Snow or No Snow, Australia’s Winter Resorts Are Open


Snow or No Snow, Australia’s Winter Resorts Are Open

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Julia Bergin, a reporter based in Melbourne.

A sole ski lift operator stood, hands clasped, looking up the mountain at four children running circles on a 50-meter-long makeshift sledding slope.

Underfoot, there was no snow. To his right were a pair of trash bins and a sign that read “Lift Open 10 a.m.-3 p.m.” To his left, empty chairlifts whirred up and down the mountain. Behind him, cones, rope and metal barricades mapped out the lift line, but there was barely a human in sight.

This was the scene in Victoria at Falls Creek, one of Australia’s biggest ski resorts, last Friday, which kicked off the official opening weekend of the national snow season. Similar conditions were reported across ski resorts in Victoria and New South Wales, which are home to the majority of winter sports in the country.

The overall picture — dirt mounds with thin strips of man-made snow — was bleak. But this week, the sun, wind, heavy mist and torrential rain from the long weekend turned to snow as temperatures dipped across the alpine regions.

Dramatic fluctuations in weather conditions are not unusual for Australian winters, but things have become more volatile with a warming planet.

For Carol Binder, a local business owner who reported on snow conditions for ski resorts for two decades, this year has been “noticeably dry and warm” — river levels are low, notoriously muddy driveways are dusty and snow forecasts have gone from unpredictable to extremely unpredictable.

“It’s Australia, and that means potluck — you can expect snow, patchy snow or a dump, you just don’t know,” Ms. Binder said, as rain pelted down outside the lodge she manages in Mount Beauty, a small town that lies about 40 minutes northwest of Falls Creek.

Gripped by the ever-present fear that a spike in temperature coupled with rain would wash away weeks of snow in a flash, people typically take Australian ski trips last minute and at the whim of the weather.

From a business perspective, Ms. Binder said it’s difficult to keep pace with sporadic Australian snow conditions and spontaneous customers. Whether it’s in the market of accommodation, mountain services or hospitality venues, she said it’s a big, casual work force and a constant battle to ensure workplaces are appropriately staffed.

For instance, the Victoria Police last week were primed for crowds that never came, with alcohol breath-test stations set up mid-mountain.

Snow or no snow, Australian resorts activate winter mode — meaning staff are on standby and tourist fees kick in — the moment the official season starts. Falls Creek charges 64 Australian dollars, roughly $42, to enter the resort for a single day. Drivers have to carry snow chains. Lift tickets are extra, as is, at some resorts, parking.

The Australian snow season runs for 17 weeks, and Ms. Binder said she was prepared for whatever falls and whoever comes. Whether her clients are snow-hungry opportunists chasing “potential powder,” families, beginners who plan their trips months in advance and work with the snow they’ve got, or bus groups and retirees who roll in to appreciate the flowers, she’s optimistic about the 2024 snow season.

Good news came on Tuesday. As much as 30 centimeters, about a foot, of snow fell in the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales. Messages were exchanged on group chats, and plans were made for ski trips. And, just like that, the season was on.

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