It was lunchtime when we finally decided that today was the day to do it – hike an active volcano and snowboard into the crater.
As we all gathered with our skis, boards and nervous laughs, I looked up at this amazing mountain and prepared myself for another adventure that only New Zealand could offer. I wanted to stay in NZ for as long as I could, so deciding to spend a winter working in a ski resort at Mount Ruapehu on the North Island seemed like the perfect plan.
This is no ordinary ski resort: it’s on one of the North Island’s most active volcanoes, smack in the middle of the landscape, two hours drive to the nearest proper town. The staff worked long hard days in return for a ski pass, wages to cover our partying costs and the opportunity to live in this awesome place. We were sat in the pub in the first week of the season when one of our newfound friends recounted a tale about how it was possible to ski into the crater of the volcano.
Over a few beers, the challenge was set! Week after week we waited for the perfect day: great weather and not too busy so we could all get off work early. We waited and waited.
It was near the end of the season when we suddenly found ourselves with glorious weather and kind managers letting us finish early. Apprehension set in as we took the lift up to the highest point on the ski field. I’d skied all the runs on the mountain and even ventured off-piste but this was going to be a whole new level of skiing. Our group of five were of varying abilities. Being the most advanced skier of the group, I also felt the added pressure of making sure everyone would make it.
Carrying our boards and skis under our arms, we started out on the tough 45 minute hike to the crater. These were seriously hard conditions: we had to check with ski patrol on the avalanche conditions, and the terrain just got steeper and gnarlier. With no ropes or hand-holds, you do not want to fall. There were moments where we had to help each other and remind ourselves not to look down.
Sweaty and pumping with adrenalin, we made it to the saddle to see the most incredible view of New Zealand. To my left, I could see Mount Taranaki on the other side of the country, whilst ahead of me we could see the South Island. More amazingly, a turquoise lake sparkled out in front of us. After some high-fives and a photo session, I skied into the crater, the wind rushing past me as I hurtled towards the lake of sulphuric acid.
Truly the best run of my life. It was so quiet and eerie, I couldn’t believe I was in the heart of a volcano that could erupt any second. I watched the other guys follow me in and felt relieved that no one ended up in the toxic lake, although there was one close call!
I could have stayed in the peaceful crater contemplating life for much longer but with the sun setting, we had to head back. After some climbing and traversing out of the crater, we said our goodbyes to the view and started out on the slopes down. The snow was the best I’d had all season: crazy black run terrain and untouched deep powder snow.
A few weeks later, we heard a rumour that the volcano warning alarms were heard during the night. Whether that was true or not, I couldn’t help but be amazed that I had been up there.There’s no doubt that it was one of the best experiences of my life.
April 11th, 2011