New lifts will happen: Mazey
RAL chief executive Dave Mazey has provided the following response to these concerns, including those raised in two letters to the editor to the Ruapehu Bulletin.
In response to the two “Letters to the Editor” I offer the following comments:
Yes, lifts have been pulled out in the past 30 years (eg Staircase and National Downhill T-bars) but most were replaced with higher capacity chairlifts (respectively Waterfall Express and West Ridge chairlifts).
In 2014 we decided to not continue operating the National Chairlift because it was very rarely used (only on 3–5 days in the preceding two years) and is anexpensive lift to service, maintain, certify and operate.
Historically, the beginner facilities at Whakapapa were developed in three different locations in an era when there were three different companies operating lift facilities at Whakapapa. Following purchase of these other companies RAL significantly upgraded the terrain in Happy Valley; replaced rope tows with chair/platter/carpet lifts; installed snowmaking plus introduced the café and rental buildings.
Beginner facilities are now concentrated in the lower, and safer, slopes of Happy Valley and Rockgarden. This all offers a far better experience for our beginner skier and boarder.
For 2015 season RAL removed the beginner rope on Hut Flat. This lift may not be an expensive lift to operate but we strongly believe that it is near impossible to offer that form of uphill transport in a way that can guarantee the safety of beginner users.
Whakapapa may have fewer lifts that 25 years ago but the current lifts offer a higher total uphill capacity than the lifts of that era.
Issue of Life Pass
Yes, in 2006 we offered Life Passes for sale and indicated this “capital raising” would be used to contribute to the cost of facility upgrades. We listed a range of options at both ski areas that illustrated where this money could be used. Total sales did not meet our expectations. This life pass issue though did provide significant funding to the developments at Turoa that occurred in 2006/07 – High Noon Express, snowmaking and Alpine Café.
For 2015 the Jumbo T Bar has been “mothballed” or “removed from operation” for the season. Any decision as to whether it will operate in future years, or be removed from the terrain, has not been made as yet.
Over 90% of the trails that are serviced by the Jumbo can be accessed from the High Noon Express. We accept that some of the trails way Out West now require a ride on the Giant and then the High Noon rather than just the Jumbo.
If the Jumbo was operating with a full line of customers, the High Noon queue time would be reduced by about 5 minutes; operation of the Jumbo would not eliminate the 10–20 minute queue times experiences on our peak day a couple of Saturdays ago.
We cannot continue to operate lifts or provide services where the annual cost of that operation or service exceeds the revenue generated by that facility or service. Any company that continues to do that will eventually go out of business.
Linking Whakapapa and Turoa
The concept of being able to move around the side of the mountain, either on groomed trails or via an over-snow transport service, is not provided for in the Tongariro National Park Management Plan. We have submitted on the concept during reviews of this Management Plan but this has not been supported by the relevant agency that has responsibility. We have tried to achieve that.
This company has a commercial model whereby all financial surpluses can only be reinvested on the mountain.
This model has resulted in investment at Turoa during the past 15 years that far exceeds the investment made in the preceding 15 years. Turoa now has a better access road, more carparks, an improved base area (customer relations office, rental, Alpine Café, retail, kids centre), large snowmaking system, High Noon Express, and the Nga Wai Heke; which for the first time in 30 years has opened up new lift-serviced terrain and made the Glacier experience easier and more fun.
At Whakapapa, we have made a number of improvements (Happy Valley, snowmaking, Lorenz’s Bar & Café, Knoll Ridge Chalet). But we have not replaced any upper mountain lifts since the late 1980’s, primarily because of a much more complex consenting and approval process for any lift that will extend into the Tuku, or Gift Area. Plus in the past two years the unexpected advice that the Whakapapa licence would expire in 2019 rather than 2050.
The company is very aware of the age and quality of experience offered by our lifts at Whakapapa; we fully understand that T-bars will never meet the expectations of today’s skier or boarder. The new lifts will happen, but first we must achieve renewal of the licence; then each upgrade must be commercially viable and able to be consented