The ski season has arrived, and anticipation is high after the muted, pandemic-affected season in 2020 and the dumping of snow brought by this week’s cold snap in eastern Australia.
For Cam Barton, who runs Alpine Sports in Jindabyne, the first snow of the season is always special.
“Everybody loves the first big dump of snow of the season, and we’ve just had one,” he says. “It’s probably the best start to the season I can remember.”
Although the cold front wreaked havoc across Victoria, with floods and wild weather cutting power, damaging homes and leaving one person dead, the cold has brought heavy snowfalls in the Blue Mountains, southern highlands, northern ranges and northern tablelands.
The snow has heightened expectations for a snow season that already had much riding on it.
“It’s very buoyant,” Barton says. “People who put off their trip last year are definitely not putting it off this year. And those really keen snowboarders and skiers who love to go overseas during the summer, they’re not able to do that now, so everybody needs to get their fix at the moment.”
Barton said real estate agents and accommodation providers were inundated, and that the town is close to full at the moment.
“We’re feeling more optimistic than we were last year, for sure.”
“There were some very nervous times last year, but we managed to keep the season rolling without shutting the resorts. It was never a normal season. But there seems to be a lot more optimism this year.”
“Our ski and snowboard rental was down by half. Every single day, we were thinking, ‘Is today the day? Are they going to shut us down, will this be the end of our season?’”
“Everybody is just hoping this winter season is the start of some sort of normality. And we’re certainly seeing a lot of interest and enthusiasm.”
But with the growing excitement has come some challenges, especially with the ongoing closure of international borders, and continued restrictions in Victoria that will prevent some from visiting the alpine region, at least in the short term.
Barton explained that alpine businesses usually hire staff from international travellers, including ski instructors and lift personnel.
“Of course none of those people are coming in. We always have two to three inbound travellers from overseas, and those people aren’t available this year. So there’s just not enough staff around.”
It’s meant that he and most of the business there have resorted to hiring juniors, which he said had some downfalls.
“There’s just a few technical things in the ski world and in ski hire that juniors can’t do for you. But they can do everything else, and some of them are fantastic. It just means everybody has to pitch in this year.”
In Victoria, the excitement has been somewhat dampened by the recent circuit-breaking lockdown, but Sarah Watt, the director of marketing & communications at Falls Creek ski resort, said it hadn’t quite sapped all the energy.
“We’re always very excited about the start of the ski season, especially since we didn’t get one last year, everyone is raring and ready to go.”
“We’ve got really good bookings from school holidays all the way through to September, it’s very difficult to find a bed at the moment, which is fantastic news.”
“We’ve even got a lot of mid-week bookings, that don’t normally fill up until closer to the date, so very hard to get a booking if you haven’t pre-booked.”
Watt said the recent wild weather had brought over 20cm of snow, with more expected over the weekend. And although there is still some uncertainty around the pandemic, there was hope that the state can enjoy a good snow season again.
“Were very hopeful that the health measures in place are working and will give us a fantastic season.”
Watt encouraged people to book ahead, saying the resort was expecting big crowds.
“Things are a little different this year and we ask all visitors to plan ahead and purchase their resort entry permit, lift tickets and book accommodation in advance to ensure they have a more seamless visit to the resort.”