Want to hit the snowfields this year? Flip Byrnes picks the best local resorts and ski runs for winter play.
Soon the flakes will be falling thick and fast here and across the Tasman, turning the Snowy Mountains and Southern Alps into a winter playground. So don’t pack away the sunscreen just yet, the Australian ski fields and resorts of the Land of the Long White Ski Run are calling your name.
Whether you’re a skier or boarder who takes their sliding seriously, someone who considers après a sport in itself or a weekend snow warrior, point your tips and get ready to ski.
The Serious Slider: Perisher, NSW
You watch ski videos on weekends (in summer). You don’t use your iron for clothes, oh no, that’s for hot wax. You need to ride and you like your terrain steep and your powder deep.
If this is you, head to Perisher, awarded Australia’s Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards in Austria last year — for the third consecutive year.
Perisher was once Perisher Blue, but like any big rock star, it’s dropped the surname — and it’s bigger than Ben Hur. The largest resort in the southern hemisphere, it has 1,245km² of riding accessed by 47 lifts covering the interlinked areas of Perisher, Smiggins, Blue Cow and Guthega.
This is one case where bigger really is better. Not only will you find two Rider X courses, but five PlayStation Terrain Parks and two halfpipes (large and mini). No wonder it’s the chosen home for many winter Olympians.
But there’s a catch (there’s always a catch): Perisher misses the magic of the village atmosphere of Thredbo or Victorian mountain top resorts. If it’s just riding you want, it’s riding they’ve got.
- Local’s tip: On a powder day, head to Eyre, the Rock Gardens of Blue Cow or anywhere in Guthega. This far-flung corner of the resort is often overlooked. Refuel at the Burning Log pub with views of the Main Range.
- Plan B: Treble Cone near Wanaka in New Zealand has fantastic natural rolls and terrain for those who like park-style play.
The Weekend Warrior: Mt Buller, Vic
Unfortunately for the powder addicts, most ski resorts are in the mountains, far from the cities we call home (6 hours drive from Sydney to the Snowy Mountains with Queenstown or Christchurch a 3 hour flight plus transit times).
So, if you like to ride as often as possible, Mt Buller is the go-to pick. Three hours from Melbourne, it’s not only Australia’s most convenient resort, but happens to be outstanding with trendy bars worthy of inner-city status (check out Snow Pony and Birdcage Bar), glam nightlife courtesy of Melbourne clientele and 300ha of riding with 22 lifts and three freeride parks.
Phew. Exhausted already — and that doesn’t include “Twilight” weekends, where skiing and boarding continue non-stop through to 8.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re wondering where to head for the opening weekend, snow on Bourke St is guaranteed thanks to a new snow maker — the “Snowfactory” — which can generate 220m³ of snow daily at well over zero. That’s big.
- Local’s tip: In the morning, warm up on the sunny north-facing slopes, then follow the afternoon sun to the south facing slopes.
- Plan B: With your frequent visits, explore off-snow: undertake a sled dog experience (Snow! Puppies! Insta-spectacular!), catch a flick at Australia’s highest cinema, go rock climbing in the Buller Community Centre or nab a massage in the luxurious Breathtaker Spa, the highest in Australia.
The Après Skier: Queenstown, NZ
Yes, this is a thing. Pioneered (surely) by the French who believe a little sport deserves a long lunch. The kind of lunch that spills into dinner, and the only reason to carry skis is to look cool.
Not all ski resorts are created equal when it comes to cosmopolitan offerings or nightlife. There are some exceptional hotspots (think The Keller at Thredbo), but if the only ice you’re after is the kind in your drink then Queenstown, the beating heart of the New Zealand ski towns, is the scene to be seen.
With more than 150 bars and restaurants, when the slopes cool down, the town heats up with a nightlife that’s sizzling. The only issue is that of choice.
People have been known to drive over 100km from Wanaka for a delicious, juicy Ferburger (ahem, guilty), but for something more sophisticated, pull up a velvet-padded pew at the glamorous Botswana Butchery, partake in pizza at the cosy Rhino’s Ski shack, sit by the outdoor fire at Barmuda, sink craft beers at Smiths or check out the newest hot spot, Little Blackwood.
Oh, and there’s skiing as well. Less than 30 minutes away, the Remarkables with the sunny big mountain feel and the rolling terraces of Coronet Peak aren’t at all shabby, and suitable for skiiers of all levels.
The Remarkables just added an extra 115ha of accessible ski terrain (now 385ha) and boasts enough fun in the surrounding craggy spires to keep riders entertained. For something different, head to Coronet Peak in the evening — skiing the floodlit, undulating terrain under the stars is a tick on the bucket list.
The night skiing at Queenstown is the best après spot, with a heated deck, DJs spinning tunes, roaring fires and delicious pizza, burgers and mulled wine.
- Local’s Tip: First Tracks (8–9am) at Coronet Peaks is $37 (with a lift pass). Empty slopes and first runs are an absolute winner!
- Plan B: Explore the surrounds, including stunning Amisfield Winery & Bistro and Saffron, considered one of the best restaurants in New Zealand, in nearby cute-as-a-button Arrowtown (and stop in at Blue Doors bar just opposite).
Keep an eye out on the website for more snow and ski destinations, coming your way soon!
You’re just as likely to find travel writer Flip Byrnes climbing in Iceland, snowboarding in Kashmir or trekking in Mongolia. For over 15 years she’s been going extra yards to provide unusual and off the beaten track pieces for media in Australia, Europe and the USA, hoping to inspire her readers to never stop exploring.