Update on Whakapapa & Tūroa Skifields from Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association
The RSSA was originally formed as an advocacy group to help support the two skifields Whakapapa and Tūroa on Mt Ruapehu to emerge from Voluntary Administration stronger and more financially sustainable for the entire community of mountain users.
The group did not initially envisage submitting a bid to acquire the skifields, however given the apparent lack of other interested parties we made the decision to organise a community bid to acquire the skifields.
We understand from recent media reports that the RSSA proposal was not one of the preferred MBIE options (but we have not yet had this officially confirmed). If this report is true, we have serious concerns regarding the process. Not because we are not the preferred option, but because of the lack of consultation and transparency so far with key stakeholders, Iwi and the local community.
This is vitally important given the current RAL company is a not-for-profit public-benefit-entity operating in dual world heritage park with cultural, economic, and spiritual importance. In addition, the long-term financial stability of any company is vital to the region as it generates approximately $100m in activity for the local economy each year.
There appears to have been minimal consultation to date with key stakeholders, most importantly local Iwi. It is imperative that Iwi values and interests are respected to be allowed to carry out snow-based activities on Mt Ruapehu.
The appointed Administrator for the Voluntary Administration process for RAL is PWC. However, we question why MBIE have in effect 'taken over' much of the process from PWC. Case in point, the bid proposals were called for by MBIE and reportedly have only been reviewed by MBIE. PWC as the administrators, not MBIE, must recommend a plan to avert liquidation to a Watershed meeting by 13 June 2023.
RSSA notes that MBIE is a key creditor, but has not attended any creditor committee meetings for the past six months and is now the only reviewer for proposals from potential operators. This situation raises concerns of transparency, independence, and fairness.
Since MBIE's apparent taking over, the administration process appears to have slowed down significantly, and we believe detrimentally counter to the interests of the skifields and the creditors. Case in point, although the season pass campaign was publicly announced by PwC on 2 March to go on sale 'soon', and thus help to fund circa $5-$6m of operating cashflow for the 2023 season. It is now well into May, the snow has arrived ,and yet there is no season pass campaign to help fund RAL (or any new operator). It is unclear what the difference is now between the role of MBIE and PWC in the Voluntary Administration process of RAL. It appears to be an unnecessary duplication and millions of dollars of additional cost to NZ taxpayers.
RSSA, like all other stakeholders, has not seen any other bids so we can’t comment on them specifically. But in the worst case a decision could be made which hands both skifields including all assets into private entities for personal profit at a knockdown price behind closed doors. It is important to note that these assets were paid for by the public to a non-profit-entity through Life Pass purchases of approximately $40m over the last 20 years. Life Pass holders now represent the largest voting block of creditors.
We are calling for MBIE to immediately be open and transparent as to the details and intentions of any bids that have been presented. We believe that before any bid can be preferred or accepted, all bids, including the RSSA bid, need to be put forward to all stakeholders including Tourism Bond Holders, Iwi, creditors, Life Pass Holders, local business and communities for consultation and feedback.
RSSA Co-operative Ruapehu Skifields Proposal
The RSSA proposal to acquire the assets of RAL for the benefit of the community was based on consultation with a broad range of community stakeholders and was made available for public comment and debate throughout the process. Our view is that the natural owners of the skifields are the mountain users themselves, because they have the most to lose and will be the most willing to support the mountain in good times and in bad. Ruapehu is a tough mountain to operate a skifield on and history has shown us that (recent events aside) a public benefit entity that re-invests all profits back into on-mountain improvements is the most durable structure for long-term stability.
To help ensure the continued stability of the skifields the proposal RSSA put forward was to transform the operations of these ski resorts to see the resorts remain owned locally through a co-operative crowdfunded equity investment. The RSSA was established to ensure that all mountain users have a unified and effective voice in driving for a sustainable future.
The primary purposes of RSSA are:
Advocate on behalf of the members in matters relating to ownership, governance and management of Whakapapa and Tūroa skifields.
Co-operate with Governmental agencies (like MBIE), or other organisations, bodies or individuals connected with the provision of facilities for taking part in the above sports or concerned with the promotion thereof.
Supporting the financial sustainability of Whakapapa and Tūroa skifields so that they may continue to provide skiing and snowboarding lift facilities.
Engage in, develop, and encourage amateur skiing and snowboarding at Whakapapa and Tūroa skifields.
RSSA have presented a bid, with a new governance structure, that would transform what was Ruapehu Alpine Lifts into an organisation that is commercially viable and will see Whakapapa and Tūroa continue to make a positive impact on the local community. They are very important tourism assets for Aotearoa and provide easy access to the mountains and snow sports for North Islanders.
The key strengths of a community-led approach for the skifields are:
A governance and operational structure that will ensure key stakeholders including Iwi, local community, businesses, mountain clubs and general mountain users are properly represented in the future.
Validated strong support for capital and operational costs that retains community ownership through crowdfunding.
Transformation of governance and operations management. The previous RAL structure failed in part due to poor governance. Learning from past mistakes, our bid proposes additional safeguards with directors representing and being answerable to the wider stakeholders.
Jason Platt Chairman Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association