Mt. Ruapehu Celebrates 70 Years of Lifts While Battling Bankruptcy
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TAUPŌ, New Zealand – Mt. Ruapehu, one of New Zealand’s most iconic ski areas located on the North Island, is celebrating 70 years of lift operations this September. The milestone comes even as Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL), the company operating the Mt. Ruapehu ski areas of Whakapapa and Tūroa, faces bankruptcy and an uncertain future.
RAL plans to offer discounted $70 NZD ($41 USD) adult lift tickets on September 1 to celebrate the anniversary. The company will also host festivities at the mountain that weekend, including free twilight skiing and gondola rides. Skiers are encouraged to wear vintage ski gear to celebrate the 70th anniversary.
The first lifts on Mt. Ruapehu opened in 1954, according to RAL. Since then, over 20 million skiers and snowboarders have visited the mountain. For many New Zealanders, a trip to Mt. Ruapehu represents their first experience on snow.
However, it may also be their last chance to ski the historic mountain. RAL chief executive Jono Dean said in a statement, “After three challenging years, we are now experiencing one of the best snow seasons in recent memory with Tūroa ticking over 255cm snow base while pockets of up to 8m have been found at Whakapapa.”
“While we expect this might be the last season of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, we remain hopeful of a future of snow sports on Maunga Ruapehu,” he continued.
RAL filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after low snowfall and aging lifts led to financial difficulties. The company narrowly avoided liquidation in 2021, but RAL was placed in liquidation earlier this year, with plans to sell the ski areas.
RAL thanked generations of loyal skiers in a 70th-anniversary email to customers last week. “We want to celebrate Mt Ruapehu, its loyal following, and our incredibly hard-working team,” the email read. It acknowledged the good times and bad over seven decades of operations.
Dean remains optimistic that a new buyer will emerge to continue operations on Mt. Ruapehu. The mountain sits within Tongariro National Park, home to three volcanoes and a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to skiing, Mt. Ruapehu draws hikers, mountain bikers, and sightseers year-round.
But the aging ski area infrastructure requires significant investment, especially the outdated base area lifts. RAL announced plans to upgrade two lifts at Tūroa Ski Area this summer, but only if it can secure funding from the liquidators.
Mt. Ruapehu is known for its accessibility, with beginner terrain and the Sky Waka gondola providing access to breathtaking alpine scenery. Advanced skiers can also find extreme terrain across 1,050 hectares of skiable terrain. Off the slopes, visitors to Mt. Ruapehu can soak in volcanic hot pools or learn about the native Māori culture.
If RAL can’t find a buyer, New Zealand would lose a national treasure and many livelihoods could be impacted in the small North Island towns surrounding the mountain. But after battling through volcanic eruptions, economic challenges and even a Lord of the Rings film shoot, the tenacious skiers and staff of Mt. Ruapehu remain hopeful for many more years of skiing to come.