Annabelle Nelson envisioned snowflakes and fluffy stuff when she took time out over summer to book her family ski trip. The reality that greeted her at Thredbo last week was somewhat different.
“At one point, I said to my husband, ‘look, they need to mow the lawn,’ it was looking so green and lush. I have never seen that in August before.”
After weeks of warm temperatures melting the cover, tourism operators are hoping a run of cold weather that brought snow to the mountains again on Thursday will save the season.
Ten centimetres fell at Perisher and five centimetres at Thredbo in the 24 hours to 7am on Friday, with more snow expected over the coming days and into next week, when larger falls are possible.
“We always love to see snow, particularly after the last little while,” Perisher mountain operations manager Michael Fearnside said.
“It is challenging right now, not only for our operations but for the community and small businesses that rely on winter tourism.”
He said the grooming and snowmaking teams at the resort had done “an incredible job” to keep the resort open over the past month, when the average maximum temperature was 4.6 degrees – 1.5 degrees warmer than usual. Thredbo also recorded July maximums 2 degrees higher than average.
The warm weather has hampered artificial snowmaking at the resorts and wiped more than 20 centimetres from the snow base as measured at Spencers Creek, west of Perisher.
By August 3, the base had fallen to 110 centimetres, from 131 centimetres on July 14. It peaked at 230 centimetres last year.
Miriam Bradbury, a senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said early snowfalls had suggested a promising ski season but the outlook was for a warmer, drier winter than average.
“It is still winter and you can get cold fronts moving through in August and even into September, but that is not something we can really forecast more than a week out,” she said.
“We’re unlikely to see a complete turnaround of the snow season, but we may see a little more coming through.”
Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce president Olivier Kapetanakos said accommodation bookings were down 20 to 40 per cent compared with last year. He blamed the snow conditions and consecutive interest rate rises that had curtailed early bookings.
“People haven’t been cancelling – some people have tried – but the bookings that usually come in now for September have not arrived, and that’s the double whammy. We started with a lower booking rate [because of the interest rate rises], then the snow was very patchy,” he said.
“The resorts are doing a fantastic job doing as much as they can [to stay open], with the exception of Selwyn, poor buggers.”
Perisher and Thredbo have kept most of their lifts running but Selwyn, which has the lowest peak of the NSW resorts, closed on July 29 and is yet to reopen. It told guests that “Mother Nature has washed us out” and it would reopen if conditions allowed.
Samantha Freeth, who manages Boss Outdoor Sports snow and chain hire in Jindabyne, said the slower season was at least helping the town’s housing crisis, where the median price has more than doubled in the past five years and made it hard for employers to accommodate seasonal staff.
“Every house that’s been built or bought [over the last five years] has been turned into an Airbnb,” she said.
“[But this year] once June hit, the Airbnbs weren’t getting the bookings, so they started putting up their places for seasonal rentals. There have been more this year than I’ve seen in a long time.”
Freeth was hopeful the snow that started falling this week would allow the season to push through the September school holidays.
“I’ve never seen it not make it to the holidays and there’s a fair bit of promising snow coming,” she said.
Nelson, who travelled to Thredbo from Sydney for her holiday, said while the snow conditions were disappointing, her family had enjoyed their time together.
“Overall, it was a really lovely family holiday. We were having barbecues all together. The kids were all playing. My parents were there, helping with our kids.
“It was nice being able to show the kids how to ski, and to see them progress. They were getting really into it. And they don’t know what real snow is ... they were just like ‘Yay! Snow!’ It’s slushy and brown, but it’s still fun.”
Thredbo has been approached for comment.
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