Photo / Mt Ruapehu – This article is republished courtesy of our media partners NZME
An eleventh-hour loan of up to $5 million from the Government will ensure the ski season this year will go ahead on Mt Ruapehu.
Regional Development Minister Kiri Allan announced the funding today to the liquidators of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL), aimed at saving hundreds of jobs and preventing the economic loss to the region if the season hadn’t been able to go ahead.
“This will allow time for liquidators to decide on the purchaser or purchasers of the business and its assets,” Allan said in a statement.
“We’ve always been committed to finding a way to ensure the ski season on Mount Ruapehu goes ahead this year. Cabinet’s decision today has solidified that.”
Ruapehu’s mayor has applauded the Government’s support and said it was “a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to secure the future of skiing” on the mountain.
Despite not mentioning the funds were a loan in the announcement today by the Minister for Regional Development’s office, a spokesperson later clarified it was a loan from Kānoa’s Regional Strategic Priorities Fund.
It follows a meeting last week where major creditors, including the Government, ski pass owners and ANZ Bank, voted on options to salvage the commercial operations of the fields – but none of them gained enough support.
RAL, the operator of the Tūroa and Whakapapa ski fields, was placed into liquidation the following morning, but the Government was still trying to find a way to allow the ski season to go ahead.
RAL typically employs about 700 people in the winter.
“Ruapehu is a very significant part of the economy in the central North Island, accounting for around a tenth of regional GDP, or $100 million per year,” Allan said.
“The season going ahead will save hundreds of jobs and support local tourism, the regional economy and the community, while a long-term solution is found.”
There is also a new player expressing interest in taking over the ski operations on the mountain: Te Ariki Tā Tumu Te Heuheu on behalf of Tūwharetoa.
This is in addition to the expressions of interest received from Whakapapa Holdings and Pure Tūroa before last week’s meeting.
The Government is now considering the three bids for Government support, and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment will engage with the bidders.
RAL went into voluntary administration last year, owing about $45m, after being impacted by poor seasonal conditions and pandemic closures over the past few years. A report earlier this month said that the debt had ballooned to $81.6m, $including 44m owed to about 15,000 people who hold ski passes.
Last week Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that the ski season represented a “very significant part of the economy in the central North Island.
“If there is a way forward that allows the ski fields to continue to operate, then, yes, the Government should be involved in those discussions – bearing in mind the Government stands potentially to end up being the party picking up the tab in the event the ski fields fall over.”
But Act leader David Seymour has criticised any “political favours or handouts” to the businesses.
Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton said he warmly welcomes the announcement.
“This decision marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to secure the future of skiing on Mt Ruapehu and its contribution to the regional economy,” he said.
“With the failure of the watershed meeting of RAL creditors on Tuesday last week to support either the Whakapapa Holdings Limited or Pure Tūroa Limited bids allowing time for liquidators to decide on the best possible purchaser or purchasers of the business and its assets was the best possible outcome.
Kirton said a new proposal from Te Ariki Tā Tumu Te Heuheu on behalf of Tūwharetoa to take over the ski operations on the mountain was also welcomed.
“This announcement will come as a tremendous relief to the Ruapehu communities with the ski industry contributing approximately one-tenth of the regional GDP, amounting to $100 million per year,” he said.
“The decision to support the 2023 ski season will ensure job security for the workers on the mountain and provide much needed certainty for businesses that rely on the ski industry.”
Kirton said it has been and emotional and trying time for the community.
“I want to express my gratitude to the resilient and supportive Mt Ruapehu communities. I understand the stress and uncertainty this process has brought upon you.
“Moving forward, I call upon all stakeholders to support the liquidator to choose the best operator or operators who can ensure the long-term success of the Mt Ruapehu ski industry,” he said.