While the pandemic ski seasons led to bigger crowds and busier resorts in the U.S., our friends south of the equator have been treated to the opposite over the last couple of winters. Ski resorts in Australia and New Zealand, which both had strict lockdown policies and restrictions up until just a few months ago—New Zealand actually just fully reopened its air and sea borders on July 31—were the private powder playground of nationals. Not anymore.
View this post on Instagram
“Locals supported our mountains amazingly with many coming from all over the country to ski and snowboard, but with borders reopening and international guests returning, we’re expecting a pretty big season, close to pre-Covid business levels,” said Jen Houltham, media manager for Treble Cone Ski Area in Wanaka, New Zealand. For the past two years the resort has been Kiwis only due to the rigid lockdown that made it hard for even nationals to get back into the country.
Locals we spoke to had mixed reactions, most recognizing that tourism is a major driver of the country’s economy and creates many jobs, but mourning the loss of access and empty slopes due to the return of international visitors. Winter (in the southern hemisphere) is the slow season in New Zealand, with roughly a quarter million monthly overseas visitors. Tourism at large, however, creates $16 billion in GDP, more than 5 percent of the country’s revenue.
“This season brings its own challenges as it’s the first one with Covid in our community, which adds another risk to manage,” said Houltham, referring to the strict measures New Zealand took to mitigate Covid cases and deaths. The country sealed its borders in March, 2020, making it near-impossible for even citizens to return home, and requiring all those entering the country to quarantine for two weeks in designated hotels.
Their efforts paid off: New Zealand’s Covid death toll is 2,399, in a country with over five million. But this also means the country has been hesitant to reopen fully as they learn to live with the virus in their midst.
Meanwhile, winter has shown up in a big way so far this season. “We had a huge early-season dump and the snow is in mid-winter condition already. There’s some more on the horizon so we’re in really good shape,” said Houltham. “It’s been one of the best starts to the season ever, but we’re trying to stay flexible and expect the unexpected. Our goal is to face challenges with a smile, and if we can do that we’ll come out the other end alright!”
A storm at the end of July was so big that Mt Lyford Alpine Resort near Christchurch announced that it would not be opening due to too much snow on the road, low visibility, and lifts covered in snow and rime ice. This storm brought two new feet of snow to many resorts in the area.
Just across the Tasman Sea, Australia has experienced a similar challenge. The last two ski seasons have been severely disrupted by the pandemic, with very few international visitors and lockdowns that have limited travel in-country. However, this season is off to a good start. Resorts in Australia re-opened in late May after record-breaking snowfall. Perisher, Falls Creek, Mt Hotham, and Mt Buller were the first resorts to spin lifts, with Thredbo and Charlotte’s Pass in New South Wales following soon after.
“With a huge early season snowfall, guests can be confident of good snow conditions all season-long into October,” said Thredbo marketing manager, Caroline Brauer. Demand is booming and some peak season dates in July and August are starting to sell out. Many in Australia are saying this is the best start to winter in 50 years, with a series of storms dropping ten feet of snow in some ski areas.
Even Ben Lomond, the largest resort on Tasmania off the coast of Australia, opened a month early in mid-June. “It certainly sets us up for the winter season. The snow that has fallen is a great base for us to start on and there is more on the forecast,” said Lomond’s Ben Mock. “We had a lot of work to do to get us open and it was just a sigh of relief.”
If you’re thinking of planning a trip to get yourself some of this historic snowy winter below the equator, they’re about a third of the way through the season. Most Australian and New Zealand ski resorts wrap it up around late September/early October. You do need to be vaxxed to travel to either country, as well as show two negative rapid tests in New Zealand—but not in Australia.
The post Ski Resorts in Australia and New Zealand Just Got a Ton of New Snow appeared first on Outside Online.