In October 2022 Ruapehu Alpine Lifts who operate Whakapapa and Tūroa skifields ran out of cash and was placed into Voluntary Administration. There are lots of views on how that happened and why. But one thing is immediately clear, sitting around hoping that someone else will fix the problem isn't going to work.
RAL may of lost its way at times, but it was originally started as a community-owned non-profit with thousands of families putting up small amounts of money to own a slice of the skifields that they love. They didn't just put in money, they carried equipment up the hill, helped build the cabins and picked up rubbish in summer. It felt like one big family and if we come together now in 2022, we have a chance to keep that vibe alive.
Anyone who has been lost in a white-out or stopped to help someone up when they fall over knows that you have to look out for each other when you're up on the mountain. Skifields that are owned by their community can reflect the camaraderie of a shared alpine adventure. The next generation of skifields on Mt Ruapehu could be open, friendly and relaxed places that help visitors make feel welcome and make everyone feel more connected with the mountain (and with each other).
This insolvency shock could be the best thing to happen to the skifields because it's a wake up call and chance for a fresh start. Right now there is a small window of opportunity for a whole new generation to get involved in the guardianship role of taking care of the skifields. It's time for a new school of thought that puts the mountain itself at the centre of everything with a holistic view of sustainability, deep connections to the local community and respect for Iwi woven into every level.
The local Iwi are already commercial investors in the skifields, hold the right to approve (or deny) the right to operate in the National Park (through the DOC concessions) and most importantly, have deep spiritual connection to the mountain. Any viable future for the skifields needs to put Iwi at the heart of real decision making.
We don't have the perfect solution, but if we start now and work together we can do something great. It's clear that having the lifts turning on both Tūroa and Whakapapa is vital for the future of riding on the mountain. Both skifields offer a different vibe and the whole region is so much better for having them both running in great shape.
The Ohakune, National Park, Raetihi, Turangi, Tokaanu and other great towns of the mountain region need a more active voice in the skifields. These communities are already deeply connected to the mountain (with or without the skifields), so the skifields need to respect and work with those communities more and more.
To create the future for the skifields we need to find a newfound depth of respect for the mana of the mountain itself. The status as a National Park and Dual World Heritage Site are a reminder for everyone that the mountain, the local people and the environment are to be respected and protected for generations to come. If we squabble now and drop the ball. Our kids will know that when we had a chance to save the skifields, we let them down.
When the skifields were started, the founders added a clause to the constitution which mandated that any profit generated by the skifields had to be re-invested back into maintenance and on-mountain improvements (not stripped out as short-term profits and dividends). This long-term view of building an enduring institution was grounded in a love for skiing and a desire to build an inter-generational asset that could survive for decades and weather the storm. Recently RAL may have lost its way, but we now have a chance to put the fundamental idea of caring for the mountain and investing for the long-term back at the heart of everything we do. New "b-corp" governance models with modern views of a triple-bottom-line can guide a renewed and responsible approach to preserving the skifields for the next 100 years of skiing on Mt Ruapehu.
Non-profit doesn't have to mean badly-run. The best way to do good is by doing well. We can have state of the art lift technology, good food and great coffee, clean toilets and well organised lift lines. The reason to support the skifields now that they're in trouble is that people remember who was there for them when things got tough. And when the bankers have abandoned you, the government calls in their loans and the corporate types disappear, you know who'll step in to help the skifields get back on their feet? We will.
To get involved, volunteer your support, share your ideas to improve the skifields or make your voice heard you can join the Facebook group and sign up for email updates:
But the most important thing that the decision makers will listen to is our willingness to come together now and put our money where our mouth is. Not everyone has cash to spare, but every little bit counts and there are some big players out there who will have to take notice when we start letting lots of small numbers add up to one big number.