Ruapehu offers limited free access

Some access to lower areas of Ruapehu ski fields will remain free

Free tobogganing is back on the table at Ruapehu after ski field operators have compromised on their plans to charge for access.

Mt Ruapehu ski fields operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) has signaled its plans to charge $139 for a family snow play pass to the two areas which used to be free, sparking a public outcry.

However, the company says it has listened to public feedback and now Turoa snow lovers will have access to a free sledding and snow play area at the bottom of the Alpine Meadow.

RAL chief executive Ross Copland says 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."

Whakapapa has extensive opportunities for kiwis to experience their first taste of snow the old fashioned way from Meads Wall - which operated as a learner ski and sledding area in its own right for many decades - through to the free snow play area created within Happy Valley.

"One of RAL's key aims is to encourage skiiers of all abilities to the ski fields to experience snow, especially families and everyone will continue to enjoy free snow play and sledding in designated areas at both Whakapapa and Turoa," Ross says.

"We're also reviewing our pricing structure in response to public feedback. 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."

Happy Valley is blanketed in substantial snow early this year thanks to RAL's new snow making machines, with covered carpet lifts and a refurbished Happy Valley Bistro all adding to the experience.

"As an organisation which just hosted a free public sledding event on the shores of Lake Taupo, gave away 2000 Day Passes to tertiary students, 100 Night Skiing passes to a local primary school and hundreds of additional season passes, day passes and discount vouchers to various community groups, we take feedback of this sort very seriously – our reputation as a community focused organisation is hugely important to us," Ross says.

"Safety of visitors to the mountain is a top priority, which is why we have designated snow play areas to help avoid injuries."

According to Turoa Ski Patrol the Alpine Meadow attracts the highest number of injuries of any area on the Turoa ski field. There were 71 injuries in 2015 with 46 percent of these occurring to sledders and bystanders due to collisions.

The public has welcomed the new look Happy Valley with a record number of more than 2,700 people heading up the mountain for Happy Valley's Opening weekend on 3 and 4 June.

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