Lisa Perkovic surveys what's hot — and cool — on and off the mountains at the state's ski resorts.
Snowstorms in early June kicked off the NSW ski season under ideal conditions and the trail of white powder continues to grow. There have been fresh falls in the past week and the average snow depth at Perisher, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass is 121 centimetres, with some reports of 200 centimetres and more..
Jindabyne is 13 kilometres from the nearest ski resort, Thredbo, but the service town for the NSW snowfields has plenty of accommodation and is a frequent choice for those on a budget. This is the place for competitive ski rentals: Eiger Ski Centre, for example, has been here for 25 years and staff can tell you more about your pronated arches than a podiatrist.
From Eiger, it's hard to pass Sundance Bakehouse and Tea Rooms. Its baked goods are highly regarded, particularly its hearty meat pies, but better still are the cream cheese and walnut strudels. Stocking up on snacks, local beer and breakfast cereal at the supermarket is a good idea as the small convenience stores in the resorts can be expensive.
Jindabyne's nightlife is also a drawcard. Locals, lifties, ski bums and snow bunnies congregate at Banjo Paterson Inn for a drink. On tap this year is the first batch of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, which is produced on-site by Kosciuszko Brewing Company. Going straight from vat to tap, the beer has a good, fruity hop.
Fifteen minutes from town is the Station, an accommodation, entertainment and dining complex where live music, DJs, bingo and pool tournaments are some of the many night-time activities. Snow Alliance runs a booze bus for a gold-coin donation.
The largest ski resort in the southern hemisphere, Perisher is a playground for ski, board, tube, snowshoe and skidoo. It encompasses seven mountain peaks, with Mt Perisher the highest at 2054 metres.
Parking at Bullocks Flat, 20 kilometres from Jindabyne, and taking the Skitube, the alpine railway, is a good way to avoid resort parking fees and the icy road into Kosciuszko National Park. The Skitube runs on a loop from the car park, connecting Perisher and the adjacent snowfields at Mount Blue Cow from 7.20am until 11.45pm during high season.
Perisher lift passes include access to Blue Cow, five minutes away on the train.
Perisher's three-year, $19 million investment in snowmaking means there are 68 new snow guns, bringing the total to 241. During the night, the machines add fresh snow to 54.3 hectares of terrain. Allied with the strong start to the season, the new machinery means the slopes will be open longer.
Navigating the trails is made easier by Satski GPS. Available online, the pedometer-like device is loaded with the latest resort trail maps and conveys speed, terrain and heart rate.
The Perisher Snowsports School offers a wide variety of programs for toddlers, children, teens and adults.
Easy runs lie close to the base station for beginner skiers, adrenalin junkies will enjoy the Outer Limits Rider X Terrain Park on Mount Blue Cow and the smattering of blue intermediate tracks in between keep middling skiers occupied.
On-mountain, the Sundeck Hotel is a great spot to stop for lunch. Crowds gather on the deck when the barbecue is fired up to watch the passing snow traffic.
Off-mountain, the Perisher Valley Hotel's Snow Gums restaurant is the perfect place to thaw. Rooms in the hotel are impressively large, well heated and spacious, with bathtubs and plasma televisions.
The rivalry between Thredbo and Perisher has traditionally been fierce but this year they have joined forces in a promotional campaign. Hopefully, joint ski passes are not too far away as the resorts offer different on-mountain experiences.
Thredbo resort sits lower than Perisher so on a windy day in Perisher, Thredbo's village can be bright and clear and its 480 hectares of terrain get plenty of snow. At the base of the village there's free parking for day skiers and overnight visitors. Most lodges and hotels don't have car spots on site but guests can drop off luggage before parking.
Courtesy buses loop between the village square and Friday Flat, the easy beginners' slope opposite the car park. Friday Flat is a fun run for warming up and the hub of ski and snowboard education programs.
Thredbo Snow Sports School runs similar programs to Perisher, with a good first-timer ski or snowboard package. One- to seven-day lift tickets include daily two-hour group lessons. From Friday Flat, the Gunbarrel Express chairlift heads into the heart of the higher mountain terrain. At 2037 metres, the top of Karels Tbar is Australia's highest lifted point. It's the start of the Supertrail run, a 3.7-kilometre intermediate track that winds down to Thredbo village.
The restaurants, boutiques and bars nestled around Village Square set Thredbo apart from Perisher. Thredbo Leisure Centre, with heated swimming pool, gymnasium, squash court and climbing wall, is ideal for days when conditions outside aren't great.
This year, the resort has a range of new off-mountain activities including movie premieres, music festivals and celebrity ski events. After dark, the Black Bear Inn is a welcoming place for a drink. Its large schnapps selection is complemented by a hearty German-fare menu.
On-mountain, lunch at the family-run Merritts Mountain House redefines Australian snow food. There are lamb shanks and winter vegetables, hot-pot pies and an old-fashion macaroni and cheese. A private dining room can be booked for an a la carte meal away from the crowds.
The smallest ski resort in NSW is also Australia's highest, at 1760 metres. Charlotte Pass is completely on-snow, with access only by over-snow vehicles. The eight-kilometre ride from Perisher to the village is bumpy but children love it.
The drawcard here, in summer and winter, is Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel. Operating since 1938, the family-oriented site has log fires, communal lounges and a great regional cuisine restaurant. The Frosty Kids Club, for three- to 13-year-olds is complimentary and the children's dinner setting, followed by night-time activities, gives adults time to themselves.
Lisa Perkovic travelled courtesy of Tourism NSW.
Getting there The six-hour drive from Sydney to Jindabyne can zap patience and energy, though the route is well signposted and has ample places to rest. Virgin Blue, Qantas and Tiger Airways fly from Sydney to Canberra. From Canberra airport, the ski fields are 2 hours' drive. Snow Alliance runs shuttle services from Canberra to the ski resorts. Phone 1800 280 121; see snowalliance.com.au.
Skiing there One-day lift passes at Perisher cost $102 for adults and $56 for children; see perisher.com.au. One-day lift passes at Thredbo cost from $99 for adults and $55 for children; see thredbo.com.au. A day-tripper package at Charlotte Pass, $69 for adults and $42 for children, includes over-snow transfers from Perisher, lift ticket and hot-lunch special. See charlottepass.com.au.
Thredbo Alpine Hotel has two-night packages from $420 a person a night in high season. Phone 6459 4200; see rydges.com.au.
Perisher Valley Hotel has two-night packages from $816 a person a night in high season. Phone 6459 4455; see perisherblue.com.au/winter/pvh.
Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel at Charlotte Pass has two-night packages from $605 an adult a night and $225 a child in high season. Phone 1800 026 369; see charlottepass.com.au.