The Panel: RSSA Chairman
RSSA Chairman Jason Platt on The Panel with Wallace Champan on Radio New Zealand: National Radio Recording (24 mins)
Wallace Chapman: The group aiming to keep the Ruapehu skifields in public hands have appointed a well-known patron in their bid to run the Ruapehu skifields using a form of community ownership. Mountaineer and adventurer Peter Hillary has become the patron of Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association. Hillary is the son of late Sir Edmund Hillary. He has climbed many of the world's major peaks, including Everest twice. The group has over four and a half thousand participants and the chairman of the group is Jason Platt. Welcome, Jason. How did you get Peter Hillary interested in the issue?
Jason Platt: We reached out to Peter a little while ago and had a number of conversations with Peter and I think we resonated with him in terms of how he saw the skifields operating and what Mt Ruapehu meant to his family and himself growing up. It really is a gateway to the alpine environment for many New Zealanders.
Wallace Chapman: Ruapehu Alpine Lifts ran Turoa and Whakapapa for 70 years before going into voluntary administration. What's the plan for next year up there?
Jason Platt: We hope that it's going to run for a successful season because we think it is very viable. It was only in the last 10 or so years that things started to go awry with basically too much debt and that meant that they couldn't sustain the business with when COVID hit.
Wallace Chapman: You've got retreating snow as a result of climate change, huge underinvestment in the skifields, the debt that you've mentioned, and of course as a business, the skifields can only produce income for four months a year if they're lucky. So the question is, with all those risks, can it be a viable venture?
Jason Platt: Like the one we've just been through, La Nina. They've had volcanic eruptions equal to the most recent, and they've survived through all of that. And the reason they survived was because they were working as a co-operative where all the profits that they made went back into the business. And it was originally set up by people who were very passionate, mountaineers, skiers, basically a club field. And as I said, it has worked very well for over 60 years. It's only in the last 10 years that they have started to experience difficulties because the debt ratios became too high.
Wallace Chapman: Can you see this working, David?
David Farrar: Potentially, if you can get rid of the debt, which means a new company taking over, I'd be interested in your views on whether they've built up the wrong side of the mountain, being the Whakapapa you might still get say 75% of the customers you'd get if both were open, but with 50% of the cost. And the Turoa side has Ohakune as the base. You can stay near the mountain much easier, etc. And I'm really interested, and I'm someone who's got a ski trip booked for Ohakune in August, so I have more than a passing interest in this, is whether that has been actively talked about, that if you can't save the entire mountain, does it lend itself to all parties coming together?
Jason Platt: PwC looked for a number of months to try and find interested private parties. That's now come to MBIE and their insolvency experts to do the same. And so all of those groups who've come out at the eleventh hour now, if they had come out earlier and basically sat down together and worked through that, I think the best outcome would have happened. Where we are now is that we have a few groups bidding just for the Turoa side, and two for the Whakapapa side. Our view is that it would be disastrous to split them both at this stage. So to clarify, the original RAL picked up Turoa, I think from memory 2002. And that's the most stable period until now for 20 years that Turoa has had. It's failed twice prior to that.
Wallace Chapman: Yeah, very good. We'll have to leave it there, Jason, but thanks for explaining, and all the best with the venture. That's Jason Platt, chairman of the group Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association, and they've just appointed mountaineer and adventurer Peter Hillary to become the patron to help get a non-profit in to get up and own those skifields.