Australia ski season 2021: Poor conditions, COVID outbreak create uncertainty for ski fields

Like the rest of Australia's tourism industry, the uncertainty over movement is dragging on the snow resorts and associated businesses, particularly as restrictions on travel from Greater Sydney tighten.

The New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland school holidays run from now until July 9 and these two weeks are among the most popular for families to head to the mountains, even though June into early July isn't the most reliable time for snow cover.

At the time of writing, snow conditions were poor. The season had started well, but recent heavy rain has reduced the snow cover – Thredbo had seven of 14 lifts operating and just five of 53 trails, Perisher 15 of its 47 lifts and 19 of its 113 trails; the cover is as poor or worse in Victoria's alpine resorts. That's likely to dampen demand in any year, but down at the mountains, they're also feeling something of a pinch from lockdowns.

Thredbo is pre-empting cancellations and contacting COVID-restricted travellers to offer refunds or date changes for accommodation and other services booked with the resort, but they're just one of many accommodation operators in that Snowy Mountains village.

Jill Foster, who manages Lantern Apartments at Thredbo, said while they had been impacted by forced cancellations and were refunding guests who couldn't travel, they were filling some of those bookings with skiers from other parts of NSW.

As travel restrictions put the New Zealand snowfields beyond reach (frustratingly, Mt Hutt, near Christchurch has over two metres of snow) and limiting access in Victoria, NSW residents are an almost captive market within their borders.

Those who can leave home for a holiday do have the potential to find somewhere to stay in the Snowy Mountains. In the wake of forced cancellations, Facebook forums for Perisher and Thredbo are alive with people who can't travel trying to resell their accommodation if they're struggling to get a refund.

One of the biggest events of the winter – the Snow Australia NSW Regional Interschools competitions – was cancelled on Thursday. Competitors and their families fill thousands of tourist beds in Cooma, Jindabyne and the resorts for this annual event.

"An increase in cases and reported NSW case locations has prevented a growing number of eligible participants from travelling and competing with certainty at Perisher and Thredbo in the coming weeks," event organisers Snow Australia said in a statement.

"In-line with advice from the NSW Department of Health and NSW Education systems, and in consultation with our resort partners, it has become evident that due to this escalating COVID outbreak in Sydney, the interschools events scheduled for the upcoming school holiday period (June 28 to July 9), cannot proceed as planned."

Bars and restaurants and other venues in the snow resorts and mountain towns still have capacity limits and, in addition to QR code check-in, some are checking patron's addresses to ensure they're not from any of the COVID hot spots. There are currently no capacity restrictions on ski lifts in NSW although some restrictions have been placed on the sale of lift passes.