Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Skiing on a volcano?

As a late August baby, I'm used to beachside birthday celebrations. But here in New Zealand, we're at the height of ski season so we took off for the weekend and went skiing on Mt Ruapehu, one of three active volcanoes located in the center of the North Island.

To say the trip to the mountain was a study in contrasts would be an understatement. From spring-like Hawke's Bay where the daffodils and apple trees are blooming, we drove along the "Thermal Explorer Highway" through steaming sulphur springs, then we made a left at the placid Lake Taupo and travelled along aptly named "Desert Road" until we reached the mountain access road. The first half of the 16km drive uphill was lined with lush rainforest and Kiwi crossing signs (referring to the flightless national bird, not the fruit). Then we crossed the treeline and were surrounded by lava rocks and finally snow.

At a height of 2322 meters (7,618 feet) the summit is comparable to those found in Lake Tahoe, but the skiing is completely different, because there are no trees to define trails. You basically just ski down the mountain and try to steer clear of volcanic rocks and cliffs. A feat easier said than done, as I found out. After falling on a large patch of ice, I kept sliding down the mountain, and when I finally hit some soft powder and came to a stop, I looked up to see a "DANGER Cliff" sign about 10 feet below me. But it was all good fun.

Signs posted in the bathrooms warned of the danger of volcanic eruptions and advised skiers to stay out of the valleys and head to higher ground in case of lava flows.

Overheard on the mountain: "Trails? What trails? Just follow the white stuff." "Don't let the T-bar hit you on the way up."


Anonymous leah said...

Leave it to you to include a glass of vino in a scenic shot! Is that your new thing now? Well, glad you stopped short of the cliff. Also glad I can imagine the altitude, since I just got back from Tahoe myself! Those are some crazy-lookin' mountains you've got there!

10:54 AM  
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