5 Apr 2024

The downward spiral of Ruapehu's commercial infrastructure

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 5 April 2024

Along with the 2024 season's fresh snow comes a dumping of unwelcome information on the future of Mt Ruapehu's infrastructure, including the iconic Chateau Tongariro 

Mt Ruapehu - beautiful, pristine and precious. But the future of its infrastructure is in doubt

Mt Ruapehu - beautiful, pristine and precious. But the future of its infrastructure is in doubt Photo: Alexia Russell/The Detail

The ski season is fast approaching and the year's first snow has fallen but Mt Ruapehu's two skifields are still surrounded by uncertainty. 

The deal for Tūroa's new owner, Pure Tūroa, won't go unconditional until the Department of Conservation grants a concession and Cabinet gives its approval, while Whakapapa remains in the hands of government-appointed receivers who are expected to run the skifield this winter.

"It's complicated," says Newsroom business journalist Andrew Bevin, who has written more than 30 stories on the mountain's troubles; from the collapse of the operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) to the tussle between the creditors who are owed a total of $70 million, and the on-again, off-again buyers.

"You've got multiple government departments, multiple ministers, you've got the receivers, you've got the liquidators, you've got the people who paid to build the Sky Waka gondola on Whakapapa, you've got the life pass holders," Bevin tells The Detail.

Skywaka equipment at Mt Ruapehu's skifield base

Skywaka equipment at Mt Ruapehu's skifield base Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

"Obviously, Mt Ruapehu is so important to so many different iwi and hapū groups who do need to have a say. It's thought of as an ancestor not a mountain, it's very important."

He outlines the many twists and turns of the business since RAL went into voluntary administration in late 2022, after covid-related lockdowns and unfavourable weather dragged down visitor numbers.

Two favoured buyers were close to taking over the skifields last year but they failed to get the required vote of approval from the majority of creditors, including thousands of life pass holders.

"The numbers were obviously overwhelmingly swayed to them but the government had the money. And so there was this stalemate situation where the government's thing didn't pass and the life pass holders motion didn't pass either because the government vetoed that," he says.

He explains how the government is a creditor, owed more than $40 million through MBIE's regional development arm Kānoa but it has also poured in an "eyewatering" $20 million in bailout funds.

The Detail also looks at the role of iwi and why decisions over the sale of the skifields could lead to further legal action.

Waikato Times journalist Matthew Martin says the ongoing uncertainty has left business operators, mayors and other locals feeling frustrated and disappointed.

Whakapapa skifield in spring at Mt Ruapehu

Whakapapa skifield in spring at Mt Ruapehu Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

The North Island's only commercial skifields are worth about $100 million to the region but their drawn out troubles have left many with a sense of doom, not helped by the permanently-closed Chateau Tongariro, he says. 

"The Chateau is in such dire need of an upgrade. This is not a three or four million dollar job. To upgrade the Chateau to current building standards and earthquake strengthening will cost more than $30 million.

"Who is going to pick up that tab? Is it DOC, is it the former leaseholders, is it new owners? Who knows? Do you want to buy a building that's got $30 million worth of problems?" 

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