(Australian Associated Press)
After the warmest autumn on record in many parts of the country, it may be hard to grapple with the fact the official ski season starts this weekend.
Like many years in Australia it will get underway with a dearth of the natural white stuff as resorts scramble to have at least a handful of runs open covered with artificial snow.
There’s no denying the years are getting hotter and the snowline is creeping up the hill but shelving the boots, bindings and boards may be a little premature.
After all, 2017 presented with a similarly balmy lead-in and slow start only to finish with a base of 2.4 metres in what was the best Australian season in 16 years.
So, what to expect in 2018?
Blocking highs seem to be the order of the day in June, meaning those intense low pressure storms winding up from the Antarctic don’t look like they’ll be dropping much fluff in the short term.
But the better news is that key climate indicators such as the Southern Oscillation Index are pointing towards a neutral weather pattern over winter.
Without getting too technical, that means an El Nino weather event (typically meaning reduced precipitation and warmer temperatures in Australia) shouldn’t be a factor.
These neutral years have historically produced quite good snow seasons and the likes of Mountainwatch weather guru The Grasshopper is calling for a peak base of between 195cm-225cm.
In other words, plenty to go around when the season gets going.
It will always be a bumpy ride when it comes to snow in Australia but if you can get there when it’s good the odds are you won’t be disappointed.
WHAT YOU’LL EXPERIENCE AT THE MAJOR SKI RESORTS THIS SEASON
* Thredbo, NSW: When it’s cold and the snow hits low this is the place to be. A neat village, lovely cut runs among the gum trees and more than its share of dining and partying options. Showing its age somewhat, there are some mooted changes with a gondola and village developments – but you’ll have to wait at least another year for those.
New this season: Improved snowmaking, backcountry adventure tours to the Main Range.
* Perisher, NSW: The place where many Australians get their start in skiing or snowboarding, Perisher tends to get more consistent cover because of its elevation and has the expansive terrain options to match. The terrain park is the best in the Southern Hemisphere. The Epic season pass, which allows access to a host of the Vail-owned American and international resorts, is another huge plus. Lacks the central village that gives Thredbo its better vibe.
New this season: Increased snowmaking, Japan’s Hakuba joins Epic Pass.
* Falls Creek, Victoria: Picturesque resort with great ski-in ski-out options. Family-orientated facilities and great strengths in its beginner and lower intermediate terrain. The relaxed European-style village is a huge plus and there are some fantastic dining options. Stronger skiers and boarder may find it a little limiting though.
New this season: In the biggest development in the Australian ski industry this season, a $9 million high-speed squad replaces the old triple chair in the Village Bowl.
* Mt Hotham, Victoria: In many ways, the flipside to Falls. There’s a lot less eye candy but the sweet returns at Mt Hotham are for stronger riders. There’s plenty 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. The drive in can get a bit dicey when the weather socks in.
New this season: Glamping accommodation in eco domes.
* Mt Buller, Victoria: It’s all about the location. Being as little as three hours from the state’s capital has its pluses and minuses. Easy enough to get for a day trip and can of course be rather busy on weekends. It’s location away from the main range makes it the least reliable in terms of snow from the major resorts but the riding can be some of the best in Australia when on song. The backside is particularly steep and deserves its fearsome reputation. Great village and dining.
New this season: Updated facilities at Horse Hill Snow Play Park.
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