Skihacker: Do You Head Overseas For Snow?

Australia's snow season officially kicks off on the Queen's Birthday long weekend around June 11, but several resorts are taking advantage of the cooler weather and opening early. In an increasingly competitive market where flying overseas to ski seems easier than ever, can they still attract Aussie tourist dollars?

Picture by Tim in Sydney

As the Snow It All blog at the Age points out, according to Roy Morgan research almost half the Australians who plan a skiing or snowboarding holiday go overseas rather than hitting the local slopes. North America has been a particularly popular choice given the strength of the Aussie dollar, and New Zealand remains an accessible and closer option. If you don't live in the south-eastern states, virtually any skiing holiday requires jumping on a plane.

The local industry has fought back with discounted deals and cheaper lift access passes. The Snow Australia site has a dedicated section for package specials, group deal sites have also featured plenty of discounted offers, and June has been designated "Learn To Ski And Snowboard" month to attract newcomers.

I'm so woefully uncoordinated that I've never dared strap on a pair of skis; based on my experience on skates and the like, I fear bruising and broken limbs would be the inevitable outcome. But I'm curious about our winter sports-loving readers. Is a trip to Australia's snowfields a regular part of your travel planning, or do you prefer heading overseas? Do the drops in prices make a difference? Tell us in the comments. (You can also check me out discussing the topic on Ten Breakfast earlier today.)


    I've skied for about 22 years, starting when I was just 2. Up until 16 I went every year. I've been about 5 times since. The Australian ski fields are HORRENDOUSLY expensive and the service is crap to boot. It's cheaper to fly to New Zealand for a week than go to Thredbo for 4 days.

    To that end, I'm going to Lake Tahoe in January.

    I hit Baw Baw, Hotham and Buller a few times each season but last year added 9 days in Queenstown at the end of August and it was incredible. There's better snow conditions and cheaper tickets. Worth the three hour flight for sure. Australian mountains have discounted early bird season passes but the daily rate is still excessive. Usually around $80 to $110. If you're a family, you could easily spend over $800 on a single day trip. Best option for a cheap day in Victoria is Baw Baw - only 2 hours from the city and cheaper tickets. Plus they always put a lot of effort into their terrain parks.

    Two main factors: cost and quality.

    I think a huge part of the reason some Aussies choose to do their skiing overseas is simple; generally the snow is better. There's more of it and particularly in the Northern Hemisphere it's drier and lighter = more fun. That's not to say you can't have fun at our resorts by any means, I do the odd day trip up to Buller or whatever and have a great time, although that's mostly because I'm with my buddies, we could be anywhere and I'd have fun.

    Aussie resorts are also small by comparison, plus often you'll find Black and Double Black areas are closed because there hasn't been enough snow, or it's raining, or too windy, which makes the resorts even smaller. Why spend all that money on a holiday at an Aussie resort (getting up there, parking, accommodation, lift passes, food, drink, etc.) and risk crap conditions when you can pay pretty much the same price and get a package deal to NZ, go to a bigger resort, chances are the snow will be better and you can enjoy the novelty of being overseas? Or if you're going to spend that much money, stretch yourself just a little bit further and get to the USA or Japan.

    I have to agree with @seven_tech, Aussie resorts are ridiculously expensive. I understand our seasons are shorter and the resorts are smaller so they get less people through, plus wages are probably higher, but that doesn't change the fact.

    On a side note I wouldn't be surprised if the environment (weather) can't support a ski industry in Australia for much longer.

    Agree with all posts above.
    I have been skiing and snowboarding on average once every 3 years since I was 16, and up until more recently only in Australia (I live in Adelaide, so a decent 12 or so hour drive to the Vic skifields). Australian snow is ok, but it is unreliable if you're planning a trip more than a couple of months in advance, but on the whole, I have been VERY lucky with my trips, in that there has always been decent snow.
    Overseas options are much more reliable, and also much less crowded than Australia. Skiing in NZ is not a bad option for reliability, and probably ends up costing about the same overall (in my opinion).
    Japan is actually nearly comparable, but in our summer, the snow is amazing, not as bad lift lines like in Australia, and well Nth America.
    I agree with all of the above, going overseas may be a little bit more expensive (flights probably the main factor, but accommodation and lift tickets are generally cheaper, given a good exchange rate), the quality of your trip will be much better, in terms of snow condition, ski-able area as well as lift lines (lift lines in AU are TERRIBLE), I"d be happy to pay a little extra for.

    Disclaimer: I have only spent one season ( a whole one) at Jindabyne and I work for a company that sells the following but I am not in sales.
    For my money Japan seems to have a lot going for it, particularly Niseko. Excellent powder conditions, a good long season of excellent coverage, relatively low mountain height to avoid altitude effects, well developed resorts with all the facilities you'd want. Couple those with the fact that its closer than the US or Canada and far cheaper on flight costs and a similar time zone so minimal jet-lag. Then add that it's Japan so it's more of an experience in another culture. Japan is not as expensive as most people think. Tokyo is expensive but the rest is less so, besides Australia has caught up in cost of living, so if you're from Sydney, you may find it cheap there :O Ski passes and rental are far cheaper than in Australia, about half to 2/3rd the price.
    Does it compete with NZ? Dunno, but it's worth a look. Garuda fly there so you can have a stopover in Bali and get a 2 hour massage on the way home. Nice.

    On the NZ cost comparison... It's close but not necessarily cheaper to do an NZ trip. Flights and car rental are the things that push it over the line. Unless you have booked well in advanced (always a risk for a snow trip) it's likely that you'll pay $1,500 to $2k for flights. You can stay in Queenstown, which is cheaper than being on mountain in Aus but not by a lot. Having said that, I'd happily pay a premium to be in NZ.

      $2k for flights to Queenstown? are you flying business class?

      I've been to NZ several times for snow trips as said above, it's cheaper to go there for a week or two than spend a week at Buller or Hotham. and you have the choice of a heap of mountains with different terrain all within an hr to the carpark from Queenstown. Not to mention places like Snowpark and The Stash (at Remarkables) which are by far better terrain parks than anything in Victoria.

      I went over there 4 years ago for a week trip and the group decided that wasn't long enough, so have been for 2 week trips 2 of 3 years since (and planning another for next year)

      Granted the mountains in Victoria have been on a big push with discounted season passes, but what's the point of that if there is no snow? for the average punter who's going for a weekend trip or a few day trips the sport in Australia is far too expensive. and if you add to that a couple of kids with leasons and hire a weekend trip could cost upwards of $1000

        Ash R - I'm talking direct Melbourne to Queenstown coach flights... $2k is not unheard of. Last year I almost paid $2,800 for the flight. Also, I'm talking about a comparative stay - So, I'm not comparing staying at Absolut here and then a backpackers in QT. People overstate the cost "advantage" when the real difference is in the conditions you get. Like I said above, someone doesn't need to lie about it being cheaper for me to want to go. The conditions justify the premium.

    I've been snowboarding for many years (not to say I'm good at it, because I unfrotunatelt I dont go often enough or long enough to improve my skills)

    Boarding in australia seems to bit a bit risky. besides being expensive. snow in the snowy mountains seem to be quite icy and packed, and when you fall it hurts! I always think I'm just one inch away from breaking something, I even managed to fracture a little bone (sesamoid) in my hand.

    On comparison, a place like japan or NZ. the snow is powdery and deeper, meaning you can take more risks, pick up more speed or for beginners, have a chance to improve your skills before you break any bone.

    Adding to the quality of the snow there's also the $ factor. australia is expensive, but once you factor in price of flight, car rental for a week or two ends up being about the same.

    The way I see it is this.

    For unplanned quick hassle free trip, I just drive to the snowys.
    For a planned ski trip with flights (which is a big hassle IMO) I'd go to NZ/japan.

    USA and Canada are just too much of a hassle compared to japan or NZ.

    As a Norwegian in Australia, I've considered going skiing here once. That was enough. Too small, too expensive; not attractive at all. Australia is wonderful in so many ways, but skiing conditions is not one of them. Yet, prices are that of good ski resorts in Europe where conditions are tenfold better. Either lower your prices or go bankrupt (well, not bankrupt, but you get my drift).

    There's one caveat to these, seemingly overwhelming opinions that the Australian ski fields aren't worth it:

    If you can ski in Australia, you can ski anywhere.

    Our snow is so crap sometimes, you'd be better off skiing down your local muddy hill- it's cheaper and you'll probably have better control.

      Ok, so a bit of an exaggeration that you can ski anywhere- powder skiing is hard if you don't know how (ie me)

      But the point stands!

    I went boarding in Japan a couple of years back and it was awesome. I was at a small resort north of Hiroshima. Good snow and hardly any lift lines. Most of the time when getting to the bottom of the slope you could get right on the lift without a wait. There was actually a time when my girlfriend and I were the only ones on the slope, it was awesome.
    Before I left many people warned me that the prices in Japan would be high. This was definitely not the case, food, beer and accommodation were all cheaper than I would expect in Australia.
    The flight back on Jetstar is a different story...a total nightmare.

    I went ski/snowboarding in Australia and New Zealand pretty much every year from when I was 12 till when I was 22. By no means am I great at it, but a helmet and a bit of fearlessness goes a long way. Then I went to Chamonix in France for a week, was totally flabbergasted by the awesomeness (and relative cheapness) even though it was a pretty crap season for them. It was so good never really want to ski in Australia again. It's just not worth it. Then I went to Japan and after floating down a mounting with just you , your mate and about 10 other people sharing a Gondola whilst powder falls covering most of your tracks every run.. it becomes a no-brainer. The only problem being you have to give up a few weeks of summer :) Now i go once every 2 years or so, and do it properly. So much more fun.

    Just a quick tip on NZ snow trips
    Head to the Ski Fields in the North Island if there is plenty of snow, the distance from the top to bottom is much longer than queenstown and Skiing on a volcano is cool. You can often fly into Hamilton for cheap too

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