One of the four hopeful Ruapehu ski field bidders has thrown in the towel and put its support behind another, citing concerns over the sales process and stakeholder treatment.

Led by former Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) director John Sandford, Turoa Alpine had been bidding to buy just the Turoa field out of voluntary administration.

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Turoa Alpine wasn’t among the two preferred bidders identified by MBIE’s regional development arm Kānoa.

Ohakune business couple Christine and Greg Hickman, backed by developer Cameron Robertson and businessman Bruce Stockwell, have been given the nod by officials to buy the Turoa ski field.

The preferred buyer of Whakapapa is a group fronted by local industry veteran Dave Mazey, the ski field boss who merged the two fields when Turoa was last in administration, and financed by The South Island Office, a Christchurch-based investment group led by another ski industry veteran, Tom Elworthy.

The remaining bidder is the Ruapehu Skifields Stakeholders Association (RSSA), made up of Ruapehu life pass holders with significant voting rights in the upcoming meeting.

RSSA is bidding for both fields.

In an email to Turoa Alpine supporters on Wednesday, Sandford said the group was “deeply concerned” about MBIE’s treatment of stakeholders, including iwi, Department of Conservation, RAL staff and businesses in the region.

“We believe that the Kānoa/MBIE approach seems to be aimed at ensuring Kānoa/MBIE gets the outcomes it wants without consideration for the damage it is causing to the regional economy, let alone the jobs and wishes of many people in the community.”

Sandford went on to withdraw from the process and tell supporters to back the RSSA bid, saying it was proposing a decent solution to the current situation aligned with Turoa Alpine’s views.

“RSSA is not, certainly in the mid to long term, seeking exclusive control of the ski fields and instead seems willing to involve key stakeholders at appropriate levels such as ownership, governance and management.”

The stakeholders association wants RAL to enter into a deed of company arrangement that would, among many things, secure and increase iwi engagement, continue all employee agreements, allow for equity capital raising, and maintain the validity of life passes if holders pay a reactivation fee expected to net $7m from about 14,000 life pass holders.

It said the deed would continue the not-for-profit business model but modernise the company to allow for new investment and set the fields up to succeed in the long run.

Life pass holders have put $44m into the business since its inception in 1953, and were thought to be the kingmakers at the upcoming watershed meeting to decide the future of the business, expected to take place on June 20.

That was until it was revealed DoC could, and likely would, lay a claim for the estimated $100m cost to remove the buildings and ski lifts from Ruapehu if the company was unable to resume operating.

Earlier this week, DoC confirmed to Newsroom that it was considering its claim for the watershed meeting.

This claim would make the government a larger creditor than the ANZ Bank, iwi, councils and life pass holders combined.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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