10 Aug 2016

'Epic' conditions on small Taranaki ski field

9:06 am on 10 August 2016

This week's polar blast has closed roads and knocked out power to hundreds of homes, but it hasn't been bad news for everybody.

The huge dump of snow has delighted winter sports fans and ski field operators around the country - including at the unheralded club-run Manganui field on Mt Taranaki.

The Stratford Mountain Club has managed the Manganui Ski Area for the best part of 75 years.

Club pioneers first dug out tracks to the south-eastern slopes of Mt Taranaki in the 1920s before building the Manganui Lodge a decade later.

Even today there's a half-hour trek into the ski area, and club spokesman Rob Needs said the do-it-yourself spirit was still very much in evidence.

Club spokesman Rob Needs

Club spokesman Rob Needs Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"The ski field is a unique New Zealand scenario. It's a club field, it's run by volunteers for the most part - it's a committee just like a Scout group or a football club.

"And Taranaki has a long history of skiing and more recently snowboard riding and today we've just got epic conditions."

The 59-hectare ski field has a small learners' area, an intermediate run serviced by a T-bar and its top tow enjoys legendary status with snow sports aficionados because it accesses some of the steepest runs in the country.

Mr Needs said hardy volunteers had to earn the right to ski on that part of the mountain.

"The enthusiasts are heading up there to dig it out and those are the guys who will earn their turns. So they'll put in two to three hours of digging and de-icing and then they'll get the first runs.

"On its day the top tow is some of the most sublime skiing in the world. Natural halfpipes and not big crowds but you have to be on your game and know what you are doing."

The Manganui skifield on Mt Taranaki

The Manganui Ski Area on Mt Taranaki is only open 10-15 days a year. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The flying fox delivers skiers' equipment to the lodge.

The flying fox delivers skiers' equipment to the lodge. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

At 1680 metres the top tow is as high as the base facilities on Mt Ruapehu, and with no snow-making capability, Manganui was open on average only about 10-15 days a season.

An adult day passes cost $45 for non-members while a season pass for a member who took part in working bees cost as little as $60. The adult joining fee was $120 and thereafter annual subs were $97.

Veteran club member Waitara man Robert Dorflinger has skied at Manganui for about 60 years.

Snow Waitara's Robert Dorflinger has been skiing at Maunganui for more than 50 years

Snow Waitara's Robert Dorflinger has been skiing at Maunganui for more than 50 years. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He admitted the lack of the white stuff could be a challenge, but he reckoned the trek into the skifield had its upside.

"That's our biggest issue is will we get it or won't we get it. We're at such a low altitude it's hit or miss.

"And the access, well, it warms the body getting up here and we have very few accidents and I think that attributes to the walk we all have to do before we ski."

Also enjoying the skiing this week was Okato digger driver, Sam, who preferred to only give his first name. He had taken the day off work and had no regrets.

Okato digger driver Sam took the day off work to hit the slopes.

Okato digger driver Sam took the day off work to hit the slopes. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"As soon as you know the snow's here, and you know it doesn't get it that often. So when it does you've just got to make the most of it and get up here and enjoy it. You can't complain at this can you? It's been pretty good, the snow's great. No complaints."

Andy Mavin and his partner Krissy Benjamin had just returned to Taranaki from the 45°C desert heat of Las Vegas and were keen to embrace winter's bounty.

Mr Mavin said the field's operators deserved credit for being able to get the field up and running at the drop of a hat.

"You appreciate the work and I got the Facebook update this morning and that's where it sprung to mind to come up. It said the operators were up there and that was before 7am.

"It's pretty impressive what they do because you don't know the night before if it is going to be open or not."

Andy Mavin and Krissy Benjamin had just return to NZ from 45C heat in Las Vegas.

Andy Mavin and Krissy Benjamin had just returned to New Zealand from 45°C heat in Las Vegas. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Benjamin was appreciating the wide open spaces after her first run of the day.

"Bloody beautiful so good, awesome. I didn't have to watch out for running into anyone."

She was not so impressed with her own technique first up.

"Not very good I need to build more confidence up, second one should be better."

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Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Needs said the Manganui Ski Area's operating style was a perfect fit for climate change.

"It's a very fickle beast and that's why with global warming a turnkey operation like ours is very apt for the climate system we're in now.

"So more weather extremes mean big dumps of snow followed hopefully by fine weather and a turnkey operation suits that."

Mr Needs warned anyone hoping to ski or snowboard this week should not wait until the weekend when the next storm system was due to hit.

The Bolter family at the skifield.

Phil Boulter and his twins Kees and Jett, 4, and Brock, 9, take a breather on their trek to the skifield. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

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