Disclaimer: The contents of this article are based on publicly disclosed information and widely available rumours in the ski community. A 'project team' from the RSSA have signed non-disclosure agreements with MBIE and/or PwC and may be privy to confidential information. Confidential information has not been included in this article. Any rumours about the decision-making process or progress of the insolvency process would be premature as there is a formal legal process underway.
In October 2022 Ruapehu Alpine Lifts who operate the Tūroa and Whakapapa skifields was placed into Voluntary Administration. John Fisk and Richard Nacey from PwC were appointed as the administrators. MBIE was already a major creditor through previous loans. MBIE also provided additional lending to support the business to continue operations through the administration process. As a result of their significant exposure to the business MBIE appointed Calibre Partners as their advisors to conduct a bid / proposal process with potential acquirers.
In theory, PwC are the Voluntary Administrators and at law should be the ones conducting any sale of the company's assets and/or corralling the creditors towards a creditor's compromise to be voted on at a Watershed meeting. In practise, it is not uncommon for a large creditor to organise a 'pre-pack liquidation' especially in a situation where some of the strategic assets of the business are subject to security interests that would rank above the general unsecured creditors. Whether such a process is occurring, the terms of such a process, or the outcome would be heavily confidential. But MBIE have made public statements that they are accepting "expressions of interest" from consortiums interested in acquiring the assets and the publicly disclosed minutes of the Creditors Committee meetings make reference to a "commercial process" being conducted by MBIE.
There is a question to be asked about what process should in fact be applied to any proposed sale of the skifields given the significance to large community groups such as Iwi, local residents, tourism operators, life pass holders and the wider mountain community. There is an argument to be made that whatever the details of insolvency law may permit, all the proposals should be put transparently to the creditors to ensure that the stakeholders and community are included in the process for this public asset.
The Consortiums Bidding
The identity of the bidders and who makes up the various consortiums has not been officially disclosed (that we are aware of). The following list of bidders is based only on publicly available information. The contents of any bid would be confidential between the bidder and MBIE.
This bid is apparently organised by Bruce Stockwell, Cameron Robertson and Greg Hickman. Bruce Stockwell was a director of BNZ Bank for 9 years and most recently National Australia Bank. He is a part of the Future Ohakune Project Governance Group which is a local community business association that has been involved in projects such as local tourism signage. Cam Robertson is a Taupo based property developer and proprietor of Rimu Park Lodge in Ohakune, he is a qualified ski instructor. Greg Hickman is a co-founder of Ohakune Brewers Limited and Big Mountain Mead. This is a private bid and no public statement has been made so far.
John Sandford was the owner of Jason Maps. The Turoa Alpine bid is backed by concerned locals from Ohakune and the Waimarino region. This bid is focused on the regional tourism benefits of the skifield to the wider region. John Sandford has publicly confirmed their bid in the press and they have released a summary of their vision for the skifield. Read more:
South Island Office
Dave Mazey and Tom Elworthy of Ski Industries Limited a major supplier of critical equipment to the New Zealand ski industry are rumoured to have made a bid for either the entire mountain or in the alternate, for Whakapapa. Dave Mazey is the former CEO of RAL. Tom Elworthy is the former owner of Snow Park. The South Island Office is a private investment business operated by Thomas Elworthy, James Stringer, Sam Rofe and Rob Farrell. This is a private bid and no public statements have been made.
The Ruapehu Skifield Stakeholders Association is a membership organisation with around 1,000 members who have come together to support the mountain. The association includes a mix of life pass holders, local residents, tourism businesses and the wider mountain community. The focus of the RSSA bid was on using product pre-sale revenue and investment crowdfunding to support a customer-focused, community-owned, well-captalised, co-operative approach to the operation of the skifields. Community organiser Peter Thomson has commented, "The natural owners of the skifields are the skiers themselves, because they have the most to lose and will be the most willing to support the mountain in good times and in bad." Read more:
The submissions to MBIE are confidential and no definitive list of bidders has been made public. There may be other bids including a bid with interest in purchasing the Chateau as part of a wider tourism operation.
The recent rumours about who has ‘won’ the bid are unconfirmed. The public haven’t seen any of the proposals so no one can comment on them authoritatively. If the rumours of MBIE having made a decision are true, then the RSSA would be concerned about due process having been followed as RAL is a public-benefit-entity operating in a national park with national, cultural, economic and spiritual importance to a range of stakeholders. It seems that not enough consultation has taken place yet with DOC, Iwi, the local council and the other key stakeholders.