The Australian snow fields are undeniably unique. Juxtaposed against the lush, green-colored plains of central Victoria and NSW, the white sails of Mt Feathertop and the Kosciuszko main range, are not scenes typically found on Australian postcards. Yet every winter, some 66,000 square km of the Aussie landscape is transformed beneath a thick, semi-permanent layer of snow and ice – a feature, which every year attracts 10s of thousands of people, whether first timers or serious snow sports fanatics.
In this article, Snowriders Australia National President, Glenn Shiell, explores what it is that makes our snowfields so special, and why it is you should visit in the near future.
1. The snowgums
You can ski anywhere in the world surrounded by pine trees, but nowhere else in the world can you ski among snowgums (give me a home amongst the gum trees, any day ‘thanks Don Burke’). Snowgums are beautiful in a rustic kind of way; twisted and tortured by snow and ice, they are an iconic part of the Australian skiing experience. You don’t get that in Utah or Hokkaido.
2. The wildlife and the architecture
Like the snowgums, it’s also about the wildlife and the cattleman’s huts. Where else can you ski amongst real live wombats? Not shy and certainly not afraid of the cold, wombats are regular visitors to Australia’s ski fields, where they are often found wandering across ski runs as a Canadian ski instructor once found out (true story). She’d stumbled across a baby one foraging amongst the bushes, and ‘rescued it’ placing him inside her ski jacket. She had no idea what it was, and it was very cute!
It’s also about the architecture and charm of the Aussie ski villages. The Falls Creek Village, with its twisting roads and fairly lights is one that really stands out as is the village at Hotham, which at about 1700 m is Australia’s highest settlement. And where else can you find architecture as Australian as Craig’s Hutt, a small cattleman’s hut just outside Mansfield, Victoria, which was made famous in the iconic 80s film, ‘the man from snowy river’. It’s so Australian it brings a tear to the eye.
3. The snow
The Aussie ski fields are no light-weights when it comes to snow. In a good year, snow is both plentiful and high quality. Take the recent ‘Snowmageddon’ event of 2014, for example, which delivered 140 cm of snow in a week, transforming the Aussie ski areas into something akin to Utah, USA or Hokkaido, Japan.
Events like that are relatively rare, but they can and do happen. But like anywhere, you have to be flexible and do the time to experience them…but once you do, the memories last. I clearly recall a time in 98, when an epic storm delivered over 70 cm of fresh snow over a 3 day period. In temperatures of -9 and equipped with our best straight skis, we blasted off from the top of the mountain hitting some of the lightest, driest snow I’ve seen (anywhere), experiencing face-shot after face-shot all to the soundtrack of silence and the occasional ‘whoop’ from nearby riders.
And even in the absence of massive dumps like ‘snowmageddon’, the Aussie resorts still accumulate an average maximum snow-base of just under 2 m, leaving plenty of snow for a range of skiing and snowboarding abilities.
4. The snow guarantee
And what if it doesn’t snow? The resorts have your back! It’s true that the Australia resorts are susceptible to climate change as are many of the worlds’ great resorts. But never shy of a challenge, the Australian ski fields have responded with vigor. In the last decade, millions of dollars have been spent adapting Australia’s fields to the ever growing pressure of climate change. Mt Buller for example can pretty much artificially produce winter, pumping out a massive 530,000 cubic metres of snow a season, when conditions are right. To put that in perspective, that’s enough to fill the MCG to a depth of 30m.
Improvements in technology and the advent of super efficient snow fans, now produce much lighter and drier snow than the snow-guns of old. Advances in snowmaking technology actually provide for a better cover than in the 80’s prior to the grips of climate change, almost guaranteeing snow cover in the July school holidays, something that was until now a bit of a gamble.
5. For the kids
In terms of kids, the Aussie resorts have had this down pat for decades. The Australian ski fields offer highly professional child minding services, including expert instruction for the bigger kids (from about 3 years and up), leaving the parents time to grab a meal, a drink, or for the seasoned riders, experience the very best of Australian skiing amongst the snowgums, or the jagged and ancient granite rocks of the main range.
It’s not all about the skiing either. The Aussie ski fields offer a vast array of alternative pursuits from eating and drinking, ‘snow-nuts’ (an irresistible range of donuts at Falls Creek), snow mobile tours, snow-tubing and dog-sledding, to watching fireworks or just relaxing in one of the resorts’ many mountain spa retreats.
So if you haven’t been, or you’re thinking about returning to the Aussie ski fields, do it – you won’t be disappointed. It’s generally quicker to get there than flying overseas, so you can forget about jet lag. Time it right, and you too could be down-under, waist deep in Australian snow.
About Snowriders Australia
Snowriders Australia is an up-and-coming on-line community group for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. It serves as a meeting point for fellow riders and as a source of snow related information. Through our website, we regularly publish reviews, original articles (opinion and research), athlete profiles and news about upcoming social events including skiing and snowboarding trips. We also post links to relevant images, video clips and industry related news through our Social Media and Snow Forum pages, which together have roughly 22,000 followers.