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.

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