Ruapehu skiing quietly managed death
A fatal accident on Mount Ruapehu a fortnight before the full reopening of ski areas has not been made public, as similar accidents have been
A man died in a backcountry skiing accident on Mount Ruapehu that was not publicly reported by police or conservation officials.
The man was reported missing to police at 5pm on Friday of the Matariki weekend, after he failed to return from a trip beyond the boundaries of the Whakapapa ski area on the north side of Mt. Ruapehu.
He was found unconscious at 9.55pm after an extensive search and was transported to the bottom of the ski area. He died shortly afterwards.
The man’s death was referred to the coroner.
When asked why the incident was not disclosed publicly, a police spokesperson said he did not disclose every sudden death, particularly if it was not at a location. public and if there was no need for the public’s help.
The incident comes just two weeks before the serious opening of ski areas for the first international tourists since before the pandemic.
In the past, deaths on protected land have resulted in rahui being placed by local iwi, such as in February 2020 when a death in Tongariro National Park saw access to tracks restricted for three days.
A rahui was placed on the upper slopes of Mount Ruapehu in 2018 after a hiker fell fatally into the volcano’s crater lake. He asked people not to climb above the limit of the Whakapapa ski area. The rahui was supported by the Department of Conservation and Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, the company that owns both the Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas.
A conservation spokesperson said if a rahui had been summoned by local mana whenua Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro in response to last week’s incident, the department would have alerted the public. The newsroom has reached out to iwi for comment, but has yet to hear back.
Local alpine guide Stewart Barclay was surprised that no rahui had yet been declared.
“I feel a bit sorry for the loved ones of the deceased, because in the local culture it’s a good thing to show respect for the dead and shut down the area,” he said. “If something like this happens in Tongariro, they shut down the whole mountain.”
He said the mountain had been “incredibly icy” and it was a potentially dangerous time to travel into the backcountry.
“We had freezing rain, then hot days, then freezing again overnight, so in the winter when leaving the supervised ski area you have to be very aware of the surroundings, the weather and the terrain” , did he declare. “One day it can be an avalanche, the next day it can be icy and slippery, so you have to be ready for all those events.”
He said that although it can sometimes go against the Kiwi spirit which values independence and a positive attitude, it was worth taking lessons before exploring areas like the mountain tops. “My advice is if you’re inexperienced, admit you don’t know everything and go for experienced information and education,” he said. “There are many one or two day courses on avalanches, snow and mountain weather.”
The DoC website said avalanches in Tongariro National Park are most common between July and October. Besides the roads on the north side, other approaches to the summit of Ruapehu involved traversing difficult and complex terrain.