How Australia's ski fields will win you back

Australia ski resorts are working hard to lure skiers back from overseas.
Australia ski resorts are working hard to lure skiers back from overseas. 

Some say the war began in September 2011 when Perisher released an early bird $699 season pass for 2012. Season pass prices like this hadn’t been seen in the snow industry of Australia since the '80s.

Thredbo resort soon got on board with their version of the $699 pass complete with summer leisure centre and golf course access, then Falls Creek and Hotham teamed up to offer one across both resorts. The war had definitely begun.

Others say that war began at least ten years ago when New Zealand snow resorts formed the Ski Marketing Network of New Zealand and set their sights on Australian skiers and snowboarders with a government-funded campaign to get them across the ditch. Advertising claimed better snow, bigger mountains and cheaper deals.

The accumulative effect of the network’s annual campaign hit a high when the number of Aussies skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand increased by 29 per cent in 2009 and again in 2010 before experiencing a slight drop in 2011 (the year of ash clouds, earthquakes and Australian parity with the US dollar). 

Either way, almost half a million ski days each season in New Zealand are now attributed to Australians who make up between 35-38 per cent of their total skier days.

Air New Zealand, together with Virgin Australia, are now boosting flights to New Zealand by eight per cent this winter and an additional 6300+ seats on direct flights from Australia to Queenstown. On these figures, you could say it is thanks to the Australian dollar that New Zealand has a ski industry at all.

Back home the leakage of Australians to overseas resorts hit an all-time high in 2011 when Roy Morgan Research reported that 49 per cent of Australians who went skiing and snowboarding on their last holiday chose an overseas destination to do that. In 2010 that figure was 34 per cent.

It is no surprise that skier numbers to North America increased with the parity of the dollar – we are the number one international inbound market to Aspen Snowmass, Telluride, Steamboat, Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Park City, as well as being in the top three to Vail, in the USA and number two to Whistler in Canada. It is also no surprise that the numbers to Japan decreased by 30 per cent last season after the tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Skier days in the Aussie resorts in 2011 reflected this overseas skiing trend dropping from 2.033 million in 2010 to 1.879 million in 2011. At the same time Australian snow athletes were making a bigger impact on the world circuit than ever before with world champions in Boarder Cross, Slopestyle Ski and Snowboard Half Pipe and a plethora of X Games medals.

Clearly something had to be done to both stop the leak and grow snow tourism in Australia. Enter Snow Australia, the rebranded collective once known as the Australian Ski Areas Association and now funded by the Australian resorts, Snow Sports Industries of Australia, Tourism Victoria and Destination New South wales. 

On the outside the resorts are all working together to fight the snow fight - 2012 is a good year to be an Australian skier or snowboarder as pre-season marketing campaigns fly thick and fast offering discounted deals. 

Meanwhile, Hotham and Falls Creek launched their provocative “Chuck a Snowie” campaign to highlight the ease of skiing in Victoria for a long weekend or mid-week break. At the same time Air New Zealand have advertising shells with a cheeky campaign claiming Cardrona to be only three hours away (technically that’s three hours from take off in Sydney to touch down in Queenstown, add in other travel times and it’s the same amount of time door to door as Sydney to Thredbo or Perisher).

Snow Australia are focusing on a two-pronged attack to grow participation in snow sports in Australia. One is to debunk the myths that Snow Australia CEO, Colin Hackworth says ‘the industry has been remiss in allowing to become entrenched”.

A Snow Australia commissioned survey from Roy Morgan revealed that it is apparently cheaper to ski in Australia with the mean cost of the average ski holiday in Australia being $954 versus $2082 in New Zealand and $4851 for the northern hemisphere (flights are the obvious expense). Myth one supposedly debunked. Now add a variety of cheap deals across Australian resorts offered on their Snow Australia website to hammer home their point.

“I don’t mind having a crack at New Zealand resorts” said Hackworth, who is also President of Nihon Harmony Resorts in the overseas ski resort of Niseko, Japan. “You have to drive a long way to their resorts, lift systems are worse than ours and snow making is way behind, plus a lot of them are shut due to weather.”  Myths two and three debunked.

As for driving from a ski town to a ski field, Tourism New Zealand’s own research shows that "roads and drivers are the main reason for Australians feeling unsafe in New Zealand". 

The second more obvious attack is Snow Australia’s ‘Never Ever’ campaign. The theory is that you need first timers to buy into the fun of skiing and boarding. How do you do that? You recruit current skiers and snowboarders to do it for you by ‘initiating a mate.’

Three campaigns are currently in the market pushing the tag line “You Never Forget Your First Time (or who you were with)”. Not a bad slogan considering you can be guaranteed we all do remember our first time on snow. Mine was at Mont St Ann in Quebec where my friend Anja dropped me at the top of the mountain and skied off only to return and find I hadn’t moved. I caught the chairlift back down.

To help promote skiing and snowboarding in Australia, a number of celebrity ambassadors have been employed to share their first snow experience and visit Mount Buller, Falls Creek and Thredbo this season. (Share the story of your first snow experience below and win - scroll down for details)

I understand the family choice of the lovely Chloe Maxwell and Mat Rodgers, I even get the choice of the fun-loving Bondi lifesavers and the funky Channel [V] VJs - but I wouldn’t want to be on the mountain when ambassador Brendan Fevola comes screaming down a beginner run with a phone camera in his hand. (Though as a journalist I’d love to be in the après bar with the disgraced footballer with my own phone camera in hand later in the night). Fevola's hardly a role model for aspiring kids, and their mothers, on family holiday in ski school.

As the ski season approaches, and a forecast of anything up to 40 centimetres of snow in the Australian Alps this weekend, it is a definitely a good time to be an Aussie. There is a renewed vigour within the snow industry in Australia and the consumer is bound to benefit from creative marketing and a hunger that is driving resorts to stand up and take note. Plus you just know the Kiwis won't give us up without a fight.

What do you think of the new marketing campaigns for 2012? Is it enough to make you ski at home? Will you take someone who has never been to the snow before with you?

WIN! WIN! WIN!

Thredbo is celebrating the ‘new dawn of Australian skiing’ and has brought back the Winter Wonderland Gala Ball on the opening weekend, a ball that traditionally heralded the season in years gone by. Trust us, you always remember your first time at the ball in Thredbo.

We’re giving readers of Snow It All the chance to WIN a Thredbo long party weekend at Australia's home of apres, Thredbo, from June 8 to 11. To enter, simply share your first-time ski stories (or if you’ve never gone to the snow who you would like to go with and why) by posting a comment on the blog below.

You could win three nights at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel including daily breakfast, two tickets to the Winter Wonderland Ball, two tickets to the Thredbo Long Lunch in the Village Square and three day lift and ski hire tickets for two. Terms and conditions here.

Phew! Thats our first Snow It All blog for 2012. We have some fantastic prizes to give away every week and topics that will have you round the water cooler each lunch time. Stand by next week as we introduce our four week 'from sofa to snow' fit-to-ski program.

Join in our daily discussion on the Snow It All Facebook page (we're giving away Warren Miller tix) and follow us on Twitter @misssnowitall and instagram @snowitall #misssnowitall

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