After a challenging winter, Mt Ruapehu is gearing up for a bumper summer season with funding secured through until November 2021.
The bank funding will enable the Sky Waka gondola to remain open through the summer months, providing much-needed revenue for the area's operator.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited (RAL) chief executive Jono Dean said it's been one of the most difficult ski seasons in a while.
With a warm start to the season as well as minimal snowfall throughout the winter, it has been a tough year on the mountain. Covid-19 made it even more difficult, with restrictions and social distancing being tricky to implement on the slopes.
"It's been a challenging time for the RAL team who have worked hard to deliver a ski season while, at the same time, facing uncertainty with their own jobs and concern about Covid-19 and their own health and that of their families," Dean said.
"We remind ourselves every day that we are extremely fortunate to be able to operate under Covid-19 alert level 1 and 2, which is something the board, management and staff does not take for granted."
Despite the challenges, more than 215,000 New Zealanders have travelled to the maunga since July, an increase on this time last year. With the winter season officially ending in six weeks, more are expected to travel to the slopes to catch the last of the snow.
However, even with the recent increase in numbers compared with last year, RAL said its financial forecasts were looking bleak. It has only been in recent weeks that RAL has been able to secure bank funding to lock in the next two seasons.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts chairman Murray Gribben said it was great to be provided with some certainty.
"This is great news, particularly with summer on our doorstep and Sky Waka gondola being a major tourism attraction and income-earner all year round, not just in winter," Gribben said.
"It means that we can now say with certainty that the Sky Waka will be open during the summer season."
There are still some challenging times ahead financially, but RAL is committed to continuing to operate and update its facilities, he said.
"RAL's company capital structure is unusual. We're a limited liability company, but with shareholders who cannot receive any benefit other than RAL reinvesting any profits back into the ski fields.
"In more recent times, those profits have simply not been enough to adequately reinvest in our lift infrastructure – while we have made good progress at Whakapapa, we are well behind at Tūroa and we need both ski fields to be at a higher standard.
"We are commencing a process reviewing our sources of capital. We expect there to be changes but we enter this review with an expectation that both fields continue to operate."