Mt Ruapehu ski fields face 'worst-case scenario' after controversial vote

Both skifields on Mount Ruapehu, which lie within a UNESCO World Heritage site, will be placed in liquidation after a series of fiery creditors meetings.

Thousands of creditors, including lifepass holders, bondholders, mountain staff, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and ANZ bank, voted on Tuesday on who will take over from the insolvent Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL).

Three options were presented:

  • Resolution A: A proposal by the Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association (RSSA) to retain the business and assets of RAL in the current company structure while creditors either write off some of their debt or extend payment terms. 
  • Resolution B: A 'prepackaged liquidation' backed by the Crown where Whakapapa Holdings Limited (WHL) and Pure Tūroa Limited (PTL) would buy a side of the mountain each for $1 and the Crown would take a 25 percent shareholding in both entities and loan them money.
  • Resolution C: Returning RAL to the directors' control, which would lead to them seeking liquidation.

The vote ended in a stalemate, with Resolution C the outcome of the watershed meeting. 

The voluntary administrators' report released last week warned the option of returning the company to its directors is a "worst-case scenario" because the company is "hopelessly insolvent".

RAL will now be placed into liquidation on Wednesday when it visits the High Court.

But Whakapapa Holdings' Dave Mazey told Newshub he's still hopeful his equity partners can stitch up a deal post-liquidation.

"We are trying to get a ski field open and get a business back in operation for the communities the central North Island," he said.

But the Department of Conservation is still finalising licenses with iwi so both private bidders can operate on the sacred mountain they call home.

"If we can get to the point we were yesterday then there is nothing to stop this company taking on the Whakapapa Ski area in a few days," Mazey said.

Pure Tūroa is confident it too can open the mountain.

"Once appointed as liquidators, PwC has indicated they will then proceed immediately with Pure Tūroa and Whakapapa Holdings for settlement of their respective sale and purchase agreements," Pure Tūroa said.

"The Crown is also working closely with iwi to enable assignment of the DoC Concessions to Pure Tūroa and Whakapapa Holdings in the very near future.

"Given the above, Pure Tūroa Ltd is very confident that we'll get operations underway towards the end of next week. In the meantime PwC will operate the business as liquidators following the court hearing. RAL staff will remain employed and be paid without disruption."

It is still unclear whether the mountain will open this ski season.

"A large body of the creditors, particularly lifepass holders, are sending a bit of protest message that they not happy with what was being put on the table," said PWC administrator John Fisk.

"There's a bit of work to do to see if we can still have skiing on the mountain."

Locals told Newshub they are worried about the future of their area.

"What's going to happen to the whole town, the whole area?" one person said.

"It's got nasty, been rushed. It's a big issue," another said.

Businesses are also concerned about what it will mean for them.

"The majority of the town just wants the mountain open and running," one said.

"The people who have lost out are the staff members, families, people with mortgages," another added.