Mt Ruapehu ski investment plan on hold amid resistance from shareholders

The chair lift at Mt Ruapehu
The $25 million Sky Waka gondola has left the company with substantial debt Photo credit: Getty Images

The Detail is a daily news podcast produced for RNZ by Newsroom and is published on Newshub with permission. Click on this link to subscribe to the podcast.

Mt Ruapehu's two ski fields have survived warm winters and volcanic eruptions, but the company that runs them is facing another kind of upheaval.

Plans to overturn the company's structure and bring in outside investors have rattled shareholders, who are fighting to keep things as they are.

"They're afraid that the whole thing will go under," says Newsroom's business editor Nikki Mandow.

"They're worried there won't be somewhere in the North Island to take your family skiing."

Today, Mandow explains to The Detail the unusual ownership model of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts and how it was set up by a group of passionate skiers in the 1950s to improve the facilities on the mountain.

"It’s a not for-profit company, the shareholders don't get any return. There are four classes of shares, some of them are $1 and some are $20, but you don't make any money, no dividends, because any money they make goes back into facilities at the ski field," she says.

Over the years the company has raised millions of dollars by selling life passes, investing the money in improvements such as new snowmaking machines, lifts or cafes.

The opening of the $25 million Sky Waka gondola at Whakapapa in 2019 was a milestone but it has left the company with substantial debt and the pressure to repay lenders - ANZ Bank and MBIE. The situation has not been helped by two covid-disrupted ski seasons.

"They borrowed from locals, the Ruapehu District Council or tourism bonds. So quite a lot of the funding is not bank funding but they do have quite a big debt with the ANZ Bank and that's been one of their problems," Mandow says.

But the board's solution to restructure and allow it to raise $30 million by selling half the company to the private sector is facing strong resistance from many shareholders.

The vote to change RAL's constitution, scheduled for last week, is now on hold until May.

The Detail also talks to Ruapehu Bulletin owner and editor Robert Milne in Ohakune, a town with a strong connection to the Turoa ski field where "everyone has an opinion" on the mountain and how to run it.

He says locals are confused by the latest plans and most do not want the structure to change.

"Most locals like the model that RAL returns the profits to the ski fields," Milne says.

He explains to Sharon Brettkelly why he believes the ski fields and the mountain have a promising future despite the many pressures.