Perisher nails a 104 day season today, an amazing feat all things COVID and climate considered.
They are hands down our Best Aussie Ski Resort for 2020.
The length of the season is the icing on the cake. Let’s wind back to pre-winter, when we didn’t even know we would get a season at all. We were waiting how things panned out, and most importantly on the decisions of our state governments to allow any ski operations at all.
Amid all that, first Buller, then Vail Resorts (Perisher, Hotham and Falls) announced they would honour season memberships/Epic Passes respectively – while also given people until the last minute prior to opening dates to decide whether to opt for refunds or keep their passes.
Initially Victoria took the lead in providing a road map for the season to happen there, though the subsequent quarantine control failure and virulent ‘second wave’ pretty much guaranteed there would be almost no season at all there in the end.
Buller did their best, managing 44 open days for as long as regional Victorian restrictions allowed some visitors to travel there.
Buller also came back with a final ‘reward’ day for their Season Members last week, so made 45 days total. More importantly, Buller comitted to the most generous refund policy too. Given the vagaries of the season and the lockdowns, instead of attempting to calculate and deduct value for days skied they just left it to Season Members to decide how much refund they wanted –
“Given the circumstances, the RMB has decided to offer 100% refunds to everyone with a 2020 resort entry season pass or village access permit. BSL is offering everyone who bought a 2020 season lift ticket either a 100% refund or a credit for the 2021 snow season, and inviting its Season Members to decide whether they would like to make a contribution for the skiing and boarding they enjoyed in 2020.”
So Buller is a shoe-in for runner-up best resort, and #1 for customer service for doing that. After all they did for Season Members this year and given Victoria’s remarkable job in getting COVID back under control, locking in a 2021 Season Membership at Buller should be a safe bet – the lowest rate is available till the end of October here.
NSW skiers and boarders had it way better overall than their Victorian counterparts.
Perisher basically operated virtually normally from mid-July, with no need for Epic Australia Pass holders to pre-book their days after the School holiday period. Of course social distancing and masks were part of the equation, and as you can see below, even till the last day most guests respected that – for their own safety and everyone else’s.
Overall snowfall was pretty poor, but by no means disastrously or even exceptionally so. In NSW peak snow depth as measured at Spencers Creek (between Perisher and Charlotte Pass) hit 167.8cm on August 27. Which is not great, on totals the worst since 2015, though 2016 only beat it thanks to a late blizzard at the start of October, not much use for the main season.
Anywhere that had snowmaking held up well enough. That included lots of terrain at Perisher. Over at Thredbo the major fail of the main snowmaking system, and the failure of the attempted patch up job, meant conditions there were the worst for a long time.
Thredbo took the opposite option to Buller and Vail Resorts, choosing to cancel Season Passes and replace them with a flat $159 daily rate pre-purchase system with discounts for former season pass purchasers according to the number of days they pre-booked.
That provoked a storm of social media criticism as people sat online waiting hours to try to make lift pass bookings to go with often long reserved accommodation. Having just one online sales event for the whole season was pretty much guaranteed to produce that result.
How did that all translate in practice? One local Thredbo rider forked out over $2,400 to pre-purchase 44 days, which would have been covered by their $899 season pass. Then when conditions went to rubbish with the lack of snowmaking he managed to secure a refund of some days. Even then, only briefly before closing early for the season, did they drop the day pass rate. A shame really, when with the new $12 million Merrits Gondola opening Thredbo should have been a star in 2020.
As the North American season nears many resorts there are facing similar COVID-19 induced dilemmas of how to function. Most we have seen are choosing to look after their season pass holders first, an approach we applaud. Reward your loyal customers and they will reward you.
Victoria suffered more then NSW snow-wise too, missing the successive wet snow events that were major July contributors to the NSW base total. At least they got something from the ‘Antarctic Blob’, then again from the last storm which allowed Buller to re-open for one day and regional Victorians who could to get out into the backcountry at least.
Plus Rob Aivotoglou and a couple of mates even managed to ski down the access road at Buller in August, which we’ll rate Run of the Season. You would be squashed by oncoming traffic normally..
As a result, Victorian resorts had doubly delayed openings, from COVID and lack of snow. Then almost as soon as they opened in the case of Falls and Hotham they were closed again, Vail Resorts acting pre-emptively as the Victorian situation deteriorated. It’s a policy built into their North American operations for the 2020-21 season too; they are of course subject to government regulatory action, but will also act to protect staff and guests as they see fit. To cope with the vagaries of the situation they have included Epic Coverage with Epic Passes.
Mt Baw Baw followed Buller’s lead and stayed open for regional visitors as long as they could.
Tasmania’s ski ‘resorts’ struggled snow wise – Ben Lomond managed a few lift open days.
Back in July the snow industry in Australia was already looking at over $2 billion losses, a figure likely to need revising upwards when all data is in. Roll on 2021 ..