Surely every kid should get the chance to build a snowman, writes Helen Pitt.
Given the record ski season in the Snowy Mountains this year - with snow conditions the best in two decades - if you've never skied in Australia, this is the year to do it. In the five years I've been living back in Australia from the United States, I've been promising my California-born son his first ski holiday here. After learning to ski on the slopes of Lake Tahoe in California, and Aspen in Colorado, I was always concerned he'd feel there wasn't enough snow here or think the mountains weren't comparable to the Rockies.
According to the National Winter Report, commissioned by Thredbo, we are not alone. One in five Australians has never seen the snow, almost half have never had a snow holiday here, and six out of 10 have never been skiing or snowboarding, even though three-quarters questioned were, like us, interested in a snow holiday.
Even more heartbreaking - according to my snowman-loving son, Liam - 60 per cent of young Australians have never made a snowman - that great rite of a northern hemisphere, cold climate childhood.
So we won't become more sad snow statistics, I bundle up Liam and head to Thredbo to celebrate his 12th birthday. The magic starts the day before his birthday, as we drive up the Alpine Way from Jindabyne and the sleet turns into snowflakes. He can't contain his excitement and asks me to stop the car to open his mouth to catch a snowflake - then race to the snow by the side of the road to throw his first snowball at me.
A buzzing Thredbo, with falling snow and colourful school holiday crowds, is a picture-perfect alpine village cosy enough to walk around comfortably with or without ski boots.
We head to the Thredbo Alpine Hotel to dump our luggage, and enjoy a quick snowball fight on our snow-packed balcony, which looks onto the fast-flowing Thredbo River. Then we are into the snowman making, not a great idea without gloves, but such is my son's enthusiasm for the cold white stuff he doesn't care. Construction completed, we rent our ski equipment, then board the bus for the short ride to Friday Flat and the beginners area to reacquaint ourselves with the slopes.
Lessons and lines for the chairlift are the stuff of Friday Flat and we leap into both - and finish the day as everyone suggests, with the best hot chocolate and donuts in the world.
The next morning the ski conditions are perfect, and we head back to Friday Flat for a few practice runs on the magic carpet before heading down the slopes. Here's where the complaints begin (from my son); they'll be familiar to anyone who has skied with a child: "My boots are too tight" ... "the chairlift line is too long" ... "I'm tired" ... "I'm hungry." So after a few hours I wise up and take the path of least resistance: we go tobogganing and tubing.
He has been keen to toboggan since we arrived, but I am reluctant. As an exchange student in Sweden many decades ago, I broke my leg after an unfortunate incident with a pine tree. So I'd forgotten what joy it can give - especially to young snow lovers. We head to Thredbo's toboggan and tubing area, packed with people on plastic toboggans and blow-up tubes. It is the highlight of the birthday trip for him, and a pleasant change for me from the complaints of the morning. We finish the day with an outdoor hot tub with fellow hotel guests as the snow falls, and later a hot cider around the fire pit at the hotel. By this point I decide I am a happy apres ski bunny, which is a major attraction in Thredbo; there's great live music everywhere you go, free activities such as movies for children, oh and did I mention the hot tub and hot cider? At night we listen to live music and dance the night away in all the various music venues around Thredbo.
Another major benefit of Thredbo for skiers is the proximity of the ski lifts, which I take advantage of the next morning with an early morning solo ski. We finish the day with one of my son's favourite Thredbo activities, winter or summer - a trip to the Thredbo Leisure Centre (open every day of the year). We exhaust ourselves, as we always do, on Mission Inflatable, the blow up obstacle course and the waterslide.
Skiing, we decide, is sometimes a bit like eating artichokes, a lot of effort for not much reward. Tobogganing, tubing, snowman building and water sliding, on the other hand, can't help but please if you're a kid, and the hot tub and hot cider has the same effect on adults.
Even if skiing is not exactly your thing; Thredbo is a fabulous place for a family snow holiday.
The writer was a guest of Thredbo.
Thredbo is about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne (a six-hour drive from both). Qantas and Virgin Blue service Canberra Airport from major cities. See qantas.com.au; virginblue.com.au. Canberra Airport is a 2½-hour drive from Thredbo. Coach services also connect the capital to Thredbo.
Thredbo Alpine Hotel, Friday Drive, Thredbo. Rooms from $340 a night for two people in September. Phone (02) 6459 4200. See thredbo.com.au.
SEE + DO
Thredbo has Australia's longest runs and terrain to suit all levels. It offers a Learn to Ride package for skiers and snowboarders, including lift pass, ski or snowboard lessons, gear rental and accommodation - pay for four days and the fifth day is free.
A highlight is the Thredbo Family Fun Night every Thursday, incorporating a Kids Flare Run.
The Thredbo Leisure Centre is open daily 7am-7pm. See thredbo.com.au.
Cascades Bar & Grill has fresh modern Australian cuisine.
The Candlelight Restaurant offers European alpine cuisine with an Australian spin, including fondue and raclette.