Snowmaking saves the day – get used to it

Snowmaking saves the day is something we might as well get used to.

The experts have been telling us for over 30 years in report after report about the detrimental effects climate change would and is having on Australia’s already limited snowfall zones as these inexorably shrink to higher and higher altitudes. With Kozi topping out at 2229m it does not leave us much margin for error. Or room to go skiing.

It’s ironic as “Listen to the experts” is now the mantra of all our governments now in relation to COVID-19.

Indeed it’s “Listen and obey!” in fact, just ask Victorians.

Snowmaking saves the day at the Cruiser chair Thredbo
The COVID-spaced queue at the Cruiser Thredbo today

Speaking of Victoria, whether you can go skiing or not is a First World Problem for the unfortunate residents of Melbourne’s “houso” high rise towers now under total lockdown.

For everyone else in lock down post codes in Melbourne of course it means they can’t go skiing either, though they can at least go shopping etc. Seems rules have changed since March, when the infamous “Sorrento Spreaders” busted out of quarantine in Colorado and flew home from Aspen knowing they had tested positive to COVID-19 and (as far as we could see from media reports) nothing happened to them at all.

Anyway, while our politicians have not been heeding the climate change experts, fortunately our ski resort managements have been paying more attention.

For the ski resorts it’s an open and shut case. They know full well snowmaking is the difference between being open or being closed for a long enough season to make the resorts economically viable.

So they have been investing heavily in snowmaking capacity, technology, techniques and associated snow management policy like snow fencing to maximize whatever natural snowfall occurs.

The 2020 season is showing that up more than for quite a while. Last season we were out there day 1 at Perisher on May 31, after early snow plus snowmaking allowed them to open with more snow than there is now. Later it rained through June (more rain events not snow events also being a consequence of changing climate) and didn’t get better till July.

This year is far worse.

“Very low snowfalls and limited opportunities for snowmaking have resulted in the lowest number of lifts operating in our resorts at the start of July in over 20 years” says Pete Brulisauer, Vaiul Resort’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Australia and Perisher.

But it’s not a total disaster – which it would have been without the extensive snowmaking.

Sure, better skiers can sit back and complain about the lack of snow and lack of lifts and terrain open. That’s the glass half (or actually 75% plus) empty view of life.

Others, especially those who have to go in the school holidays, at least have something to enjoy (well, if they can get tickets anyway).

Snowmaking saves the day at Perisher in 2016
Ripping Mt Perisher the last time the season started this slowly in 2016 © Owain Price

The last recent season start as bad as this was 2016, when in early July Perisher similarly had Front Valley and Mt Perisher operating. Yet we still managed to have a great day on Mt Perisher then. That time round there was no open skiable connection between the two zones, which problem has now been solved as more snowmaking and the new Leichardt Chair combine to make a viable link between them.

Those improvements are the neccessary precursors to the next big thing there – the long awaited 6 seat express lift for Mt Perisher. All the approvals are in place for that, hopefully the pandemic won’t lead to postponement.

That time in 2015 we talked to fellow skiers who had been there for exactly the same week in the stellar “snowmaggedon” 2014 season, who surprisingly confessed they actually got more skiing in during their 2015 midweek.

“Last year it was a blizzard, the chairs were mostly on wind hold, and there were lift-lines on the t-bars all day” one schoolteacher who always (for obvious reasons) does a school holiday midweek in July. “We were here the same week last year and there was heaps of snow, but I’ve actually got more skiing in this week”

So maybe the glass is half full after all.

As of now Perisher has Front and Centre Valley areas open, Happy Valley and Mt Perisher, plus The Summit over at Blue Cow and some beginner lifts at Smiggins.

The neighbours at Thredbo are working hard to add the Super Trail to the mix. Their COVID-19 pass restrictions are keeping the queues manageable on The Cruiser and Gunbarrel chairs which are the current options for intermediate plus riders.

Graphic showing amunt of overnight snowmaking at bottom of Thredbo
Ovoernight difference snowmaking made at bottom of Kozi chair, Thredbo

Hotham is not looking too shabby, with the Summit down to Slalom Gully offering a long enough run to stretch the legs.

Falls similarly has some decent intermediate runs open.

Snowmaking saves the day at Falls Creek
Stretch the legs at Falls

Buller has the ABOM chair and Bourke Street. Check the live cams here.

Baw Baw was looking good top-to-bottom but it’s shrunk down again for the moment as things have warmed up.

Peter “The Frog” Taylor at Snowatch is calling 25 – 45cm in the next 2 weeks to improve things. The first chunk of that later this week looks like coming in wet lower down, which won’t help Thredbo’s chances of getting Super Trail open, but filling in higher up will help everywhere.

The obvious way snowmaking saves the day is of course providing snow when there is none.

But it’s perhaps more important overall in maintaining conditions way better than they would otherwise be most of the time. Computerised systems that fire up often really make a difference.

And with winter almost half over, hey, not much point waiting much longer to go, especially for Epic Pass holders who are not paying incrementally.

Perversely, NSW closing the border to Victoria will benefit Hotham and Falls skiers looking to get limited availability tickets while restrictions apply to those as competition for them just got slashed.

For Perisher if the forecasts are correct and more terrain gets open by the end of the school holidays you should be able to just go midweeks at least.

Snowmaking saves the day at Hotham allowing ski in/ski out to operate
Ski out the door is on at Hotham