14 Mar 2024

'Final' Ruapehu ski bailout good money after bad - business owner says

10:57 am on 14 March 2024

A Ruapehu business owner says the latest government bailout is a waste of money.

On Wednesday, the government agreed to a final $7m bailout for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, but was clear it would be the last taxpayer money the struggling ski resort received.

The money will allow the ski season to go ahead at Whakapapa this year, while the Government also agreed to provide $3.05m in equity and loan funding to support the sale of Tūroa ski field on the other side of the mountain.

Ruapehu accommodation and ski-hire business owner Sam Clarkson told Morning Report the money was being put in the wrong direction.

Clarkson, who was also part of the Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association, said government ministers needed to sit down with people who actually know how to run skifields.

"[RAL] don't have people running the company who know how to run skifields. When it got into trouble in came Mbie, who don't know how to run skifields, and have gotten in consultants, who don't know how to run skifields."

Clarkson said the millions spent on bailouts could have been used to forgive the more than $30m in government debt.

He said they were willing to wipe the debt for other potential buyers and should do the same for the community ownership model.

"Get rid of the consultants who have made millions of dollars out of this, the same millions that would have fixed up RAL."

They had a "whole crew" of experts standing by ready to run things, Clarkson said.

Skiers have flocked to the Whakapapa slopes.

Skiers have flocked to the Whakapapa slopes. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

'Poor cousin to the rockstar that is Queenstown'

Stu Robinson owns Kings Accommodation in Ohakune.

He told First Up he hoped the latest bailout would give those interested time to get themselves sorted.

"Might just put a fire up people to actually get something lined up for proper for next year.

"The commercial entities need to sort of step up, there's definitely a number of people that have said they're keen to take on Whakapapa."

Robinson said the town was used to being the "poor cousin to the rockstar that is Queenstown".

"[Ohakune has] got more of that good wholesome small Kiwi town vibe, you still borrow cups of sugar, you're catching rides with a lot of people, there's a real good community feel here."

He said the area was well-loved and well-visited.

"We're a resilient bunch, everyone sort of looks after each other. It's a really good community that has each other's back and we work together putting together deals and promotions and we're always actively sort of advertising Ohakune and the smaller satellite towns and the Ruapehu region as a whole."

'Time and goodwill running out for Whakapapa'

Ruapehu District Mayor Weston Kirton said time and goodwill were running out for Whakapapa ski field.

He said the latest bailout provided some certainty for the upcoming ski season.

But Kirton told Morning Report there needed to be some adult conversations about how they moved forward.

"I think there's enough goodwill for that to happen, and we want to play our part to make sure that that can happen on behalf of not only our district, but the rest of New Zealand."

Kirton said it appeared a previous deal for Whakapapa had fallen over due to some of the details which needed to be addressed.

But he said the deal for the Tūroa side of Mt Ruapehu showed there was no reason the same couldn't be achieved for the Whakapapa side.

'Such an asset'

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said the $7m was "the last chance saloon".

"This money is circumscribed within the $200-odd-million-dollars that the last regime had and it's traceable back to some of the original allocations from the initial Provincial Growth Fund."

Labour MP Jan Tinetti told First Up every possibility needs to be looked at.

"I've skied up there myself and I absolutely love it and I just know that it's such an asset for particularly the North Island."

Ruapehu District Mayor Weston Kirton said time and goodwill were running out for Whakapapa ski field.

He told Morning Report there needed to be some adult conversations about how they moved forward.

The company's receivers, Calibre Partners, said preparations for the season ahead would now begin, including recruitment and the launch of a season pass campaign.

"In tandem we will continue to work on finding an acceptable commercially led solution for Whakapapa post 2024," Brendon Gibson said.

Support for the Tūroa purchase was also welcomed, he said.

"If Pure Tūroa Limited is granted a concession, we look forward to settling the Tūroa transaction."

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