Ruapehu life pass holders to vote this week in bid to save ski fields

Mt Ruapehu stakeholders will go to the Government cap in hand after meeting on Monday in a last-ditch effort to save its ski fields. 

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited (RAL) put itself into voluntary administration last week after three tough years of COVID-19 and minimal snowfall.   

PwC Administrators met in Taupo with iwi, the Department of Conservation (DoC), the Ruapehu District Council, and stakeholders eager to bring RAL back from the ledge.

Founded in 1953, RAL employs 196 staff and owns and operates the Whakapapa and Tūroa ski areas.

"The consequences of not getting this right are significant for the people that are employed and the local economy, so that's what we need to talk to the Crown about. What we need is immediate funding so we can keep our options open," said PwC voluntary administrator John Fisk.

Ruapehu contributes $100 million a year to the local economy.

RAL is continuing to trade on a "business as usual" basis while the administrators look to determine the most appropriate way forward to maximise recoveries for creditors, PwC said.

Fisk estimates RAL owes almost $40 million due to COVID-19, a La Niña ski season with little snow, and a buildup of deferred maintenance.

Its debts include:

$5.9m with ANZ

$15m from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to build the Sky Waka and get through COVID-19

$500,000 from Ruapehu District Council.

Stakeholders and bondholders with interest in the ski fields gave little away as they emerged from Monday's meetings with administrators.

"The maunga is important to our people. In terms of the bondholders we are looking to support wherever we can, that's all I can say," said Rakeipoho Taiaroa from Ngāti Tūwharetoa.

He too is keen to see the central government come to the table.

Taumarunui businessman and Slalom Lodge owner Richard Neeson said he tried to buy Tūroa six months ago and was told it wasn't for sale.

"It was a very reasonable amount of money and it would have taken the liability away from Tūroa lifts so I'm pretty frustrated."

Ruapehu has 14,000 life pass holders. Some have offered hundreds of thousands of dollars each since last week's SOS to keep Ruapehu afloat.

"The reality is people are really generous at the moment pledging so much but we've got to give them runway too so it's not in vain. That's why it's important to go through this methodically with PwC," said Ruapehu Alpine Lifts CEO Jono Dean.

And it's a short-term loan from the Government to buy RAL time that Fisk now wants.

"Just because the Government has invested, it doesn't mean that the Government will necessarily bail out. This is a commercial venture, everyone has gone in with eyes wide open," said Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash.

Nash would like to see the region continue to diversify.

"If I was a ski operator I'd be taking a good hard look at what I needed to do or what the region needed to attract to have 24/7, 12 months of the year activities to bring people to the region. It just is unsustainable to be so dependent on a season that lasts 3-6 months."

Ohakune locals argue they're doing that, with sports like mountain biking drawing thousands of visitors year-round. 

"In the long run the minister is right, but right now we need immediate action and we need  Government to help with a short-term loan essentially while we work out options," said Fisk.

Mount Ruapehu's 14,000 life pass holders will be given the opportunity to vote on the next steps at 11am this Friday, either by post, in person or by proxy at PwC's offices in Auckland and Wellington, or up the mountain.