MBIE chips in on $4m bailout for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts to make it to next ski season

Katie Todd for RNZ

Embattled skifield operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts has received a $4 million rescue package - partly with help from the government - as it tries to make it to the next ski season. 

The voluntary administrators who took over the company last month have ruled its existing management simply can't stay on.

RAL is snowed in about $40 million debt, and needs another $9 million dollars to keep its two skifields - Turoa and Whakapapa - operating.

The lifeline bank loans were announced by voluntary administrator John Fisk on Nine to Noon today.

"We have now just confirmed with the Crown and ANZ that they will provide emergency funding to get us through to before Christmas," he said.  

"That will give us some time to put together a plan to ensure that we give the best possible opportunity to open again in 2023." 

Fisk said the $4 million would help RAL to keep staff on over summer, to prepare the mountain for the winter season.

"There's an awful lot of maintenance that needs to go on over that period," he said. 

It would also buy "breathing space" needed for the administrators time to come up restructure plans, he said. 

It's unclear how much of the money comes from ANZ, and how much from the government. 

Just last month Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash expressly ruled out any more government bank loans for RAL, having already contributed $15 million for construction of the Sky Waka gondola in 2018.

In a statement today, Nash said Cabinet had given a mandate to MBIE's Provincial Development Unit Kanoa, to lead negotiations with ANZ and other bondholders to endeavour to support the continued operation of the skifield at Mt Ruapehu "with the associated community and regional benefits."

ANZ declined RNZ's requests for comment. 

Neverthless, Ruapehu mayor Weston Kirton said he was grateful the government was coming to the table.

"We appreciate the urgency [with which] the government has given support. Of course it's worrying for the local community that the future of our winter skiing and snow next year is going to be difficult," he said. 

But Kirton conceded it was only a band aid solution. 

The question remains who will run the skifields next year. 

John Fisk told Nine to Noon PWC hadn't "actively sought" interest from other skifield operators but it had recieved enquiries. 

The skifields won't be handed back to RAL in its current state, he said.  

"We're not going to be handing the company back to the existing shareholders and management. There's just too much debt in the company," he said.

"What's clear is that the vehicle that has been operating the mountain to date is not viable in the future. What we need to do is get the operation into a new vehicle that's recapitalised and meets the needs for future operation."

Meanwhile, there's still a $5 million funding gap to bridge to keep RAL going until snow returns next year.

Some of the 14,000 people who own lifetime passes to the two skifields, believe they could be the solution. 

The Ruapehu shareholders and Life Pass Holders group has been surveying members to see who would chip in money to keep the skifields open. 

Spokesperson Sam Clarkson said the answer was "a clear yes, from a large number of life pass holders." 

"The feedback has come back very clearly that most are willing to keep Ruapehu going." 

Sam Clarkson said selling regular ski passes for next season could also go a long way to help - as long as buyers could have confidence there would be a next season.

He also hoped to see the Sky Waka gondola in full swing over summer, to cash in on the international tourism market. 

"The Sky Waka has not had a chance to stretch its legs yet. Since it was built we haven't actually had a summer with open borders, no restrictions. It would be a shame not to show what it's worth," he said. 

John Fisk said before Christmas there would be a "watershed" meeting of creditors.

They would be presented with a restructure plan for RAL and asked whether to accept it, or if they wanted to enter into liquidation.