Tukino, New Zealand was a breath of fresh air. On a mountain where waiting an hour for a lift isn’t unheard of, it seems surreal that just around the corner is this grassroots ski area without any of the crowds or frills found at the more popular commercial resorts nearby. Upon our arrival, the General Manager, Phil informed us that last Sunday had been their busiest day in years, marked by the ticket office running out of their 200 tow belts. On the day of our visit, there seemed to be around 30 skiers and riders on the hill. Clearly, it would take some time for the place to become tracked out on a powder day.
Tukino sits on the Southeastern side of Mt. Ruapehu, an active volcano on New Zealand’s North Island which is home to two of New Zealand’s largest ski resorts, Whakapapa and Tūroa. It’s a club field, run primarily by volunteers. As a result, it’s a no-frills skiing experience reminiscent of the pioneering ski fields which once littered the other aspects of Ruapehu also.
The lifts are rope tows, known as ‘nutcrackers’ to many. They get their name from the metal clamps that skiers use to attach themselves to the moving rope which tows them to the top of the hill. In their true pioneering nature, the tows are made from converted diesel engines, which hum noisily in a shed at the base of each lift. Although it was buried on the day of our visit, the field even has what they call a ‘portable tow’ – a lift built by one of the members of the field, which can be moved wherever it’s needed and can hold only 3 or 4 skiers at any one point.
The week prior to our visit, the field received around a meter of fresh. Coupled with a slight refreeze the day prior and some wind, we found the odd wind-blown pocket of pow and a snowpack which was quickly releasing in the morning sun.
Due to its eastern aspect, Tukino sees the sun hours before the more popular resorts on the western side of the mountain. As a result, you can enjoy spring conditions even in the middle of winter. By midday, the top tow had fully released, and we spent hours lapping a couple of steep, volcanic gullies full of hips and small cliffs.
Thousands of years of lava flows have shaped the landscape at Tukino into a snowboarder’s paradise. Running vertically down the mountain is a series of tight gullies and chutes which provide a myriad of wind lips and halfpipes that wind their way down the mountain.
While the lift-accessed terrain satisfied us for the day, above the lifts are open bowls and a glacier which could have kept us entertained for days more. When conditions allow, the field offers guided cat-skiing into these bowls, for $45 each run. On the day of our visit, avalanche risk, unfortunately, prevented our planned cat-skiing excursion, but no doubt we’ll be back for the unique experience.