The powder may be a little thin on the ground but Australia's resorts are waist-deep in deals, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.
YOU almost have more chance of winning the lottery than successfully predicting snowfall during the ski season. Yes, it has been less than stellar this year with below-average falls but everything could change with a solid two-day snowstorm - which forecasters are predicting for the second week of August.
Australian resort chiefs have their fingers crossed but they have also invested millions in snow-making equipment and it has paid off. Thredbo's 5.9-kilometre Supertrail is in great condition, thanks to the guns that pump out tens of thousands of cubic metres of snow a night. You won't find off-piste powder but your thighs will still get a good workout on the groomed runs.
The good news for skiers and boarders is that there are accommodation discounts and packages on offer to lure snow lovers to the southern alps. This month, if you book a three-night, midweek stay at The Denman Hotel, Thredbo, it comes with "ski for free" two-day lift passes for two people. (02) 6457 6222, www.thedenman.com.au).
The Thredbo Alpine Hotel has a $260 a person, a night, midweek "ski for free" August deal, too; a minimum two-night booking includes a lift pass and breakfast. 1300 020 589, www.thredbo.com.au.
Across the national park, buy a lift ticket by Thursday and stay at The Station resort at Jindabyne for $130 a night, sleeps six. That's $20 a person, a night, room only. 1300 655 811, www.perisher.com.au.
Selwyn Snowfields is a boutique ski school, perfect for beginners and intermediates. A five-day peak-season midweek package, including motel accommodation and five-day lift pass, is priced from $554 an adult, twin share. Each child is an extra $177. 1800 641 064, www.selwynsnow.com.au.
In Victoria, the Mount Buller Chalet Hotel has a two-night, twin share offer of a two-day lift-only pass and free two-hour lesson for beginners, priced from $599 a person, midweek, until August 26. 1800 285 537, www.mtbuller.com.au.
QantasLink flies from Sydney to Mount Hotham, where the Karnulurra lodge is offering midweek stays between August 22-26 at last year's prices - $94 a night for an adult; $64 a night for children. The lodge is close to the Big D beginner slopes and kids' ski school. 1800 468 42, www.mthotham.com.au.
Mount Buller also has a kids' $54 lift pass and if you're a baby boomer (born before 1954) and you buy a lift pass on a Wednesday or Thursday, you ski the next day for nothing.
Late-season specials include a five-night, four-share package at Falls Creek Alpha Lodge, priced from $52 a person a night, for stays from September 17. (03) 5758 3488 alphaskilodge.com.au. YHA has accommodation at both Thredbo and Mount Buller, so if you don't mind sharing a room with strangers, beds are priced between $45- $72 a person, a night. www.yha.com.au.
One of the best deals this season is the "day tripper" to Charlotte Pass. Return oversnow transport from Perisher Skitube Terminal, with full-day lift pass and lunch at the Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel is $89 an adult, $53 a child; and $69 adults, $42 children from September 5.
Tips to keep costs down
-Stay in satellite towns. Jindabyne has budget accommodation deals if you're happy to drive 20 minutes to the snowfields or take the Ski Tube up to Perisher. Staying in Dinner Plain in Hotham is cheaper, too, and a daily shuttle bus takes skiers and boarders to chairlifts.
-Book outside peak season. August is more expensive than September.
-Stock up before you go. The closer the snow, the higher the supermarket price. Shop for muesli bars, bread, milk, instant oats and fruit, then stock your daily backpack for the slopes with your pre-packed food. A bottle of water costs $4 in the snow, double that of Sydney supermarket prices.
-Join discount clubs. Falls Creek and Hotham have snow rewards cards offering members discounts on the price of gear rental. The Thredbo voucher book has similar offers for businesses in the village.