Ruapehu Mountain Hosts enhance the ski experience for those new to the fields, wanting company or seeking fresh tracks.
WORDS LIZ FRENCH PHOTOS REX MATHIESON and MARTYN DAVIES
Scotty was delighted when management approached him to set up Mountain Hosts. “I’d wanted to do this for years,” he says, having experienced the service himself at Canada’s Silver Star Mountain Resort. “I became friendly with the guy who managed the hosting there, known as Ski Friends, and was able to incorporate a lot of his ideas at Whakapapa.”
First, he had to find skiers willing to volunteer their time for a minimum of 10 days per season. The skiers needed an intimate knowledge of the field, people skills to lead a group, insight to read other skiers’ ability and a genuine desire to share their love of the sport and the mountain.
With a network like Scotty’s this was not hard. He personally knew almost 20 of the skiers who joined the first Whakapapa host team. Twelve years later most of the original hosts remain. Scotty’s wife, Lynn, is one of them. “I met Lynn when she was working at the Chateau front desk,” he recalls. “It took a while to thaw her frosty reception!” They married on the mountain 41 years ago and never moved far from it, now living near the shore of Lake Taupo. Lynn’s career has included administration at both the Chateau Tongariro and Wairakei Resort hotels.
Whakapapa’s Mountain Hosts range in age from 40 to 70. They include people from myriad professions, many enjoying the extra playtime retirement affords, and are an affable lot, bound by their love of skiing and Whakapapa. “I am not one-eyed about this ski field,” laughs Scotty, putting a palm firmly over one side of his glasses. Turoa has a similar service hosted by skiers equally loyal to ‘their side’ of Ruapehu.
These people are skiers who want to give back. “Most of the team exceed expectations and host for 20–25 days per season,” says Scotty. They regularly ski together, with days dedicated to ensuring everyone knows the particular quirks of the mountain. The hosts also ski the field each morning before ‘work’ to check the day’s conditions on a notoriously fickle mountain. “We have a quick meeting before we start hosting to compare notes and share recommendations for the best skiing that day.” Mountain Hosts must have basic first aid skills and lots of common sense. “We have a commitment to communicate to our groups if we are entering a black (more technically challenging) run, and to keep our skiers safely within the bounds of their ability.”
Mountain Hosts take groups, morning and afternoon, and welcome any skier with intermediate or higher skill levels. “Skiers new to Whakapapa find that joining a group is an excellent introduction to a ski field. It can be daunting to someone unfamiliar with the facets of the field and the way runs link. Our groups often include people skiing alone who join us for the company, as much as the skiing. Then there are the Whakapapa regulars who can rediscover a familiar mountain by skiing with us. We know where the best snow is and regularly go off the beaten track.”
If the nickname hasn’t given him away, the Scottish burr will. Scotty Barrie was born in Linlithgow, west of Edinburgh. He had never been near a pair of skis when he immigrated to New Zealand in 1966 as a farm hand. His first job was on a Lands and Survey farm, opposite the turn-off to the Chateau Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu. Little did he know then how this would shape the rest of his life.
During time off he gravitated to the Chateau (“That’s where the girls were!”) and after two years, swapped farming for employment there. He got to know RAL (Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, the company that runs Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields) staff, and gradually started helping out on the mountain, and in 1969, became a ‘liftie’, operating what was then the Staircase T-bar.
He finally got on skis in 1970. “My friends took me straight to the top of the Staircase. I spent an hour getting back down.” (Now it might take a minute!) So began a lifetime love affair with the sport. His career ascended. In the mid seventies he was appointed Ski Field Supervisor, giving him a public face around the field, before becoming even better known as Operations Manager, a position he held until 1998.
The eruptions of 1995, followed by poor skiing winters in the late nineties, took their toll on RAL. Dramatic restructuring saw Scotty making the choice not to reapply for his old job. He was contracted to do on-thejob training, before running a programme for local people wanting to apply for lift operation jobs. Then the perfect job came up, a position he could have been in
training for ever since he landed on the Central Plateau, 50 years ago. “I will keep on running Mountain Hosts for as long as they want me.” he says
Weather permitting, free guided tours with Whakapapa Mountain Hosts leave from the top of the Waterfall Express Chairlift at 10.30 am and 1.30 pm; Turoa Mountain Hosts meet groups outside the Giant Café at 11 am and 2 pm.