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It’s time to start preparing for the Australian snow season, which officially begins on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend on 11 June.
Victorians are blessed with their snowfields, which are close to many areas of the state.The major resorts are Falls Creek, Mt Hotham and Mt Buller. Mt Baw Baw is smaller, mainly for beginners and intermediates.
Go to Lake Mountain for tobogganing, snowball fights and cross-country skiing. It’s the best bet if you want some family fun for the day, without downhill skiing and without breaking the bank. Mt Stirling and Mt St Gwinear are for cross-country skiers and also offer an affordable day on the snow.
Across the border, the major NSW resorts are Thredbo and Perisher. In New Zealand, the most popular snowfields include The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, Cardrona and Mount Hutt.
How to dress
The basic principle for dressing for the snow is to layer up. Start with a thermal base layer next to your body, then a mid layer such as a fleece, and finish with a waterproof outer layer. Jeans and cotton T-shirts won’t cut it … you’ll be the first one into the après bar. You can rent waterproof outer layers, but generally need to buy the others.
Where to stay
Mount Buller’s Pension Grimus is a classy Austrian-styled boutique hotel where schnitzels and schnapps are served under the watchful eye of host Hans Grimus. The hotel’s restaurant has a large open fire and Hans, a Mt Buller legend, will entertain with mountain stories. After dinner, the partying spills into Herbie’s, a small cocktail bar in a room next to the restaurant. At Dinner Plain, near Mt Hotham, Peppers Rundells Alpine Lodge has the quintessential alpine lounge, with big open fire and interiors of local stone and timber. Though quieter than Pension Grimus, it’s another lodge where you want to be when the storm is raging outside.
My favourite mountain meal is the delicious spaghetti bolognaise at Koflers Hutte, Mt Buller. The simple and cheap hit of carbohydrates has been a crowd puller for decades and will keep you going all day. Mountain insiders recommend Yama Kitchen and Bar for stylish Japanese and Asian at Mt Hotham (pictured left), Huski Café for local produce at Falls Creek, the White Spider for handmade ricotta gnocchi at Perisher, and Thredbo’s refreshed Kareela Hutte for a schnitzel bigger than your plate.
Just for mum
The Coffee Club Program at Falls Creek ($70) is for mums who have a child in a full-day ski school program. Start with coffee, then ski with an instructor in groups of similar ability for 110 minutes. Includes a free daily lift ticket (usually priced at $125) so you can continue skiing all day.
New for 2016
Mt Buller has added 11 snow guns to its arsenal, a snow groomer, and $80,000 of lighting on Bourke Street. Buller Sports has 300 new skis and 400 new boots for rental. There will be a new look and menu at the Black Cockatoo restaurant and the Après Bar and Cafe, both at the Mt Buller Chalet Hotel.
Mt Hotham has invested $4.4 million in snowmaking, extending coverage in Heavenly Valley, the summit beginners’ area and intermediate terrain off the Roadrunner lift. Child pricing has been extended to anyone under 18 (this has been introduced at Falls Creek too).
Falls Creek’s refurbished Astra Lodge is opening a new restaurant with executive chef Emma Handley launching a contemporary Australian menu. American-style burgers and steaks will be the order of the day at the new Someplace Else Bar and Grill at Falls Creek’s Silverski apartments.
Thredbo has a new snow groomer, a skate park in the village, and Thredbo Sports has overhauled it snowboard and ski rental stock. The resort has also joined the Mountain Collective, 15 resorts around the world (including NZ and the US) that are grouped on one lift pass.
Perisher was purchased by Vail Resorts last year, one of the world’s most dynamic ski companies, so watch this space. It also means Perisher is now aligned with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, which goes head-to-head with Thredbo’s Mountain Collective.
10 tips to keep costs down
1. Buy early and save.
2. Bundle up your lift pass, lessons and rental gear.
3. Buy multi-day lift passes. (There’s least value in a single daily lift ticket).
4. Go in low season (June and September).
5. Self-catering in an apartment with a group of friends saves on accommodation and food costs.
6. Car pool.
7. Discounts are often offered for online purchases of lift passes, lessons and rental.
8. Borrow snow clothing from a friend. You don’t need the latest in-trend gear; however, it’s best to rent skis, snowboards and boots to have safe equipment that is properly fitted.
9. Consider smaller resorts (such as Mt Baw Baw in Victoria and Selwyn in NSW). They have fewer slopes and quieter nightlife, but are generally cheaper.
10. Stay off mountain. Country towns such as Mansfield, Bright, Mt Beauty, Omeo and Harrietville have some affordable accommodation.
Online lift pass for Mt Buller on Thursdays, $80 – usually $120, while the Buller Bargain, from $452 per person, consists of two nights’ quad-share accommodation in low season, a two-day lift ticket and two-days of gear rental.
Falls Creek learn to ski/board package in low season includes ticket to use beginner lifts and a two-hour lesson, $99, or $139 with gear rental.
Thredbo “Kids Ski Free” package at select times during season includes five nights’ accommodation (for family of two adults and two children) and five-day lift pass per person, from $352 a night per family.