Ski And Snowboard Show Impresario Bernie Weichsel Reports On The Down Under Scene.

Bernie (r) at Thredbo’s highest lift.
Credit: Bernie Weichsel

For most of us in the international ski community, whether here in the US and Canada, or within the Alpine countries of Europe, there is good news to be found in Australia and, to a lesser degree, New Zealand. Over the past three weeks, I had the opportunity to visit a number of ski areas in New Zealand’s South Island and in Australia’s states of Victoria and New South Walks. I skied at the four areas around Queenstown and Wanaka (The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone and in Victoria (Mt Buller and Falls Creek) and New South Wales (Skiing at Perisher, Thredbo, and the unique Charlottes Pass. I am glad to report in both countries skiing, and, in contrast to the US at least, snowboarding, too, seemed to not only being doing well, but to be thriving.

Skiing The Remarkables, Queenstown, NZ. Anyone notice any hobbits?
Credit: Bernie Weichsel

New Zealand areas’ growth seemed to be coming from visitors from Asia. There were loads of Chinese and Koreans, plus a lot of athletes from Northern Hemisphere countries taking advantage of the snow to prepare for the upcoming Olympics, including Lyndsey Vonn among other US athletes.

But it was in Australia where the growth in the local market was most evident. All the resorts I visited were crowed with families and students, and it wasn’t even vacation time. Resort management all said that they were witnessing growing interest and participation in SnowSports which might be the only SnowSports market in the world where that can be said!

One effort that is propelling growth is a program called Inter-School, a regional wide, multi-discipline, competitive program with local races that lead to regional events and ends in a National Championship. The regional event I saw at Mt Buller—the Victorian State Championships—had 6,000 participants, in many cases, with their parents on hand for a whole week. I am not aware of a similar program in our country. I presume the best analogy is an NCAA program but for High Schools. We all know how school programs for soccer, football, etc. dominate American youths’ time and keeps them—and their families—away from the slopes. Maybe the Australians have found something for us to think about!

All the resorts had decent facilities—from lifts, snow-making and day lodges—and pretty good grooming. New Zealand, for us spoiled North Americans, is a bit of a challenge since there is virtually no on-snow lodging. Most of the lodging is in Queenstown and Wanaka, where it almost never snows;  to get to the skiing you must drive with chains always at the ready in your “boot”—or take a bus.

Weather is also a consideration in New Zealand since all the skiing is above timberline, leading  to some serious white-outs when the clouds hang low, which is often.  But the snow quality is good, the runs decently long— think Northern New England. When it is clear, you can see some of the most stunning scenery anywhere.

Australia, on the other hand, has lodging right on the mountains making it possible to ski in, ski-out. However, the mountains are not as high as New Zealands’ and are wider rather than high, that is, many runs over a number of hills.  That is, except for Thredbo which has a vertical of about 2,000 ft. What really intrigued me was how popular skiing was given that in Australia, there were many road-blocks one has to overcome to get the mountains.  You have to pay an entry fee to enter the Park; all the ski resorts are in state or national parks, you have to pay to park and again pay for a snow taxi to take you to your lodging—not in all resorts but the majority.  And lodging isn’t cheap. The resorts, though, have copied—or might have pioneered—the idea of expensive day tickets versus reasonable priced season pass.

Usually, so I was told, New Zealand gets the better snow.  But, during my visit, it was the opposite: I had basically spring skiing in New Zealand and super mid-winter conditions in Australia—packed powder and blue-bird days. And recently Australia’s resorts have had some of the biggest snow dumps in almost two decades!

One oddity worth noting. The small area near Perisher, Charlottes Pass, might be —I can’t think of any other resort that can only be accessed—in and out—by Sno-Cat . It’s a 30-minute ride each way. Nice, but small skiing, once you get there,  and it’s pretty private and worth the effort.

A unique arrangement: No lifts at Charlotte Pass, just a 30-minute Sno-Cat Ride each way to the slopes.
Credit: Bernie Weichsel

5 Comments

  1. Kathe Dillmann says:

    Wow, great report, Bernie! And good pics. Keep on turnin’ ’em!

  2. Thanks for a great article about skiing down under.

    Just FYI, there are successful high school racing programs in the United States. For example, check out the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association (OISRA) at: http://oisra.org/ They have an Alpine and a Nordic Division. I am sure that other States must have something similar too.

  3. Iseult Devlin says:

    Great story! Sounds like a lot of fun!

  4. Ron McFarland says:

    Skiing in New Zealand’s South Island has the added benefit of being “wine country”. Great opportunity to explore wines that never leave the country.

  5. Hey Bernie,
    Do those days skiing down under count towards your goal of skiing your age 2016-17 or 2017-18?

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