THE HISTORY OF THE RUAPEHU SKI CLUB

Ruapehu Ski Club was founded in 1913, making it the first skiing organisation in New Zealand and one of the earliest in the British Commonwealth.

THE FOUNDERS

Our founders were William (Bill) Mead, a railway draughtsman stationed at Ngaruawahia, and Bernard Drake, a railway clerk of Wellington.

Imbued with an adventurous spirit, they imported two pairs of skis from Switzerland, as well as a British ski instruction book which provided them with the rudiments of their new sport.

They tested their skis in July 1913 on the eastern (Desert Road) slopes of Ruapehu near the Waihohonu Hut, and on their fifth day the pioneers began their first ski tour, reaching the present Whakapapa skifield.

Mead and Drake promptly formed the Ruapehu Ski Club, posting a notice at the Waihohonu Hut, and returned in the summer of 1913 to make on Boxing Day the first ascent to the crater with skis. They then made the first runs down the Whakapapa Glacier.

HUT BUILDING

Hut building soon became a priority and our members, who by now included many women, used bullocks to cart a disused prison hut to Mangatepopo near Mt Ngauruhoe.

Deciding that Whakapapa was really the best site, our members then drove a cart track through to what is now the Grand Chateau site and on behalf of the Government Tourist Department they built the first Whakapapa Cottage in 1919.

Then in 1923 they built RSC’s first high level home, the tiny Glacier Hut on Hut Flat at 1750m which today is preserved and protected as a mountain museum and is an official category 1 Historic Place.

Further buildings followed steadily pre-war with a large hut at 1775m and post-war at intervals with our four current large and comfortable accommodation buildings, two at alpine level and two at drive to the door level.

CLUB SPIRIT

Club spirit has always been an integral part of RSC and the Club history shows that besides the massive effort that went into designing and constructing the accommodation buildings, members poled tracks throughout the Ruapehu region, encouraged the use of Tongariro National Park by way of media articles, photos and lectures, and enjoyed many summer events as well as winter sports.

New Zealand’s first organised ski races and jumps were run by RSC in 1923. Competitions since then have been an important part of Club life, all the way from simple races for 6-year-olds right up the Winter Olympics where 10 members have skied for New Zealand since 1960.

During the Second World War nearly half of our male membership and many of the women were on active service. Auckland members packed 1100 food parcels for prisoners-of war, a magnificent project which gave RSC a focus even when there was little skiing.

SKI INSTRUCTION

Ski instruction has always been a priority for RSC members. Members published their own skiing handbook in 1946, readily encouraged the use of ski instruction when it became available, and since 1960 have paid each winter to bring a young Swiss instructor to Whakapapa to live in our Lodge.

Snow Safe ski tests in which skiers and snowboarders earn badges at novice to advanced levels by showing their ability for judges have long been popular, especially among the many youngsters who ski with us each year as part of family groups.

TOWS AND LIFTS

Uphill transport was always a dream of the early RSC members so it was no surprise when Club members in 1946 set up their own rope tow at Whakapapa.

A few years later they were prominent in setting up Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL), a company which in 1954 built the first chairlift anywhere in NZ. Today it operates both the Whakapapa and Turoa skifields.

Members were also to the fore in mapping Whakapapa, setting up shelters, operating the Ski Patrol, staffing the NZ Ski Association and running the Ruapehu Mountain Clubs Association which was formed after more than 50 other clubs joined us at Whakapapa.

THE PRESENT DAY

The present day finds RSC in great heart with more than 1750 members, four fine buildings sleeping more than 170 people, an office in Auckland, an historic on-snow museum, a top ski racing record and total assets that would cost well over $10 million to replace.

Many of our members are third generation RSC skiers and some are fourth generation. We have in 2010 welcomed our first 5th generation member!