A beginner's guide to the ski season
Snow resorts have their eyes on families and first-timers, writes David Fitzsimons
Good early falls have had skiers and snowboarders grinning like snowmen in the lead-up to next weekend’s ski season opening. But if you can’t tell your stocks from a snowplough and think a T-bar sells Earl Grey, don’t be disheartened.
Resorts throughout the Snowy Mountains are working to attract first-timers, and particularly families, to the roof of Australia for an icy good time.
Best Weekend sought expert advice on how beginners can avoid the pitfalls and enjoy a fun family trip to the snow.
As Snowy Mountains Tourism executive officer Neil Thew says: “A snow holiday for a family for the first time can be nerve-wracking and a highly involved process because there are a lot of unknowns. But once it is done the first time, it becomes a lot easier.”
WHERE TO STAY
Thredbo and Perisher offer a variety of accommodation but first-timers should consider staying just off the slopes at Jindabyne, where prices are lower.
Jindabyne is 35km from Thredbo and 25km from the Skitube car park. The Skitube train takes you straight to Perisher.
“To stay in Jindabyne, it boils down to how much they want to spend and their comfort levels,” says Thew.
Accommodation starts with the 2.5/3 star Station Resort, which is owned by Perisher.
“It has everything on site including bars and food. It’s fairly old, it’s been there a while, but it is very valuefriendly,” says Thew.
Other town options includes Rydges Horizon on Lake Jindabyne, which offers apartment-style living with a restaurant and bar on site.
If you have plenty to spend, then Thew says the 4.5 star accommodation at Lake Crackenback Resort on the Alpine Way — with views of the peaks — is hard to beat.
DRIVING & CHAINS
The thought of buying chains, figuring out how to put them on, and driving on slippery mountain passes puts a lot of people off going to the snow.
But Thew says the fears are overblown in NSW.
“I’ve been living in the region for 25 years and I’ve never once put chains on,” he says.
Thew says you only need to have chains in your car when you enter the Kosciuszko National Park, which is above the level of the Perisher Skitube station, and you only have to put them on when directed by police or road safety officials at designated chain bays. And they will give you a hand to put them on.
Thew says tarmac is graded regularly to clear snow, and roads are not like the winding mountain switchbacks you see at Victorian resorts and in Europe.
“The road is fairly easy to navigate. This one is relatively flat; it climbs steadily.”
Furthermore, chains are not needed for 4WD or AWD cars, and they can be hired rather than bought.
If you are going to Selwyn, which is separate to the other resorts, the same rule applies: you need to carry chains in 2WD cars. These can be hired from service stations and ski-hire shops in Cooma and Tumut.
To enter Kosciuszko National Park costs $27 per car and $11 per motorcycle per day. If you catch a bus, it’s $11.45 for adults and $3 for kids. The fee is built into the Skitube ticket price.
WHERE TO GO
While there are plenty of epic slopes for the experienced, Thew says more space is being allocated for novices to learn to ski, try snowboarding, toboggan, make snowmen and throw snowballs.
“Each resort has beginner areas. They recognise that everyone has to start from somewhere and they try to make it easy.”
At Thredbo, try Friday Flat, Thew says. “It’s easygoing and there’s lots of room.”
As for other sites, “Smiggin Holes is fabulous for learning. Blue Cow has a nice easy skicarpet you can begin on, and Perisher Valley has a nice beginners’ slope.” As does Selwyn, which also has a dedicated toboganning slope.
THE RIGHT GEAR
Planning ahead can save time and hassle when you get to the snow.
“The resorts and Destination NSW are trying to make it easier by providing packages for families, with lessons,” Thew says.
He suggests getting online and buying a package that covers equipment, lifts and lessons. “They fit you out with the ski boots and poles the right length. They will be measured up to your height and weight,” he says. “You want to maximise your time on the slopes. You want to hit the ground running.”
He says a lesson or two can make all the difference.
“A lesson is always recommended for first-timers. It establishes the basic skills to get down the slope and stop.
“You get those pointers from trained ski instructors. It can be quite technical. It’s like playing golf — if you don’t have those techniques, you can be all over the place.”
It may sound like a big commitment but Thew says you should try to stay a week to get enough experience to build up your skills. “If you don’t, you will be kicking yourself saying, ‘I should have stayed longer.’ ”
BEST TIME TO GO
Get in early or wait until spring to get the best deals. Each of the resorts offers serious discounts for off-peak visits.
“A great time for families to go is in spring or in June. It’s cheaper. The resorts put on activities so there is always lots to do.
“The peak period is JulyAugust. That’s when the serious skiers go to rip it up.”
While there has been some good early snow, it’s a fickle business.
Respected snow forecaster Pete “The Frog” Taylor (snowatch.com.au) is forecasting a wet June, snowfalls in July and early August but overall a struggling season.
Our advice is check the forecasts as the weather changes quickly.
“It’s great to see the early snow,” says Thew.
“The resorts are getting a lot of early interest and bookings. It’s great for the industry.
“Last year it was very quiet early. There was very little snow. It didn’t start snowing until early June. And then it didn’t stop.”
(Clockwise from main) Beginners’ slopes at Thredbo; Lake
Jindabyne; Thredbo family fun; the 4.5 star Lake Crackenback Resort on the Alpine Way; a snow train for littlies at Thredbo; and (bottom and bottom left) ski action
at Perisher; (below inset) a warming beverage apres-ski.