Closed days and wild weather at Mount Ruapehu have taken their toll on the mountain’s skifield operator, as well as businesses reliant on the tourist dollar.
Bad weather hampered the ski season for Tūroa and Whakapapa, which started in June and came to a close over Labour Weekend, with unrelenting storms and poor snow coverage at the start of the season meaning both fields’ upper mountain facilities were closed for about 30 days each.
The closures seem to have taken a toll on skifield operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL). A shareholder update written by chairman Murray Gribben in September said the company made just under $6.7 million before tax, depreciation and paying off the cost of assets in 2018, but forecasts showed this year’s earnings would come to just $2 million.
In the update, Gribben said the second warmest July on record delayed the opening of upper mountain chairlifts on both skifields and there had been an unprecedented number of closed days, with each side having been closed for about a third of the season at the time.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures show visitor spending in the Ruapehu region for the year to date was down by 6 per cent on last year’s figures. This includes money spent on accommodation, food, tourist attractions and fuel.
In a statement, RAL sales and marketing general manager Michelle Caldwell said visitor numbers were smaller than last year’s numbers, but 2018 was a record season for all skifields in New Zealand.
“Despite the weather, we’ve been happy with our visitor numbers.”
Visit Ruapehu general manager Jo Kennedy said visitor spending in the region had been down by an average of 20 per cent for July and August compared to the same period last year but had picked up in September. She said local businesses would have anticipated the downturn this year, after the consistent good weather and fine days during the 2018 season.
“It’s been a poor season, but we’re not stressed about it… It is more down than we would have expected.”
The Blind Finch restaurant owner Derek Allomes said the inconsistency of the weather had made it a tough season for Ohakune’s hospitality industry, as it was hard to predict the demand for each week.
“Being a ski town, we are very much at the mercy of the weather and RAL’s operations.”
He said there had been minimal fine weekends during the season, meaning the town and mountain were overloaded when the weather turned for the better. There were just 18 clear and fine days at Tūroa.
The lack of consistency had made it difficult to figure out how many people to employ throughout the season, Allomes said.
“We go from famine to extreme pressures, often during those peak periods… Overall, I would say I’m down on last season, but we have had some incredible peaks.”
Allomes said summer business had become stronger in Ohakune over recent years and could be as profitable as an average winter.
Manawatū Tramping and Skiing Club lodge manager John Lyttle said there had been fewer visitors to the club’s lodge on Whakapapa this season. The club had its best financial year on record in 2018, but this season was incomparable.
He said the “pretty gnarly conditions” on the mountain had led to a number of last-minute cancellations during the season due to the bad weather.
“We get just as impacted as the mountain does during a season like this… Why would you go spend a weekend at the mountain if you can’t ski?”
Lyttle said the Sky Waka had made a difference to skiing on bad days, as it gave skiers and snowboarders shelter from the conditions. The $25 million gondola opened at Whakapapa in July and close to 32,000 people rode it over the season.
Mike Wiggins, owner of ski and snowboard shop TCB, has been in business in Ohakune since 1978. He said the season had been one of the hardest he has experienced.
The rental part of the store was affected the most by the closures and poor weather during school holidays, but Wiggins said sales in retail had helped ease that loss.
Kennedy said the tourism organisation was working to promote more activities off the mountain, including mountain biking and rock climbing, to make each year more financially predictable for the region.