warning these days for NZ’s volcanoes. Something we are always aware of, lingering in the background, just like earthquakes although there’s not really any warning system for those, sadly. The eruptions we’ve had in NZ in recent years have mainly been ash. It’s almost an exciting time when one of the mountains starts smoking – but we all hope that’s as far as it goes of course!

  • Tatum Skipper

    Wow! I know this makes me sound dumb, but before like a couple months ago I didn’t realize how diverse New Zealand’s seasons were! I have recently been seeing lots of snowy pictures from there but this definitely takes the cake! My boyfriend and I are similar to you and your husband. He’s a daredevil and avid skiier while I’m a okay snowboarder. Yet somehow he can do both, and go down double black diamond slopes no problem. We went to Aspen and I felt the exact same way as you! He told me I would be fine going down the intermediate and cried half way down because it was so huge and scary! This looks like the ultimate skiiers paradise though so I’m glad you ended up having fun!

    • Ha ha sounds like you guys are very similar to us! The terrain at Ruapehu is ideal for all levels. Some great intermediate runs on Turoa and plenty to keep my husband happy backcountry! NZ is very diverse, you are so right. Something for everyone!

  • Have never tried skiing. With such a beautiful place, I am sure to give it a shot and then the whole thing of active volcano. Makes it a thrilling experience alright. Glad you had some fun!

    • It’s worth it when you get the top of the mountain and look out to the spectacular view! While it’s an active volcano, there are so many warnings systems in place. But, like anywhere in nature, it’s always good to be aware of the surroundings.

  • Elisa Subirats

    Love volcanoes, if they are active even better so it would be just great to try skiing here. I would like to see this volcano also without snow, it must be impressive. Thanks for the tips!

    • It’s beautiful year-round! Hope you get the chance to visit. They do sightseeing tours too for those who don’t want to ski.

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