There is so much that is great about the Australian winter above the snowline, things that are well worth an award. Where else can you ski among snow gums or wander through villages with crimson rosellas darting past? But it's not all perfect; if our resorts were always at their best, there would never be a line on a Perisher lift, or to get into one of its car parks; it would never rain on the lower half of Thredbo; Mount Buller would have snow cover all the way to the entry gate and only a weekday crowd; at Mount Hotham there would be a blizzard outside and you'd be deep in a book by the fire or waist deep in the powder snow; at Falls Creek, the village roads would always be car-free and snow-covered. Which leads us to consider all the perfect parts of those mountain resorts and give them a Snowgie award for what they do best. Put together the strengths and it creates a wonderful whole. Here are 10 things we'd award a Snowgie and bring together to make the imaginary perfect Australian snow resort.
THE VILLAGE Falls Creek, Victoria
WHY With a full cover of snow, this is a genuine ski-in, ski-out, car-free alpine ski village that feels just like you're in the European Alps (albeit with avenues of snow gums and the odd wombat wandering around the village).
NEED TO KNOW Easy skiing or walking access to the ski slopes, easy stroll to bars and restaurants, no need to drive your car until you're on your way home.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Thredbo with its mix of quaint Tyrolean-style ski village and Australian bush wonderland (www.thredbo.com.au); and Mount Hotham Alpine Resort, the only ski village above the slopes in the Antipodes (www.mthotham.com.au).
MORE See fallscreek.com.au
THE ON-MOUNTAIN FEED
THE RESORT Guthega, Guthega Inn, NSW
WHY The perfect mountain lunch will be on a terrace on a sunny day. Throw in heart-stopping views over Guthega Dam to the Snowy Mountains Main Range and you're at the Guthega Inn, a family-run hotel with a warm welcome and food that is fresh, simple and, even here in the snow, good value.
NEED TO KNOW Blackboard specials and staples like schnitzels, curries, and interesting vegetarian dishes. Lunch is served daily during winter from 11am-2pm. Get there early if it's sunny and if it isn't, there's plenty of room inside.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Kareela Hutte at Thredbo – perfect position for on-slope dining, but watch yourself on the run home (thredbo.com.au); Pension Grimus Mount Buller, lunch on Saturday and Sunday only, handy village location, good value, great ambience (www.pensiongrimus.com.au).
NEED TO KNOW See guthega.com
THE SNOW HOTEL
THE RESORT Falls Creek, QT, Victoria
WHY Location means a lot and drive-in/ski-out accommodation comes close when perfection is the quest. QT delivers with the creativity and inspiration the chain is known for. Accommodation here is self-contained and just about every apartment comes with a hot tub on the balcony.
NEED TO KNOW The rooms are good, but so is the restaurant – Bazaar is one of the best above the snowline. Stingray bar combines 1950s nostalgia with a dress code that's a little chic and there's a day spa to complete the package.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Thredbo Alpine Hotel is a building very much of its era (the 1960s and '70s) but has been kept contemporary by good service and sheer charm (thredbo.com.au). The Mount Buller Chalet is a stroll from the lifts, has a relaxed reception area, lively bar and good dining options at the classy Black Cockatoo or casual Birdcage (www.mtbullerchalet.com.au).
MORE See qthotelsandresorts.com
THE APRES SKI (RICH AND FAMOUS)
THE RESORT Thredbo, Denman Hotel Apres Bar, NSW
WHY Perhaps it's the glowing onyx bar, or the signature cocktails (try the ultimate ski cocktail of Wild Turkey, gluhwein, cranberry juice and cranberry bitters) served by a resident mixologist that make this Australia's ski bar to be seen at.
NEED TO KNOW Mood-inducing house tunes by touring Sydney DJs, Florence Broadhurst wall panels, well-heeled patrons who won't bat an eyelid at cocktails starting at $20.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS The Lounge Bar at Thredbo's Alpine Hotel, with its sunken bar, live music and cool cocktails has a sharp mountain ambience (www.thredbo.com.au); Rundells Alpine Lodge at Dinner Plain, near Mount Hotham, has leather couches and open log fires, perfect for a whiskey (www.rundells.com.au).
MORE See thedenman.com.au
APRES SKI (YOUNG AND RESTLESS)
THE RESORT Mount Buller, the Kooroora Hotel, Victoria
WHY Open till 3am every night through winter, with DJs most nights and some of Australia's best touring bands playing on the others. Nowhere in the Australian ski fields is a hangover as well-earned as it is at Kooroora.
NEED TO KNOW Quintessential Aussie pub-grub, drinks specials including a generous happy hour, every type of shot available (they'll never run dry of Jagermeister), pool tables, sticky dance floor.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS The General Store, Hotham with everything from DJs (and especially DJ Eddy) to dart nights (www.thegeneral.com.au); and the Keller Bar, Thredbo, where there's a party every night (www.thredbo.com.au).
MORE See mtbuller.com.au
THE RESORT Thredbo, Friday Flat area, NSW
WHY Ski lifts can be intimidating, so any area that can get skiers and boarders going right by the car park and without riding a lift is on a winner. That's Friday Flat all over – right by the Thredbo main car parks, with the snowsports school right there to welcome you.
Thredbo has two-day packages for beginners that include lifts, lessons and equipment rental for $304 adults/$179 children and family packages including accommodation also available.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Falls Creek has Australia's longest green (beginner) run in the 2.2 kilometre Wombat's Ramble; Perisher's Front Valley makes for easy learning and progression.
MORE See thredbo.com.au
THE RESORT Perisher, NSW
WHY In the end, the market knows: almost as many people ski Perisher each season as the rest of the country combined. By and large, they're looking for cruisy terrain and here they'll find it in vast variety, with long runs deep in the mountain at Blue Cow and supertrails with just a little (but not too much) more challenge on Mount Perisher.
NEED TO KNOW Perisher has 60 per cent intermediate terrain (22 per cent beginner/18 per cent advanced) and the resort's overall edge in altitude means the snow cover is generally good.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Mount Buller's Wombat and Little Buller Spur areas are spectacular cruising runs for their aspect and length, Falls Creek's Sun Valley slopes also make the grade.
MORE See perisher.com.au
THE RESORT Mount Hotham, Gotcha Chairlift, Victoria
WHY Hotham Alpine Resort has the highest proportion of black runs in Australia and you'll find the steepest of them at the top of the Gotcha Chairlift, runs like Mary's Slide, with a massive bowl at the top and tight technical terrain on exit. On the other side of the valley, snowcats run for free to tow riders to the top for a long run through the trees and back to the lifts.
NEED TO KNOW Heart-in-your-mouth descents through untracked powder snow between tight trees that require quick decision-making, uncrowded slopes where only the brave venture. On powder days, there's no better place to ride in Australia.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Buller chutes, Mount Buller, among the steepest slopes in Australia, access via Summit chairlift; and Balls to the Wall, a short, thrilling ride between rocks just above the Basin area at Thredbo.
MORE See mthotham.com.au
THE OFF-MOUNTAIN FUN
THE RESORT Thredbo, NSW
WHY It's the complete ski village, with more than 30 restaurants, bars and cafes, a whole lot of shopping, the largest leisure centre in the Australian alps and charming walks through the village or alongside the Thredbo River.
NEED TO KNOW Options aplenty for those who like to get away from the skiing or boarding, with everything from excursions to Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's summit, to swimming at the leisure centre.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Dinner Plain village, right next door to Hotham, comes complete with onsen and day spa and sled dog tours (www.visitdinnerplain.com.au); at Falls Creek, as well as some quality restaurants, there are yoga and wellness retreats, a day spa and even snowmobiling for the kids (www.fallscreek.com.au).
MORE See thredbo.com.au
THE VIEWS AND THE VIBE
THE RESORT Mount Buller, Victoria
WHY Buller people tend to stick close to their mountain; they might ski all over the world in the northern season, but they seldom travel beyond Buller in ours. It's the engine-room of Victoria's snowfields for good reason. Proximity to Melbourne is one, but the charm of its village and the extent of its slopes are also strong factors, as are the amazing views – out over the snow-covered Great Divide one way and back to the farmlands of Mansfield the other.
NEED TO KNOW Day trippers can leave Melbourne and be on snow and skiing in a little more than three hours. Overnighters have a village with everything from movies to a museum, day spa and Melbourne-quality food and coffee. In winter, Buller hums.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS Hotham is just so hip with its mix of ridge-top village, quirky locals, hard-core terrain and hard-core partying, not to mention spectacular views of mountains like Feathertop; Thredbo has claims here for its village vibe, but the others beat it on views.
MORE See mtbuller.com.au
FIVE SKI THINGS AUSTRALIA DOES BETTER THAN OTHERS
Australia punches well above its weight in terrain parks and Perisher is the local leader, with its five terrain parks and two half-pipes built under the guiding hand of local lad Charles Beckinsale, one of the world's leading park designers. Falls Creek isn't far behind with its vast Ruined Castle park hosting massive slope-style competitions.
This has transformed the Australian industry. In a resort like Thredbo, with such long slopes and vertical drop, before snowmaking there might have been top-to-bottom skiing for 20 days, or 20 per cent of the season; now, it's virtually guaranteed on every day of winter operations. At Mount Buller, a recently installed system can produce snow at temperatures of up to 15C.
Those big oversnow machines pack and smooth the surface of fresh snow, or, most importantly, move snow back on to a trail after it has been skied for a day (skiers and boarders tend to push it to the sides). Because snow has to be "farmed" with such care in our marginal conditions, Australian groomer drivers are very much in demand overseas.
Heinz and Helmet might have brought the basics from Austria to Australia in the 1950s and '60s, but for the last 40 years, it's the locals that have taken it to another level. Australian instructors are regarded highly across the globe and that brings some interesting travel and work opportunities.
Touring and cross-country skiing bring a whole new dimension to the adventure. The best-prepared trails are at Falls Creek and Lake Mountain in Victoria and Perisher in NSW. Alpine tourers head for the majestic Bogong High Plains in Victoria or the Snowy Mountains Main Range in NSW.
FIVE SNOW THINGS AUSTRALIA COULD DO BETTER
THE KIWIS' SENSE OF ADVENTURE
Kiwis are among the biggest adventurers anywhere and it shows in their ski options. Unlike Australia (where national park laws forbid it) heli-skiing is available throughout the Southern Alps, even on the lower slopes of Aoraki/Mount Cook, NZ's tallest mountain.
JAPAN'S SNOW QUALITY
The freezing winds blow east from Siberia and, as they cross the Sea of Japan, the clouds collect moisture that falls as light, dry, powder snow. Resorts in the northern island of Hokkaido average 15 metres of snowfall each season and Honshu's resorts still average more than 13 metres.
AMERICA'S SYNCHRONISED SERVICE
Would you like fries with that? In a country where convenience is a necessity, you might have guessed that a ski holiday would come with such little fuss. Choose five-star service and ski butlers will coat-check your skis and even warm your boots overnight. Sure, you'll have to tip, but nothing runs as smoothly as American service.
EUROPE'S MOUNTAIN CULTURE
You'll ski through 1000-year-old villages and stay in pensions run by the same family for centuries. In Australia, skiing is a sport; in Europe, it's a way of life. Little wonder so many ski resorts elsewhere seek to emulate Europe's cultural depth, but the only way you get depth is to have it gather over all those years.
CANADA'S FRIENDLY WELCOME
We have so much in common with our Commonwealth cousins, and while they well and truly have us beaten on the scale and size of their snow country, they do everything they can to welcome Australians. We are one of their biggest travelling markets, and while the welcome is warm and genuine, it comes with an economic imperative, just to make it that little bit stronger.
THE WORLD VIEW: HOLY GRAILS OF SKIING
Oberlech in Austria's Arlberg is a collection of gingerbread alpine lodges, restaurant and bars, with an outlook to mountain peaks that seem to reach for the moon. There is no motorised traffic, access is via cable car and, from your hotel, you simply click into your skis and off you go to access 300-plus kilometres of runs. See lechzuers.com
THE MOUNTAIN LUNCH
At Aspen-Snowmass, the super-rich gather at Cloud Nine to dance on tables while spraying $1000 bottles of champagne in the air; for some down-home appeal, head for the sundeck at Bonnie's on Aspen Mountain for tasty, cheap burgers at communal tables with long-time locals. See aspensnowmass.com
Apres ski is almost as important to the Austrians as winning the alpine events at the Olympics. In Saint Anton, its Eurovision on ice with slopeside bars like the Krazy Kanguruh and Moosewirt heaving from mid-afternoon with big beers, big shoulders and big dance moves. See stantonamarlberg.com
VIEWS & VIBE
Jackson Hole, with that magic Teton Range for a backdrop, the Snake River slithering along below it and a funky mountain village and a lift and trail network that is as challenging or cruisy as you desire. Around here, winter is the off-season; the big tourist time is summer for nearby national parks like Yellowstone. See jacksonhole.com
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, with hundreds of activities, not to mention 100-plus restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. There's even a mountain just above town where you can bungy jump or zip-line right off the top. See queenstownnz.co.nz
Jim Darby started skiing well before they invented the detachable chairlift and wishes it had happened sooner. Craig Tansley is a tragic for board sports of all sorts and is very happy when immersed in powder snow.