Some Ruapehu sledding areas to stay free after public outcry
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts has back-tracked over a proposed charge to access the previously free Happy Valley and Alpine Meadow play and sledding areas after a public backlash.
The company which runs the Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields has announced new areas in the Happy Valley and Alpine Meadow beginner areas, where there will be no charge for sledding and snow-play.
On Monday, RAL chief executive Ross Copland announced snow lovers would have access to a free sledding and snow play area at the bottom of the Alpine Meadow.
"This, and the additional area within Happy Valley, came about after engagement with concerned locals over the past few weeks. We listened to the issues raised and have worked with our team on a solution," he said.
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The company has said people are welcome to find a spot to play and sled in, just not on the main trails where people ski as it poses danger to themselves, and beginner skiiers and snowboarders.
RAL will still offer the $59 and $35 services (though, free for a youth with an accompanying paying adult), including covered carpet lift pass, sled hire and sightseeing lift pass.
Copland stood by the charges, saying the proposed costs were fair.
But locals accused RAL of money-grabbing and exploiting legislation.
Copland said RAL took the feedback "very seriously".
"Our reputation as a community-focused organisation is hugely important to us," he said on Monday.
One of RAL's key aims was to encourage skiers of all abilities to the ski fields to experience snow, especially families, he said.
"Everyone will continue to enjoy free snow play and sledding in designated areas at both Whakapapa and Turoa".
RAL had invested $4 million in the Happy Valley area, including covered lifts and state of the art snowmaking machinery, Copland said.
Happy Valley was blanketed in snow early this year thanks to the snow making machines, he said.
"It's a fine balance between recouping the huge investment we've put into new facilities at Happy Valley to create a better snow experience, and the translation into a subsequent cost for users," he said.
Copland said the organisation was now reviewing its pricing structure in response to public feedback.
More than 2700 people headed up the mountain for Happy Valley's opening weekend on June 3 and 4.
* This article has been corrected. An earlier version reported that Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Ltd, which runs the Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields, had been proposing to charge $59 for adults and $35 for children to access the Happy Valley and Alpine Meadow areas which were previously free. In fact, the company was charging $59 for an adult and youth, for a day pass that included sledding and snow-play in these areas, sightseeing lifts and shuttle buses. A youth alone was $35, and children under 5 were free.