27 Oct 2017

Is the traditional Kiwi getaway to the snow under threat?

1:47 pm on 27 October 2017

A traditional Kiwi getaway to the snow is under threat, with almost half of the skiing and tramping club lodges at Whakapapa on Mount Ruapehu feeling the pinch of rising running costs and dwindling membership.

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The SnowSports lodge on Mt Ruapehu Photo: Supplied

The Auckland Tramping Club's ski lodge, the Mt Ruapehu SnowSports Lodge, has been a fixture on the mountain since 1948. Formerly known as Memorial Hut, it was built in honour of club members who gave their lives in World War II.

However, electricity, insurance, maintenance costs and rates, along with declining club membership, means running the lodge is no longer viable.

Under the terms of their license with the Department of Conservation (DOC) the club has two options: find a new owner or dismantle the building and restore the site to the pre-lodge condition.

With lodge removal costs estimated to be between $200,000 and $400,000, the Auckland Tramping Club president Tony Walton said he hoped it would be the former.

"We're looking for an owner that we consider to be compatible going forwards in terms of their interests and the benefit to the outdoor community, but the reality is, is that it's very difficult to sell anything."

He said the upkeep of the club lodge was taking its toll on members' time and the labour-of-love approach was no longer a sustainable option.

"We're asking our club volunteers to do a lot of work - essentially what is done is done for love rather than sheer practicality, so we've taken the hard decision that we're going to do something about this before it really starts costing us as a club."

Mr Walton said the club was now actively searching for a new owner to take over the lodge.

The Ruapehu Mountain Club Association president Jo Bouchier said it was aware that some clubs were struggling, adding not all lodges were in the same boat.

Lodges that were close to road access at the Top of the Bruce, and those that appointed a custodian to look after the lodge, tended to survive longer.

But she said a change in the way New Zealanders spent their free time had affected clubs. In particular, more people were choosing to stay in towns, like National Park or Ohakune, and drive to the skifield each day rather than joining a club with the commitment that involved.

"If you have to walk a significant way from the carpark on a Friday night carrying all your food and your gear, that's not to some people's taste anymore."

Mrs Bouchier also said the costs involved with running a lodge were high.

She said the terms of a lodge's licence meant it was a requirement to have sufficient insurance cover to fully remove the lodge in the event of a natural disaster, a cost she said was significant.

Along with electricity charges, DOC licence fees (which include rates payments) and general maintenance costs, it was approximately $45,000 a year to run a lodge depending on its size and location.

Mrs Bouchier said costs involved with planned improvements to the wastewater treatment system on the mountain would also hit clubs hard.

"The clubs, along with other stakeholders on the mountain are going to have to pay for resource consent, which is undergoing the resource consent process at the moment."

The lodges are built on DOC land and are managed by ski clubs under a 20-year licence. DOC's Tongariro district operations manager, Bhrent Guy, said a club could find a new owner but they would need to take on the exact terms of the existing license.

"The terms of the license are very clear - it can only be taken over by a club for the purposes of skiing. They are allowed to use their lodge for bona-fide club members, church groups or school groups."

Mr Guy said if a club wanted to exit their licence and could not find a suitable group to take over, the alternative was to remove the lodge and restore the site to a pre-lodge condition.

Mount Ruapehu has 52 lodges on the Whakapapa ski area.

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