By the beginning of next winter, Mt Ruapehu is to have a gondola on it slopes, in a move which the developer says will reduce the visual impact of infrastructure and open up the mountain in the off-season.
Originally proposed to increase economic development in the region, Ross Copland, CEO of the not-for-profit company, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, said the gondola was a “a massive step forward” in reducing the environmental and cultural impacts of the ski area, halving the infrastructure on the mountain. The gondola will hold 50 cabins, catering for 10 people each, and would replace two chairlifts, which he said would reduce the visual impact on the World Heritage Area. All of the cabins would be detached each night, further reducing the visible infrastructure on the mountain, Copland said.
The gondola would start from from Whakapapa’s Base Area at 1630m and finish at Knoll Ridge Cafe at 2020m.
The gondola would have an advantage over chairlifts, in that it could operate in bad weather which often closed chairlifts. It would operate year-round.
Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson said the development “can only be seen as positive”, and with many tramping clubs owning huts on the mountain, access to these bases would be even easier.
There is a long history of proposals for new infrastructure on the mountain being declined. Copland said there was a lengthy consultation process to make this gondola happen.
“The original plan was for the gondola to head to the west of the mountain, yet feedback showed us there would be a negative impact on the previously untouched environment, hence the gondola now going up a route where infrastrucuture is already in place,” he said.
NZ Alpine Club president John Palmer said it wouldn’t have a big impact on its members as it was just replacing the existing chairlifts.
“It’s just the inevitable creep of commercial infrastructure on the mountain,” Palmer said.
But the development touched on the broader challenge of balancing increasing demand on national parks and commercial interests.
“The gondola will enhance the opportunity for people to experience the area in all seasons. Hopefully people develop an affinity to appreciate and cherish the mountain,” he said.
Construction is due to begin this spring.