Uncertainty surrounds snow season despite ease on restrictions

Large snow falls have covered parts of Thredbo, but uncertainty surrounds if the snow season will go ahead this year due to coronavirus. Picture: Thredbo
Large snow falls have covered parts of Thredbo, but uncertainty surrounds if the snow season will go ahead this year due to coronavirus. Picture: Thredbo

The traditional start to the snow season may be just weeks away, but despite large falls last weekend, uncertainty still surrounds whether skiers will be able to hit the slopes due to coronavirus.

Australia's ski resorts say they're closely monitoring COVID-19 restrictions to determine whether they're able to let a limited number of people through the gates, or even open at all.

While some states and territories are easing back coronavirus restrictions, it's still not clear whether large gatherings of people on the ski slopes would even be possible.

Spokespeople for Thredbo, Perisher, Mt Hotham and Mt Buller told The Canberra Times they were intending to reopen as soon as possible, dependent on government health advice.

Businesses near ski resorts say they're hoping some accommodation will be possible by the June long weekend to kickstart the local economy.

Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce president Olivier Katetanakos said after a summer season that was ravaged by bushfires, coronavirus had caused a further drop in tourism.

More than 50 centimetres fell on the Snowy Mountains last weekend, but snow resorts like Thredbo lie quiet due to coronavirus. Picture: Thredbo

More than 50 centimetres fell on the Snowy Mountains last weekend, but snow resorts like Thredbo lie quiet due to coronavirus. Picture: Thredbo

"Hopefully by June or the end of May we'll be allowed to have short-term stay," Mr Kateanakos said.

"Jindabyne is at the end of the line, it's not a town people drive through. People decide to come here as a destination.

"Like most optimists, we're hoping easing of restrictions could signal the start of domestic travel."

Chief executive of the Australian Ski Areas Association Colin Hackworth said ski resorts opening up to the public was possible, but it may not look like the standard ski season people are used to.

"At the most basic level, we just need the ski lifts to turn, that's all we need to do," he said.

"Equipment rental may not be a full service, ski schools may not be a full service and food and beverages will be different."

The association says the ski industry is worth $2.4 billion a year with 23,000 jobs attached to it.

Mr Hackworth said any iteration of a ski season would be dependent on travel restrictions being eased.

Victoria's state of emergency is set to end on May 11 should it not be extended.

While those in NSW are able to travel to other households as part of a group of two people, authorities have advised against non-essential travel.

"Unless those restrictions are lifted early, a Queen's Birthday long weekend opening won't be possible," Mr Hackworth said.

"Post restrictions, the ski industry is flexible and adaptable, and will be able to operate the moment the restrictions are relaxed.

"The ski industry can operate within those boundaries."

A spokeswoman for Destination NSW, the state government's tourism agency, said it was working hard to support impacted businesses by coronavirus, including those in the Snowy Mountains area.

"Until health professionals provide advice that is different to that which is currently in place, recreational travel is not permitted and this would subsequently impact businesses in snow tourism," the spokeswoman said.

"There have been some positive signs that NSW's measures to control COVID-19 are working, and the NSW Government will continue to consider the health and safety of the community as well as the state's economic well-being."

This ski season was set to be a big one for Thredbo with the resort due to open its new gondola, which would have quadrupled the capacity of existing chair lifts.

A resort spokeswoman said a modified approach may be needed for Thredbo to comply with social distancing restrictions that may still be in place.

Skiers and snowboarders who have placed deposits for season passes at ski resorts have been told a temporary hold has been placed until further details of the 2020 snow season are known.

A Perisher spokeswoman said a final payment for its Epic Australia season pass has been delayed from May 1 until June 1.

This story Uncertainty continues to cloud start to snow season first appeared on The Canberra Times.