This article has been updated from its original publication in 2016. Originally written by Rachael Oakes-Ash. Find out more about her here.
Escape the Heat: Australia's Epic Winters
Itching to go skiing? August is the month where Australian skiing really kicks off – book yourself some flights and head down under.
Skiing in Australia is unique. Ski patrollers stop slope traffic to let wombats and echidnas cross, the tree stashes are held by native eucalyptus gum trees, and emus and kangaroos are regularly sighted roadside attractions.
Once known for the wranglers who lassoed wild brumby horse herds on their rugged slopes, the Snowy Mountains are now home to National Parks and six major commercial ski resorts across New South Wales and Victoria.
The Great Dividing Range in Victoria, Australia
The commercial resorts mostly boast ski-in/ski-out villages with historical ski club lodges that date back to gold-mining days. Satellite towns showcase local produce, and distilleries (try the Wild Brumby Schnapps Distillery near Thredbo) and breweries (The Bright Brewery near Hotham is worth a visit) put an Australian twist on traditional winter libations.
Intrepid skiers can venture out into the roof of Australia, known as the Main Range, and camp out overnight for the kind of wicked terrain you would expect more from North America. Snowfall per season is up to 3 meters, and the season is traditionally short from mid-June to mid-September. And though day passes are expensive in the Australian dollar (Thredbo is looking at almost AU$200/day), the current exchange rate puts that around US$130. So for those coming in from overseas, the skiing will seem cheap as chips (as they say down there).
NEW SOUTH WALES
If you like a lot of terrain, then Perisher (pronounced "Pearish-ah") is your place. But 1,245 hectares (3,000 acres) across seven peaks comes at a price. The vertical rise is less than half that of neighboring Thredbo at 355 meters (nearly 1,200 feet), and the resort takes a fare bit of negotiating through T-bars and traversing. There are, however, a few high speed chairs thrown in to ease the pain, and the ski tube train links different areas if you don’t fancy skiing all the way back.
Just one of the gorgeous long groomers to be found at Perisher.
On a powder day, Perisher is a rocking resort with super fun roll overs, pillows and drops, but the resort is as dedicated to grooming as it is to off-piste, and is often the first to open thanks to an extensive snowmaking network.
Because it lacks a ton of vertical terrain, Perisher makes up for it with terrain parks. Often voted "Australia's best terrain park," pros such as Bobby Brown, Joss Christensen, Eric Willett, Scotty James, Jamie Anderson, Torstein Horgmo and Seb Toots often could be spotted training on their epic features.
Not only are the terrain parks at Perisher for the pros--it has an excellent network of beginner and intermediate parks as well.
And speaking of epic: Vail Resorts owns Perisher, Thredbo, and Mt. Hotham, so Epic Pass holders get to ski here (and there!) for free.
Sydney’s social elite descend upon Thredbo every winter to mingle with the same people they mingle with in Sydney, just in a setting sponsored by Mumm champagne. Thredbo is very much a core skier’s mountain with 480 hectares (about 1,200 acres) of terrain, a 670-meter (2,200-foot) vertical rise, and a 5.9 km (3.7-mile) Super Trail.
Getting the goods at Thredbo.
The mountain is dotted with ski-in/ski-out food outlets, including the infamous Kareela Hutte, where après can start at midday. The village sits at the base of the mountain and serves up a combination of members-only ski club lodges, boutique bed and breakfasts, hotels, condominiums, and chalets.
Après is taken seriously here. Saturday night, for example, is flare run night. Sign up and grab a flare to hold while skiing down in formation behind the resort’s instructor teams from top to bottom after dark. If it’s your first time, they’ll toss you in the air. Literally.
Not a ton of people venture into the back- and side- country in Australia, so it's worth the exploration.
One of the best secrets of Thredbo is the sidecountry. Dead Horse Gap is a fun backcountry run accessed from the top of the resort boundary. Ski through fun rollovers and forests down to a creek (which will need to be crossed), where hopefully you have some people waiting for you with a car to drive you back. Locals will often set up a barbecue by the creek for those coming down.
Thedbo is on the Ikon Pass, which will get you skiing at Mt. Buller (outside of Melbourne) as well.
Who doesn’t love a pedestrian-only ski village? Cars are not allowed in Falls Creek. They are left at the resort car park and guests pile their gear into over-snow vehicles to get to their lodge, hotel, condo, or chalet. The resort is completely ski-in/ski-out, boasts over 30 bars and restaurants, and is by far the prettiest ski town in Australia.
Falls Creek Village at night.
The largest ski resort in the state of Victoria with 450 hectares (1,100 acres), Falls Creek may not have the longest or steepest runs, but it does have excellent terrain parks and some fun off-piste runs in an area called The Maze.
The back- and side-country skiing is an easy distraction from the resort. In fact, the resort has an entire web page dedicated to the options available. New to backcountry skiing? Check out their guided day-packages (for a very reasonable $150/day) to get some experience under your belt.
Hotham ("Hoth-em" – say it fast) is perched upon the top of the mountain, which means the first run of the day is down to the chairlift. The mainly ski-in/ski-out village services 320 hectares (790 acres) of the steepest lift accessed terrain in Australia. Skiing and riding here is split between 40% intermediate and 40% advanced, and the beginner area is separate to the main ski areas.
Mt. Hotham's "base area" is actually a "top area."
Hit the Orchards after a storm for some fun tree skiing or head out to One Tree Hill and beyond for pure off-piste powder turns that end up on an access track back to the resort. In a good year, a cat runs from the resort out to this area, so you don’t have to hike.
Hotham, Falls Creek, and Perisher are all owned and operated by the Vail Resorts, so you can jump on a helicopter transfer over to another resort (and vice versa) for a day skiing on the same ticket.
Melbournites in black Range Rovers and turtlenecks simply love Mt Buller ("Bullah"). They are loyal to their home mountain, a mere three-hour drive from the CBD. Home to the Australian aerials team, skier and boarder cross Olympians and the annual ABOM Moguls event, Mt Buller is steeped in Australian skiing history. Drop by the National Alpine Museum when you have a spare moment.
Honestly, this photo is just too good not to repeat. Mt. Buller chair lift covered in rime.
Three hundred acres of skiable terrain are divided between 20% beginner, 45% intermediate and 35% advanced with some seriously steep terrain only accessible in prime conditions. The mountain gets less snow than its Victorian counterparts, but the location is what brings in the crowds and the resort has invested heavily in snowmaking.
In contrast to the vast Vail Resorts holdings in Australia, Mt. Buller is on the Ikon Pass. Hop over to Threadbo in New South Wales, or take a 3-hour flight to New Zealand to ski at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, or Mt Hutt.
Check out our article on New Zealand's resorts, here.