The winter school holidays had tourists come to Ohakune in a way not seen since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo / Supplied
The winter school holidays had travellers return to Ohakune for snowy merriment.
However, the uncertainty surrounding the operation of Mt Ruapehu’s ski fields left some local businesses out in the cold.
Despite going into liquidation last year, operators of the Tūroa and Whakapapa ski fields Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) has opened the fields for this year’s ski season thanks to a $5m loan from the Government.
RAL announced the opening of the fields three days before the beginning of the school holidays, opening on the first day of the winter break.
TCB Ski Board & Bike owner Ben Wiggins said in the run-up to the holidays, uncertainty surrounding the mountain had the town quiet and business owners on edge.
“Obviously everyone was in limbo and waiting, but pretty much from the time [RAL] announced [the opening] and then two days later have like a metre and a half of snowfall, it’s pretty much just been great guns blazing,” he said.
With this snow, people had come flocking to town and to the shop for skiing, snowboarding and even mountain biking.
“The minute the Government put forward that bit that said we’re making sure that while they’re still under the liquidation process we’re going to be going, its almost been business as usual.”
This contrasted the same school holiday period last year, which was the worst for skiing the shop had seen in 27 years due to low snow coverage.
With 2021 and 2020 also hampered by Covid-19 lockdowns, he said the strong start to the season was a relief and set the town up well for the rest of the season.
Due to Ruapehu’s volcanic geology and the Department of Conservation and iwi regulations not allowing interruption to the landscape or fauna of the mountain, Tūroa and Whakapapa required a lot more snow to open than other ski fields in Aotearoa.
“We need usually at least half a metre before they can start to push snow around and make the trail, Wiggins said.
“To go into the holidays with over a metre of snow is fricking awesome.”
The dumping of snow also brought more business for the owner and manager of Ohakune’s Frank’s Eatery & Bar, Sara Nicora.
The restaurant’s patrons extended beyond the expected families coming to the region for a winter break.
“Obviously a lot of families and stuff because it’s school holidays, but we’re also getting loads of foreigners and loads of people going up the mountain,” she said.
She believed the fields being open were a big part of the increased fare in the town, but people were also visiting for other attractions.
“The families, they’re still bringing their bikes as well so a lot are doing the bike tracks and that kind of stuff as well,” she said.
Nicora took over Frank’s in September of last year so hadn’t opened in a winter season before but expected business to only get busier as the ski season continued and the rest of the fields’ facilities opened up.
“Once the whole mountains open, people start coming.”
For The Hobbit Motorlodge owner Phil Jackson, the holidays had not been a good start to the season.
“For a normal ski season, we would be full for the school holidays but we’re only getting this last weekend full,” he said.
He said this was due to multiple factors but generally centred around the uncertainty of the conditions and RAL driving away potential visitors.
“There’s been all the uncertainty around the management of the mountain which is a huge factor of course, but we did not have the snow anyway so, you know, [we had] two things going against us.”
He hoped the uptick in business for this weekend would continue for the rest of the season, but more snow would be needed for this to happen.
“It tends to be midweek is quiet and then we get fuller, but until the full mountain opens and all the facilities get operating you won’t see big numbers of skiers there anyway.”
RAL anticipated this year’s ski season to last around 120 days, with season passes on sale until 5pm on Monday, July 17.
Finn Williams is a multimedia journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. He joined the Chronicle in early 2022 and regularly covers stories about business, events and emergencies. He also enjoys writing opinion columns on whatever interests him.