Australia has not had a good snow season for far too long… the last 6 winters have been abysmal with below average snow depths. Some might think it odd that Australia has snow at all… after all, this is a country renowned for the vast amount of desert in its interior. Australia is not only the world’s flattest country/continent, but it has the oldest and least fertile soils too. Add to that the fact that it is the world’s driest inhabited continent with by far the largest portion of land (just under three quarters) being either desert or semi-arid land commonly known as the Outback and you will see why it is sort-of surprising that any snow falls here at all.
But snowy mountains there are, and they are found in the State of New South Wales, about a half day drive from Sydney, as well as in Tasmania and Victoria.
New South Wales is also the home of Mount Kosciuszko – Australia’s highest mountain at 2,228 metres and one of the 7 Summits on 7 Continents.
Australia has a remarkable history when it comes to ski resorts. Selwyn Snowfields, located just 10km (6 miles) from Australia’s highest town, Cabramurra, was the first place in Australia to see skis, but even more extraordinary, it was one of the world’s first ski resorts – dating back to 1861.
Selwyn is not a big resort, but it offers good sking, particularly for Intermediate and Beginner skiers. It has 12 individual pistes, served by 12 ski lifts with 12 snow cannons!
The Aussies are hoping that this year will be THE year for a bumper ski season. It has started off well, really well… better than New Zealand in fact which has had unseasonably warm weather and not one single ski lift running for the Queen’s Birthday June long weekend.
Whereas all five major alpine resorts in Australia: Perisher, Thredbo, Mt Buller, Falls Creek and Hotham were open over the June long weekend and ski numbers were the biggest since the bumper 2000 season. “It was huge and exceeded all expectations,” Perisher’s Neil Thew says. “The Perisher carpark was overflowing on the Sunday of the long weekend.”
The feeling is that a good season is long overdue, and the strange thing about the Australian ski season is that they seem to have a once-in-a-decade dump. It happened in 1960, 1970, 1981, 1990, 2000… not 2010, so will 2011 come up to expectations?
However, the Australians long ago learnt not to rely on nature and have provided snow cannons in all their resorts. Not only that, but their resorts are state-of-the-art. Thredbo and Perisher, for example, the two largest resorts and the closest resorts to Sydney, have this year instigated Radio Frequency ID (RFID) lift ticket technology. The ‘My Thredbo pass’ and Perisher’s ‘MyRide pass’ allows skiers and snowboarders to buy their lift tickets via the internet or smartphone. With radio frequency access gates installed at the bottom of the mountains, your pass is automatically scanned and off you go.
Falls Creek and Hotham were promoting their iPhone apps across opening weekend. These apps will allow skiers to track their movements for each day of the season and compare their stats with fellow skiers and boarders. The new apps also provide up-to-the-minute snow reports, trail maps, live webcams and village directories for businesses and emergency contacts on the mountain.
Hotham has the advantage of an airport and their direct QantasLink air service to and from Sydney restarted yesterday, while Aeropelican services to the NSW skifields gateway of Cooma will begin on July 1, connecting with the Snowy Mountains Shuttle service to Jindabyne, Perisher and Thredbo.
Thredbo has the largest snow making system in the southern hemisphere – it has 400 snow cannons! and has direct access to a total of 12 ski lifts which can uplift 18,000 skiers / snowboarders per hour. There is plenty of terrain for skiers of all standards. It has some of the best steep skiing in Australia and runs like Cannonball, Funnel Web and Michael’s Mistake are tough enough for most. There is also plenty of exciting trail skiing which should keep extreme skiers happy. Snowboarders are well catered for too. Although off piste skiing is not allowed, there are great trails for carving at all levels plus a funpark with half pipe.
Nearby Perisher Blue was created in 1995 and its lift infrastructure, which links the resorts of Perisher, Blue Cow, Smiggins and Guthega, offers twice the lifts and triple the ‘above snowline ski terrain’ of any other Australian resort. It is the largest ski area in the country. The 50 Ski Lifts of Perisher Blue are able to uplift 52,903 skiers / snowboarders per hour. It has 142 snow cannons. There is good skiing for all standards, with 30 beginner runs, 65 at varying intermediate levels and an amazing 80 runs to challenge expert skiers. In a good season the powder snow is good both above and below the tree-line. There are four terrain parks – one with a superpipe above Perisher village and plenty of good mixed terrain for snowboarders from a wide selection of intermediate runs to some of the most demanding advanced trails in Australia.
Mount Buller has the largest ski lift service in the State of Victoria. It also has the most marked runs, most snow-groomers, most snowmaking capacity (268 snow cannons) and most Alpine restaurants and night spots in Victoria. It has direct access to 18 individual pistes, served by 25 ski lifts. It is a good resort for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. It is also home to Australia’s first snowtubing park.
Falls Creek is high in the Australian Alps in North East Victoria. It has 14 lifts and 92+ runs. The longest advanced run is 3kms, the longest beginner run is 2.2 and the resort has a good selection for all standards of skiers and snowboarders. The resort was officially opened for the season on 14th June. On the 22nd they recorded 26cm of new snow and so additional lifts and one snow park are opening this weekend.
Mount Hotham is also in the State of Victoria and has a long history with the sport of skiing. By 1900 the Petersen Brothers, of Selwyn Snowfields fame, had accomplished the first winter traverse of Hotham. Access continued to improve and in 1905 the first car reached the area. In 1925 a stone cottage which could accommodate 20 people was built by Italian masons, but it was in late 40’s to the early 60’s that rapidly growing interest in snowsports resulted in the creation of a more intensive alpine recreational area. Hotham is now an outstanding ski and snowboard resort with something for everyone and with higher natural snowfalls than any other Victorian ski resort. If the snow fails they have 77 snow cannons which can keep good snow cover on 25 (of the 320) hectares of terrain. Their snowmaking system uses recycled water from the Hotham Village water treatment plant, whilst all their snowmaking is powered by green energy. Not bad! The longest downhill run is 2.5 kms. There are 3 snowboard parks which are dependent on snow, and 35kms of cross-country trails. In total, and including the nearby resort of Dinner Plain, there are 13 lifts. 7 out of 12 are open this weekend.
photo of Mount Buller courtesy of sallysetsforth