Once again, the snow has come early, with falls of up to 45 centimetres across the Australian mountains in the last week of May. The snow also came thick and fast – and early – in the 2017 and 2018 snow seasons, and it stayed around. By early July of both years, ski resort staff were scrambling through statistics to see if these might be some of the best snow years on record. Will this be another deep winter? We'll know in October.
For 2019, skiers and boarders have new lifts to ride at Perisher and Mount Buller and the tickets to ride have also changed. Season pass holders at Buller join Thredbo on the international Ikon Pass, while US Vail Resorts' purchase of Falls Creek and Hotham in Victoria put all those skiers on the rival Epic Pass. The passes give reciprocal rights to the resorts in Australia and also a range of destinations in New Zealand, Japan, North America and Europe.
Meanwhile, forecasters are calling another solid start to the 2019 season with big storms predicted through June and July. When that snow starts falling, an army of workers kicks into gear, to keep us safe – and happy – on the slopes.
From the staff whose job it is to keep us out of harm's way and to save us should we fall into it, to those who broadcast what we're missing when the snow's dumping in the mountains, we talk to the key people behind the scenes of Australia's ski resorts, and ask them what's so special about our ski mountains, and how we should best enjoy them this snow season.
CATE SULLIVAN, SKI INSTRUCTOR, MOUNT BULLER
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES I'm a career instructor and have been instructing at Buller for 28 years. I also work in Japan during the northern winter. Like teaching any sport, you need to know how people's brain and body work. The whole idea of the lesson is to build their skills, make them love the sport and make them want to come back for more.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME I love skiing and grew up in a family that loves skiing. I was a sport teacher [in Melbourne] but now I'm out of the rat race and my classroom doesn't have any walls. It's like a small country town, Buller – it's a community with a lot of people who return year after year and a lot of families are multi-generational up there. I'm now training instructors who were once the kids I taught to ski.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Get online and pre-book everything, especially families. Everything in the snow is in a different time zone, if you think it'll take half an hour, it'll take an hour. Leave early for everything – the best of the skiing is the first couple of hours anyway. For kids, this is a foreign environment, an alien world, so let them adapt, give them books on skiing and put some gear – helmets and goggles – in the play box so it becomes a toy and is familiar.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON More snowmaking. That's my employment – if there's snow, I get paid! There's a new snow factory for the kids' teaching area [the Magic Forest] and the bottom of the new Bourke Street Express lift. With the new lift, there are fewer towers on Bourke Street, so that means more area for skiing, and for teaching. There's also snowmaking on Men's Downhill run for advanced skiers and a new trail from Grimus chair down to Bonza chair.
BILL BARKER, HEAD OF SKI PATROL, HOTHAM ALPINE RESORT
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES I oversee 25 ski patrollers and 40 to 50 volunteers and make sure we have the whole mountain covered. I'll check for avalanche danger every morning and do snow reports and get to the really bad accidents or dangerous extractions.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME You get addicted to the life up here. There's fun people you work with, and you never really know what you're going to come up against. Some days it's just beautiful, other days it's wild and windy, but that's the snow for you.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Try to be as flexible as you can and be in tune with the conditions and snow storms coming up. Understand that early in the season or late spring can sometimes be the best times – it's a lot less crowded and it's cheaper.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON You never know what's coming. The last two seasons have been really, really good, especially early: will this be the third in a row?
TARN PILKINGTON, HELI-SKI AND MOUNTAIN GUIDE, SOUTHERN LAKES, NEW ZEALAND
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES Finding the best snow we can and giving our clients the best time possible. They're mostly interested in skiing powder snow and our job is to connect them with the backcountry in a safe way and also provide a fantastic experience. It's not an inexpensive day out, but it's an extremely good one.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME Every time the season rolls around, you wonder when the snow is going to come, how it's going to be in the local area, how many good days are we going to get and how the weather will be. Deep down, we're always hoping for that big, big season. Queenstown and Wanaka have a lot of fantastic terrain; hopefully we get the storms that bring the snow.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Come with some flexibility, do some research and check where the snow conditions have been good. And make sure you get the most out of your day by having the right ski and snowboard equipment. There's no point coming heli-skiing powder on resort carving skis. Get some powder skis or a powder board.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON Skiing my local hill, Coronet Peak. We ski it the most and it's a good ski hill with a great fall line. It also has night skiing. I have an eight-year-old son so we can whip up after school for two or three hours.
BRITT COX, WORLD CHAMPION MOGUL SKIER (AND FALLS CREEK AMBASSADOR)
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES I'm fortunate to call competitive freestyle mogul skiing my job. I spend the majority of the year chasing winter training and competing on the World Cup circuit. When I'm not, I'm at the Victorian Institute of Sport, or training at Falls Creek.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME I'm a country girl at heart so I always love coming home to Falls Creek to escape the city. There's something about the community up here in north-east Victoria that's just so friendly and special, and nothing beats that first rush of flying down Falls Creek on the first day of the season.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Some of the best skiing can be in late August when the crowds die down and there's more sunny days. Being a bump skier, I'm a real advocate for spring skiing in September, and it's always more fun skiing in a T-shirt. When there's been a fresh dump of snow, I love taking runs down Cabbage Patch and The Maze because it's less crowded.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON I'm looking forward to just wandering around the village with my dog. There's something magical about the village atmosphere and community at Falls Creek, I can't wait for the snow to start falling.
REGGAE ELLIS, SNOW REPORTER, THREDBO
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES I'm the snow report manager and presenter for mountainwatch.com, the biggest snow website in Australia. I live at Thredbo and each morning I have to ski up to present my report for the site. On powder days, I'll often end up doing that all day. I'm also the event announcer for Thredbo ski events.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME I'm a ski freak so living up here and staring out across four huge ski bowl areas makes me happy every day of my life. I love how easy it is to get into the backcountry country where there's no-one around, but then I also love the buzz of the busy European-style ski village mid-season.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Get up here mid-week – it's cheaper for tickets and accommodation and it's never very crowded outside school holidays. Try to stay at least three days, you'll get a lot more skiing in, and don't be afraid to get adventurous. Take advantage of the ski hosts here and go off-piste.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON The windy, wild, stormy days. There's less people out and the wind blows the snow around so you have crazy powder skiing. Thredbo doesn't need a lot of snow to be good so when those big storms come, you know the skiing's going to be epic.
KARL FULLER, TERRAIN PARK BUILDER, PERISHER
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES My role as terrain park supervisor is evolving. Eight years ago I started looking after a small crew maintaining snow features during the day. Now it's grown to the design and construction of our box and rail features and being part of the team designing the whole park set-up.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME I love that no two days up here are never, ever the same. You just never know what each day will bring. Nothing's ever dull or repetitive in these mountains.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Take the time to relax and enjoy yourself rather than trying to do the most runs or pushing yourself to total exhaustion. Think: less is more. Ski and board midweek, when you're able to pair up with people of the same ability on guided tours, and it's far less busy.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON Putting my son on skis for the first time. I can't wait to get him up and skiing so we can both enjoy the magic of being in the mountains.
BRIDGET LEGNAVSKY, GENERAL MANAGER, CARDRONA ALPINE RESORT, NEW ZEALAND
WHAT MY ROLE INVOLVES I lead and manage the Cardrona business including support services, sales, people, operations and development. My main role is to ensure we are delivering excellence in all parts of the business, and to also look for opportunities to improve and grow. I spend a large part of my time driving strategy, planning for the future and collaborating with, leading and inspiring our leaders, managers and frontline staff.
THE MOUNTAINS AND ME Skiing has always been a huge part of my life. I have a competitive background and then worked as an instructor, coach and trainer. When you experience the feeling of skiing well and life in the mountains, it is almost impossible to be apart from it. I have an even stronger tie with my children skiing competitively. I strongly believe in a life well lived and that life on a mountain is just that.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR SNOW TRIP Don't rush! Getting to the New Zealand resorts takes time so organise that into your day and enjoy the drive because the scenery is spectacular. Get to the mountain early –it's always best first thing when the snow is fresh and you are fresh. Take a lesson, whatever level, because this will get you enjoying it straightaway, and if you're advanced, its always great to have someone choose the runs. Every resort is full of hidden gems you are less likely to find yourself.
WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS SEASON Welcoming people home and meeting new people. Having the opportunity to meet so many new people in our staff and among our guests is a gift. So many of these encounters will develop into lifelong friendships. Not many people get to experience this as often as we do.
WANT A SNOW JOB? HERE'S WHAT IT TAKES TO BE...
A SKI INSTRUCTOR
You can be any age – we have a lot of instructors post-career or semi-retired. The main thing is to be passionate about the sport and be a good communicator. After you apply online, we have an interview day in June when we have a quick look at peoples' skiing (you have to be comfortable skiing parallel on easy black runs) and if that's fine, we then work on their communication skills. They go through a Level 1 course with an exam at the end of that. Get through that and by the end of June you can be up and running.
Cate Sullivan, Mount Buller, Victoria
A TERRAIN PARK SUPERVISOR
I've had a pretty broad scope of experience – from IT to plant operations to welding and fabrication – and I've taken elements from these jobs and applied it to my job. But most people work their way up, and are often decent skiers or snowboarders who understand what works in a park. Often they've worked on snow groomers, which requires specific qualifications and training.
Karl Fuller, Perisher, NSW
AN OLYMPIC SKIER
We're lucky that our office is the mountains, but there's a lot of hard work that goes into this job. It's a full-time job and you spend about 200 days a year away from home competing and training. Mogul skiing is physically demanding, so training involves a lot of time in the gym. We'll ski in minus-35 degrees, get soaked to the bone for hours on end and train in 150km/h winds.
Britt Cox, Falls Creek, Victoria
A SKI PATROLLER
On most mountains you start as a volunteer on ski patrol. This helps you develop your on-mountain skills so that when you are assessed you're proven to be competent to perform rescues in all conditions, all over the mountain. You are then inducted and assessed again and if you pass, you'll be invited to ski patrol where you'll serve a two-year traineeship which includes intensive first aid training.
Bill Barker, Mount Hotham, Victoria
A HELI-SKI GUIDE
We're trained through the New Zealand Mountains Guides Association. It's a high-level qualification. To become a qualified ski guide or a fully qualified mountain guide it takes many courses and three to six years. It's a big commitment but once you're qualified, you have a vocation that allows you to travel and work in different countries, and to ski different areas.
Tarn Pilkington, Southern Lakes Heli-ski, Queenstown, New Zealand
A SKI COMPANY GENERAL MANAGER
You'll need good business acumen and strength in a core business area. In the GM roles, people should be inspiring leaders who can develop and lead culture and be a champion of change. The world is getting more and more competitive so any good general manager needs to define what is unique about their business and find the advantages that will keep them moving ahead of the pack.
Bridget Legnavsky, Cardrona, New Zealand
WHICH SNOW RESORT IS THAT?
FALLS CREEK, VIC
NEED TO KNOW Looking for that European-style ski-in, ski-out ski village without a car in sight? Then Falls Creek is your spot. You'll need a snow-cat to your accommodation then just walk everywhere.
NEW FOR 2019 Not a lot, but it's the little things that count at Falls. Like the hippest new lounge bar on the Australian ski slopes at local hot-spot Elk at Falls; it's a mysterious after-dark bar behind an emerald curtain. The big event, every year on the last weekend in August, is the Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia's biggest cross country ski festival; see hoppet.com.au
FOR When you picture a ski holiday, this is the place you'll conjure. It's ideal for families, but there's plenty of bars and restaurants so couples and singles have it made, too.
AGAINST Expert skiers and boarders may discover the terrain doesn't challenge them enough. There are great parks but if you want steep thrills, Hotham's a better bet.
NEED TO KNOW Hotham is where serious skiers and boarders go for legendary powder snow and challenging backcountry. It's also the only ski resort in Australia with its village above the slopes, so the views are ridiculous, and you can ski your first run without riding a chairlift.
NEW FOR 2019 Get into Hotham's famed backcountry with a new range of guided backcountry tours starting this year, and clinics and workshops to help you master it. There's also a Backcountry Festival on September 7 and 8. Track how much terrain you cover on a brand-new app with instant tracking capabilities.
FOR With its own airport and the bonus village of Dinner Plain full of restaurants and bars just down the road, Hotham isn't just for hard-core skiers. It also suits those who barely bother making it onto the slopes.
AGAINST Despite 20 per cent of the mountain being graded beginner, complete novices might prefer the easier slopes – and slower skiers – of other Australian resorts.
MOUNT BULLER, VIC
NEED TO KNOW At just 3½ hours from the city, this is very much Melbourne's mountain. Great for accomplished skiers and families with village adventures such as the Gnome Roam.
NEW FOR 2019 There's more going on at Mount Buller than almost all the other Australian areas combined: A new $6 million six-seater chairlift replaces the Blue Bullet; the classic Kooroora Hotel has been demolished and stage one of a new development, with a hotel included, will open this season with apartments and more next season. Snowmaking capacity has also been increased.
FOR Easy access, good food on-mountain (Koflers and Tirol) and in the village (Kaptans at Pension Grimus and Black Cockatoo) and apres (Snow Pony, Herbies, The Birdcage) scene.
AGAINST It is bombarded on winter weekends, so much so the "full" sign went up and the access road was closed a few times last year. Visit mid-week or later in the season to avoid the crowds and make the most of the mountain.
NEED TO KNOW Australia's answer to the mega-resorts of Europe, Perisher is the largest ski resort in the southern hemisphere (it's four resort areas combined and is even accessed by train). It's family-friendly with lots of green runs, but there are also the Antipode's best terrain parks.
NEW FOR 2019 New chairlift the Leichhardt Quad Chair will increase capacity by 75 per cent from what was a T-bar. And check out the events calendar this season because it's non-stop, with something on every weekend.
FOR There are 47 lifts here and it's twice the size of Mount Buller and Hotham combined so you'll always find a run that suits you.
AGAINST It gets crowded during school holidays when the race is on for a spot in the car park unless you take the train, or stay in one of the on-mountain accommodation options.
NEED TO KNOW The closest thing Australia has to a year-round mountain resort, Thredbo has fabulous natural advantages: long runs, a river running through it, a charming village in layout, art and architecture.
NEW FOR 2019 Not much, as its village, lifts and snowmaking work well. Thredbo's sights are set on medium-term projects including an eight-person gondola up to a new upper-mountain base at Merritts and expanded children's and beginner facilities at Friday Flat.
FOR Rated Best Australian Resort at the last two World Ski Awards. Big vertical drop and varied terrain make for great skiing and boarding. Good eating options on and off-mountain along with a smart (the Denman, darling) and lively (Mumm Poolside, petal) apres-ski scene.
AGAINST Weather can be wet down low and windy up high, the Friday Flat beginner area is often very crowded.