Should Australians be Worried About the 2023 Season?

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Trying to preserve the man-made snow from the elements at Mt Buller. | Picture: Mt Buller Webcam

After some early snowfalls in May, the rain arrived in Australia and washed away the early snow cover. All Australian ski resorts are opening this coming weekend, a long weekend in Australia. However, Selwyn and Thredbo have announced today that they will reimburse anyone who has purchased lift passes or ski/snowboard lessons, as there will be no skiing or boarding possible this weekend.

Selwyn’s Opening Weekend will be without any snow-based activities due to the lack of snow. | Picture: Selwyn Snow Resort Instagram Account

Some news articles have come out in the last 24 hours, calling this the worst season ever. Sure, it is easy to freak out looking at the webcams just three days before opening weekend, but will this be the worst season on record? The answer in short: it is way too early to say. Bad starts have nothing to say about the remainder of the season, and low snowfalls in June are very common in the Australian Snowy Mountains.

Will the season be as good as last year: most likely not. Last year was a bumper season in Australia, and the odds are that this year will be below average. The prevailing weather pattern at the time was a La Niña, while we are now most likely moving into El Niño. El Niño years are characterized by below-average precipitation, which does not bode well for the ski season. That said, snowfalls come in lumps in Australia; we only need a few good snowfalls. The last time Australia was in El Niño was in 2015-2016, and everyone was worried about a repeat of 2006 when snow depth at Spencers Creek stayed below 100cm (40″) in this dreadful El Niño year.

Snow depth
Snow Depth as Spencers Creek. | Picture: Snowy Hydro Website

2015 was a season that was, in fact, similar to this year, as there were early May snowfalls, but then no snow fell for an entire month. However, once it started to snow in July, a decent base was built up, which lasted quite steadily throughout August and September. The following year, there were no early snowfalls, and opening weekend in Perisher had people skiing on a postage stamp-sized patch of man-made snow, but ski (or board) we did! Despite the awful start, snowfalls arrived in late June and built an even better base than in 2015, which lasted until November.

While this year will likely be an El Niño year with below-average snowfalls, it is a far stretch to call this the worst season ever. It is way too early, and any call on the snow cover for this season is as reliable as my Magic 8 ball.

Snow depth at Spencers Creek in 2022 versus 2015. | Picture: Snowy Hydro Website

2022 was an outlier year with above-average snowfalls. Last year was a La Niña year, and, given the 70% chance for El Niño, it is pretty safe to assume that this year will not be as good as 2022. Last year may have had high precipitation, but there were plenty of days where that precipitation was not in the snowflake form but in the much dreaded, extra-liquid form of rain. Does anyone remember the footage of the skitube being flooded? As long as temperatures stay low enough — and they are forecast to drop by this weekend — snow guns will be operating, ensuring that resorts like Perisher and Buller can open.

So to answer your questions: Should you pack your ski gear for the long weekend? Well, probably not. Certainly don’t bring the fat skis, but do bring rock hoppers and a raincoat. But should you come? Most definitely! Come for the good vibes on opening weekend, like the Peak Festival at Perisher or the Mumm’s Long Lunch at Thredbo. It’s time to get into the spirit and support Australian Alpine Resorts, which is still returning from two difficult Covid seasons. Most importantly, remember that we are still in early June, and astronomically winter does not start until Winter Solstice, which this year is June 22. All hope is certainly not lost.

Perisher’s Front Valley looks very green today, only three days before opening weekend. | Picture: Perisher Website

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