The snow has arrived.
Just last week it was seemingly still about beaches, boardshorts and barbecues up and down much of the east coast in one of the warmest Mays on record.
But a decent front that has hit the NSW and Victorian alps this week looks set to drop upwards of 20cm of snow. And with a bit of luck it may be some more through until mid next week.
It’s still in the lap of the gods as to whether it all hangs around through to the official season start in Australia on June 11, but if nothing else we can cling on to the fact this is an Olympic year.
What exactly does the Games have to do with our ski seasons, I here you ask?
Unscientific but true: there have been 15 Olympic Games since snow measurements started being taken at Spencers Creek NSW (1830m) and the peak base has averaged 245cm across those quadrennials.
There’s barely been a dud season in those Games years and the snow amounts to 20 per cent above the long term average.
Ok, you marked that one down to strange coincidence. Perhaps then of more interest to the purists will be that warm – or cold – Mays don’t always prove to be determiners of the season that unfolds.
Nationally, 1958 saw the hottest recorded May. The snow season that year peaked with a healthy 233cm base.
The worst season on record was 2006 where the snow stake was only covered by a miserable 85cm. Yet nationally May that year was cold.
So, what to conclude? As always it’s hard to be definitive, but most of the weather pundits are going for a late-starting season that will finish a little below average.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM MAJOR RESORTS THIS SEASON:
* Thredbo, NSW: Pick of the places to ride, particularly when it’s cold and the snow hits low. Has a great village, lovely cut runs among the gum trees and plenty of dining and partying options. Is however showing its age and could use a sprucing up – which could just be on the cards in the years to come.
New this season: Free snow play park at the Valley Terminal, Mountain Collective Pass enables skiing/snowboarding in key New Zealand resorts.
* Perisher, NSW: The Mr Reliable of the Australian snow scene. Its elevation makes it the place to go in marginal seasons and the expansive terrain options usually ensure you’ll find somewhere to go that isn’t jammed full of punters. The terrain park is a standout too and is becoming the place to go for top international riders during the Southern Hemisphere winter. The Epic season pass which allows access to a host of the Vail-owned American resorts is another plus. That Vail cash may yet be used to create a centralised village – just not yet.
New this season: Trail improvements at Guthega, bigger terrain park.
* Falls Creek, Victoria: Up the hill from Mt Beauty and also wins in the beauty stakes. Nice family-orientated resort whose strengths are solid beginner and intermediate terrain, a relaxed European-style village and some great dining options. Not exactly for the hardcore set though and oversnow to accommodation remains expensive.
New this season: Pop up food vendors, new toboggan slope and grooming machines.
* Mt Hotham, Victoria: In terms of snow coverage and interesting terrain for stronger riders, Hotham gets the gong. The runs may not be as long as Thredbo but there’s lots of fall-line slopes and the white stuff here can be pretty fluffy on a good day. On-snow accommodation and a second, cheaper option at Dinner Plain (14km away) helps for those on a budget. Can get a bit dicey (but not nearly as bad as some of the NZ resorts) on the drive in while it lacks the neat village feel of Falls.
New this season: $4.4 million investment in snowmaking, children’s passes now for under 18s.
* Mt Buller, Victoria: Mercurial and Melbourne-friendly, Buller’s locale about three hours from the state’s capital is both a strength and a weakness. Easy enough to get for a day trip and can of course be rather busy on weekends. While it’s the least reliable in terms of snow from the majors, the riding can be some of the best in Australia. The backside is particularly steep and deserves its fearsome reputation. Great village and dining.
New this season: Eleven new snowmaking guns, new rental equipment, mountain safe courses.
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