Lost skier wouldn't have survived the night on Mt Ruapehu
Rescuers found a woman in chest-deep snow amid blustery snow drifts in what is described as an "epic rescue" overnight.
The woman was found huddled on the edge of the treeline at 2.30am on Monday after becoming lost while skiing on the Turoa skifield on Mt Ruapehu.
Had it not been for a joint rescue effort those who found the woman say she would not have survived the night.
She'd set off for a day's skiing on Sunday and on the last run had left the ski boundary having followed the wrong valley, a spokesperson for the Taupo-based Greenlea rescue helicopter said.
"With the onset of darkness she became lost."
Equipped with a cellphone but minimal battery power the woman put out a call to a friend saying she was aiming to make it to the Massey ski lodge.
Concerned, the woman's friend phoned police at 5.50pm saying the skier may need assistance.
"However, when she didn't arrive and with no known starting point, there was a lot of ground for searchers to cover," the spokesperson said.
"Bearing in mind she was well outside of the Turoa ski areas patrolled boundary, there was a phenomenal response from the Turoa ski patrol, Ruapehu alpine rescue and LandSAR volunteers, to assist the police with the search."
By now the woman's phone was dead, it was dark and weather conditions were dangerous, National Park police Constable Conrad Smith said.
Searchers assembled and, using their knowledge of the area, covered a vast area of the mountain, assisted by the Greenlea helicopter which provided an aerial view.
About 2.30am one of the ski patrols spotted the woman in a "very steep gully" in deep snow drifts, huddled on the edge of a tree line at about 1460 metres elevation and well outside of the ski area boundary.
"With deteriorating weather it was silently acknowledged that she would be unlikely to survive the night if she was in the open, so needless to say it was with great relief that she was eventually found."
Ski teams were unable to reach the woman, Smith said, so a helicopter dropped a rescuer to her and managed to pull her out of the chest-deep snow.
With the wind now gusting and lowering cloud starting to partially obscure the mountain, the Greenlea helicopter was able to hover-load a Ruapehu Alpine Rescue team member nearby.
Having waded through chest-deep snow drifts he then assisted the woman back to a suitable location for the helicopter to hover-load her aboard.
"She was mildly hypothermic but otherwise OK, just extremely grateful we'd managed to find her," Smith said.
"This is a timely reminder that people really need to follow the appropriate safety advice on our mountains," he said.
"Skiers leaving the skifield boundary should always be travelling with at least one other person, and be carrying a transceiver, shovel and a probe at a minimum.
"This rescue operation could have ended up very differently and we're incredibly glad it didn't.
"She is one very lucky woman."