About 8.30am on Monday, June 22, the first chairlifts at Australian ski resorts are scheduled to crank into action for the 2020 season, two weeks later than the official opening that usually falls on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
The delayed season will be different to all others.
Skiers in lift queues will be required to stay 1.5 metres apart, they may have to ride the lifts alone unless they are with family or people they live with, and they will need to pre-purchase lift tickets and resort entry online.
The slopes will be less crowded, too, because resorts are likely to cap the number of people allowed on mountains.
Rowdy après drinks and late-night alpine dinners with large groups will also be missing from the landscape, with hotels and lodges limiting guest numbers.
Under Victorian government restrictions at the time of writing (June 5), accommodation that relies on shared kitchens and bathrooms cannot accept guests. That will affect some ski lodges. This regulation does not apply in NSW.
Interestingly, this season there is no major push on ticket and accommodation deals by most resorts. As one resort spokesperson said: “Guest numbers are expected to be capped daily for safety measures, so pushing deals and products is unlikely to be the focus.”
“It is going to be different this winter as we all adapt to the constraints of coronavirus,” Buller Ski Lifts general manager Laurie Blampied said.
“We will need to limit guest volumes in resort to maintain social distancing, there will be rigid cleaning and sanitation protocols in place, our international staff (overseas instructors) will sadly not be travelling to work with us this year and our local mountain staff numbers will be reduced.
“This means that the full range of products and services normally associated with the alpine resorts will not be available in 2020.
“We are currently working, in consultation with government, health authorities and others to finalise our COVID-19 operating safely plans and once these are finalised we will share more details.”
What we know so far is that Mount Buller and Thredbo will be the first major Aussie resorts to open. They will be followed by Perisher, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham.
Bush-fire ravaged Mount Selwyn will not be able to open at all.
New Zealand resorts will progressively open during June and July and Australian skiers might have the opportunity to ski there later in the season if the much talked about trans-Tasman travel bubble comes to fruition.
Mount Buller has increased its water supply with a $11.3 million reservoir that boosts supply for snowmaking, as well as summer firefighting.
The extra water will increase early-season snowmaking capacity, and has allowed snowmaking expansion on the southern slopes, specifically Standard Run and the Men’s Downhill.
The second stage of the Kooroora apartment development at Mount Buller includes a new retail colonnade, outdoor dining and underground VIP parking. You don’t need to be an apartment owner or guest to take advantage of the prime parking, simply book online.
The resort is also opening a gallery and art space featuring alpine and ocean imagery by Tony Harrington, as well as curated collections of local art.
Perisher has upgraded snowmaking, concentrated in The Chute area of Perisher Valley and in the Leichhardt Terrain Park.
The resort, which already has the biggest grooming fleet in Australia, has bought a new $410,000 Bison X snow groomer.
Thredbo has expanded snowmaking on Dream Run, added 75 parking spaces at Friday Flat and added a Pistenbully grooming machine to its fleet.
In NZ, work is progressing at a furious pace on the new high-speed six-seat NZ$17 million ($A15.8 million) Sugar Bowl chairlift at The Remarkables, which should be ready in time for opening weekend.
At Coronet Peak, gondola cabins have been added to the Coronet Express.
Cardrona and Treble Cone, now under the same ownership, have released multiday passes valid at both resorts. They’ve both upgraded snowmaking, most notably nine new snow guns at Treble Cone.
Deals are on the backburner to some extent as resorts grapple with limiting numbers for social distancing in 2020.
But smart skiers will book online and early to get the best value. For example, at Perisher, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham you can save up to 30 per cent on lifts, lessons and rentals by buying early.
Look out for package deals that will be offered on resort websites.
If you’re a frequent skier, consider the multiresort Epic Pass or the Icon Pass.
It’s debatable whether Australians will be able to travel to overseas ski resorts for the 2020-21 season. However, if you ski a lot in Australia it may still be worthwhile considering these passes.
Five red-hot tips for season 2020
- Consider a lesson. It’s likely most lessons will be private (not group) and they might be cheaper than usual.
- You might not be able to hire helmets (for hygiene reasons), but they’re a good safety investment and cost about $100-$300.
- Disposable face masks might not be suited to skiing, but if you want to cover up, get a neck warmer that you can pull up over your face. They come in cool colours and patterns, available at ski shops.
- Many resort operators are applying reasonable terms and conditions to booking policies for these COVID-19 times, but more than ever it’s wise to pay attention to cancellation conditions.
- There might be fewer people on the slopes, but wait times for lifts might increase, so head to the mountains with a chilled attitude.
And lastly …
The skiing season wouldn’t be the same without the annual screening of the latest Warren Miller film.
Screenings of this year’s instalment, Timeless, were cancelled as we went into COVID-19 lockdown, but the promoters are working on new venues and dates between mid-June and August. The details will be posted at warrenmiller.com.au as soon as plans are finalised.
Timeless is the 70th Warren Miller film and was shot on locations including Jackson Hole, Chamonix and the expert-only Mustang Powder Lodge in Canada, where ski veteran Glen Plake (known for his distinctive mohawk haircut) makes an appearance.