Dollars and snow. As always, they act as both push and pull factors for Australians deciding on where to spend their tourism dollars this winter.
When it comes to the former, there is at least some good news emanating from local ski areas in 2015.
Vail’s buyout of Perisher has already presented a tasty $749 season pass option for riding at the NSW resort, as well as the American giant’s 12 ski areas.
Thredbo has offered a counter of sorts through the Mountain Collective agreement, where up to 18 days’ riding (including three at Thredbo) can be had with a group of other North American resorts for $US379 ($480).
Across the border, you’ve missed the boat for the best deal – the $749 Hotham/Falls two-mountain Hero Pass needed to be purchased by the end of the previous season.
Now $1549, it’s hardly as tempting, and we’d suggest the resorts strongly consider extending that deal for next season.
But perhaps more keenly felt is the Aussie dollar’s value against the Kiwi this season.
When many people were making booking decisions about whether to stay local or cross the Tasman over the past two months, the two currencies were close to parity.
While the Kiwi has softened a little, it is far from the $1.35 to the Aussie it was a few years back.
Make no mistake – on a family ski trip, that difference can run into as much as $1500-$2000.
As for the snow, it’s early advantage New Zealand, with some of the country’s resorts enjoying a metre or more of snow in May, which should help form a base.
Some small May falls have stoked the fire in Australia, but are likely to be gone by month’s end if not before.
The El Nino weather pattern – which is expected to dry up the precipitation in the second half of the season – won’t help things in Australia, so fingers crossed for the snow to come in June and July.
Here’s a look at the Australian resort areas for 2015.
The lowdown: As Captain Kirk noted, space is the final frontier. And it has been Perisher’s trump card ever since its four resort areas of Perisher, Smiggins, Blue Cow and Guthega came under the one ticket. Big and wide, it has plenty of terrain to explore and 47 lifts to get you there. The lodging is diverse and disparate. A reasonable mix of options for varying abilities, Perisher is great for families, groups and snowboarders, who can enjoy the only superpipe in the country.
What’s new: Vail buy-out and Epic Pass ($749 until May 31) is the big news; hopefully with some significant developments in the years to come.
What holds it back: Lacks long fall-line skiing and a centralised village.
The lowdown: In many ways the country’s marquee ski and snowboard area, it has long been associated with Sydney’s money-set due to the great array of restaurants and the stylish village with upmarket accommodation and bars. While its age is starting to show, there are still many things to like. An easy layout, Friday Flat and the Merritts areas for beginners, thigh-burning cruisers and some adventurous terrain on its flanks (Golf Course and The Bowl/Boundary Riders). Downtime options, such as the Thredbo Leisure Centre, is a plus.
What’s new: Under-18 ticket discounts; increased snowplay areas.
What holds it back: Bottom third of mountain can be marginal when the snow isn’t good. Could use some sprucing up.
The lowdown: As good a place to learn to ski or snowboard in the country. There’s also some nice intermediate cruising and ready access to cross country trails if that’s your thing. It’s generally less crowded than the major NSW resorts and Mt Buller. The relaxed feel, and European-style village and dining/night-out options add to the appeal.
What’s new: Backcountry touring program; teen academy program.
What holds it back: Terrain is on the easier side for more advanced riders. Oversnow service can be expensive.
The lowdown: Powder is a relative term in Australia, but the combination of some serious terrain and, on occasion, deep snow can make Hotham a treat for more advanced riders and a nice corollary to Falls Creek. There’s a good range of on-snow accommodation and the option of a second village that’s cheaper, but still usually covered in the white stuff (Dinner Plain, 14 kilometres away).
What’s new: Snowpark at Dinner Plain; high-performance gear centre.
What holds it back: Road in can get sketchy in a snow storm; better centralised facilities elsewhere.
The lowdown: Its proximity to Melbourne is both a blessing and a curse, and midweek is usually the way to go here. Great dining and accommodation options in the 7000-bed village. With a surprising amount of big mountain terrain, its backside is of local legend under the right snow conditions.
What’s new: Thirty per cent increase in snowmaking capacity; Asian food court at the Chalet Hotel.
What holds it back: Weekend crowds from Melbourne. Usually the least snowfall of the major resorts.
Best of the rest
Charlotte Pass, NSW: Highest resort in Australia. It doesn’t have expansive terrain, but is a solid choice for families who want an experience on the snow. Web: www.charlottepass.com.au
Selwyn Snowfields, NSW: Great beginner resort that offers the most affordable skiing in Australia. Low elevation can make conditions marginal. Web: www.selwynsnow.com.au