“Skiing in Australia?” I hear you say. Let me start off by saying that I have had some of the most amazing tree runs and off-piste skiing in Perisher that I have ever had. And that’s a lot coming from a European-raised skier. Disclaimer: I have also had some of the most miserable skiing: wet, cold, windy, and being stuck in long lines. But, boy, on those bluebird days, when there is fresh snow, there is nothing quite like picking your line down Kamikaze or Shiftys and hopping off rocks or swooshing around snowgums. A unique feeling of an innocent, childlike joy washes over me when exploring the rugged beauty of Perisher’s ungroomed powder runs that puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.
“Where are the mountains?” my Swiss-raised children asked when we first came to ski here. While the European or Himalayan peaks were created by continental plates colliding, the Snowy Mountains are instead a wide, high plateau of rolling hills that were created by magma pushing up when Gondwana broke up hundreds of millions of years ago. While the impact may not be as dramatic as the European Alps or Rockies, it created a unique and stunning mountain range with fauna and flora not found anywhere else in the world.
Situated in the Kosciuszko National Park, roughly 400km from Sydney, is Australia’s largest ski resort, Perisher. With the highest peak, Mt Perisher, being 6,739 ft (2,054m) and only about 1,165 ft (355m) of vertical, Perisher does not have any cliffs or dangerous drops but rather enables skiers and boarders to explore almost every inch of the mountain. Your biggest danger while skiing or boarding is probably being taken out by a fellow mountain enthusiast or maybe a wombat, a short-legged, muscular marsupial that lives in burrows all over the resort. These can be found across the resort but are particularly widespread in Guthega, a small ski area that was founded by Norwegian workers building the first power station of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Guthega was added to the Perisher resort in 1995, expanding the resort to its current size of 3,076 acres of skiable area, which makes it about half the size of Park City, Utah, and the largest resort in Australia and New Zealand in acres. The resort consists now of four interconnected areas: Perisher, Blue Cow, Guthega, and Smiggins Hole.
Most of the Perisher resort can be traced back to European immigrants, many of whom were employed by the Snowy Hydro Scheme from 1949-1974. Many of these European immigrants were stateless refugees due to displacement following the second World War who had been compelled by propaganda videos showing a vast, sunny country full of promise and the possibility to move to Australia. They were so excited to be moving to their new lives on this warm, sunny continent that they threw their winter clothing overboard on the ships bringing them here. Little did they know that part of the assisted migration deal was a multi-year mandatory work scheme to build seven power stations and 145km of tunnels in the Snowy Mountains range. These European immigrants saw the potential of creating ski resorts in this stunning alpine region and built the first snow huts and rope tows. The European roots are still reflected today in lift names like Telemark and Kaaten or runs called Schnaxl (which is an interesting choice if you speak German).
With an average percentage of 70% fine weather days, Perisher will delight you with countless bluebird days. The average snow depth is about 1.9m which, combined with 240 snow guns, allows a ski season that lasts from mid-June to early October which is incredible in a country better known for surf, sun, and devastating bushfires. Bushfires have ravaged the Snowy Mountains in the past, most recently in the summer of 2019/2020 when nearby resort Selwyn was destroyed entirely. While Perisher was spared that summer, 80,000 hectares burnt in the region in 2003. The skeletal white remains of dead snowgums remind us to this day that this is a land of extremes.
Perisher is part of Vail Resorts since 2015 and therefore on the Epic Pass. Since its acquisition, Vail has invested $4.2 million in a new express quad-chair, the Leichhhardt, and additional snowmaking capacity, expanding the portfolio of 47 lifts to include one eight-seater and seven quad-chairs. Together with 21 T-bars and other modes of lifts, Perisher has an hourly lift capacity of 53,990 skiers an hour. Also part of the resort are over 100km of cross-country trails, which I came to discover during the 2021 covid-lockdown, which resulted in the closure of all lifts for five weeks. For more information or resort maps, visit the Perisher Resort homepage Perisher Resort homepage or even better, come and visit!