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Working Abroad in New Zealand: Making Snow in the Summer

Mount Ruapehu covered with snow in New Zealand
Mount Ruapehu covered with snow.

It’s June. The temperature outside is way below freezing, the wind is piling snow up against the windows of the break room, and I'm finishing my fourth cup of instant mochaccino while trying to stay warm. If you love the mountains and want to experience an endless winter, or if you have never even been on a ski lift but want to spend your summer learning to snowboard, then working on Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand might be for you.

Mount Ruapehu from the Desert Road
Mount Ruapehu from the Desert Road. Photo by Robert Norton.

Mount Ruapehu is in the middle of the North Island and part of Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and the Tongariro Northern Circuit—one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. There are two developed ski fields on Mount Ruapehu, Turoa and Whakapapa, and they are both operated by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited (RAL).

RAL begins accepting applications on their website in March and begins phone interviews and hiring in May. Make sure to check the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited (RAL) website for application deadlines so you do not get waitlisted or worse, miss out. The website includes detailed descriptions of the available positions and if you have ski resort experience, you will probably qualify for more than one, improving your chances of getting a job.

VISA Requirements for Work in New Zealand

I chose to work as a snowmaker for two reasons: some snowmakers work the graveyard shift, which gave me plenty of time to snowboard during the day, and I was too old to qualify for a VISA under the working holiday scheme. Here is the deal: you need a VISA to work in New Zealand and there are two ways to get one; qualify under the working holiday scheme, or apply as a skilled migrant.

To qualify for a VISA under the working holiday scheme, you need to be 18–30 years old, have some cash (enough spending cash and as funds to get home), and no kids tagging along. New Zealand has an excellent immigration website, so you can review all of the working holiday scheme conditions and even apply for a New Zealand VISA online.

Since I was 31, I had to obtain my VISA as a skilled immigrant. This meant that RAL had to help me acquire my VISA, and this option was only available to snowmakers and ski/snowboarding instructors. If you do not qualify for a VISA under the working holiday scheme, check the RAL website for information on which positions offer VISA assistance.

Turoa Versus Whakapapa

When you apply for a position with RAL, you can choose to work at Whakapapa or Turoa. Both resorts offer similar terrain and mountain services, but their locations are very different. Turoa is just up the mountain from Ohakune, a town of about 1,400 full-time residents with a grocery store, several bars and restaurants, and Mardi Gras, a street party in late June that kicks off the snow season. Whakapapa on the other hand is fairly isolated. When I am in the States, I live in a downtown apartment in a large city, so I preferred the busier nightlife of Ohakune.

Things to Consider When Working and Living at RAL

  • The weather on Mount Ruapehu is temperamental. If you desire blue skies, and deep and dreamy powder to have a good time skiing or riding, the conditions on Mount Ruapehu may drive you crazy. But do not fret, as there will be some beautiful days. Nonetheless, due to the wind and clouds, do expect partial or complete mountain closures at times as storms roll through.
  • Many of the jobs at RAL are physically demanding. As a snowmaker, I spent a lot of time trudging around in deep snow, lugging heavy objects, and digging things out. Make sure you are up for a physical challenge.
  • Most of the employees are between 18 and 25 years old. This means the bars are lively and busy, especially on paydays, so if you are done with excesses of youthful exuberance, then this might not be the best choice for you.

Tips On Taking the Plunge

  • RAL provides you with a uniform, which includes outerwear and fleeces, but I recommend purchasing warm gloves or mittens, thermal underwear, and some additional fleeces and maybe an even down jacket while still in the States. Outdoor clothing is expensive in New Zealand, and it is nice to have extra clothes to stay warm when the weather is raging. Also, you can only wear your uniform when you are working, so bring along your own clothes for skiing or snowboarding.
  • If you are assigned to Turoa, Ohakune is a resort town, so expect to pay over $100 a week for a shared room. Check out the classified board in the grocery store for rental postings. And remember, the earlier you get to Ohakune, the easier it will be to find a place to stay. If you are assigned to Whakapapa, there are staff dormitories and information about them on the RAL website.
  • Buy a prepaid phone in Auckland, or get a New Zealand SIM chip for your own phone. You may be required to carry a cell phone for work, but it also makes keeping in touch with local friends easier. You can buy more minutes for prepaid phones at most grocery stores and gas stations throughout New Zealand.
  • New Zealand is a beautiful country, so buy a van or car and see it all if you can. Mount Ruapehu is centrally located on the North Island, meaning you can take weekend side trips to Lake Taupo, Rotorua, New Plymouth/Taranaki, Napier, Gisborne, or Wellington if you want to escape the snow. I bought a van from the Backpackers Car Market in Auckland, which was great because they took care of the paperwork and offered insurance. The flip side is that I spent $2500 on a van, $800 in repairs, and the van was still always breaking down, so buyer beware.
Rolling grass hills on the road between Ohakune and Napier
Rolling grass hills on the road between Ohakune and Napier. Photo by Robert Norton.
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