Skiers pay dearly for flurry of investment

Enthusiasts at Thredbo and Perisher for the start of the ski season this weekend learnt long ago about the inverse relationship between the price of lift tickets and the latitude and altitude of where they ski.

Due in large part to the low height of the Snowy Mountains and their proximity to the equator, natural snowfall is so unreliable resorts have invested heavily in snow-making and grooming equipment to make sure they are snowy enough to provide a decent skiing experience. And that is why Australia leads the world for the price of a one-day lift pass.

The strength of the Australian dollar makes things look even more extreme when comparing prices at Thredbo and Perisher with their equivalents in Europe, North America, Asia and New Zealand.

Come the ski season, the Australian Alpine Club - which owns ski lodges in Dinner Plain, Falls Creek, Mt Buller, Mt Hotham, Perisher and Niseko in Japan - likes to publish a please-explain report comparing Australian lift ticket prices with those of resorts around the world.

The club has not yet published its 2012 survey but in 2011 the top Australian resorts (Perisher Blue $109, Thredbo $107, Falls Creek $106, Mt Hotham $106, Mt Buller $104) were charging more, in Australian dollars, for a one-day ticket than leading international locations like Vail in the US, Whistler in Canada and Klosters in Switzerland.

Its 2011 report also noted that for the previous seven years, ski lift price increases at the five largest Australian resorts had outstripped inflation. With the dollar still strong and Thredbo ($110) and Perisher ($112) both having raised their 2012 day-pass prices, Australia is likely to hold on to its title again this year as the destination with the world's most expensive single-day lift passes.

While not everyone will be happy to pay for it, the hundreds of snow-making guns and grooming machines have improved conditions for skiers, particularly at the start of the season when natural snowfall can be extremely patchy.

Eight years into a $40 million 10-year trial, cloud seeding by the hydro-electricity generator Snowy Hydro also appears to be helping ski conditions. The primary goal of the winter seeding is to boost the amount of water that flows into the dams of the Snowy Mountains scheme for power generation, but research suggests an extra 14 per cent of snow is being dumped by the targeted storm fronts.