There’s nothing quite like skiing in Australia.
We have just forked out a wad of cash at the entrance to the Kosciuszko National Park and the temperature is dropping. There’s snow on the peaks and the kids are getting excited. It’s their first ski holiday in Australia and my first visit to Thredbo in 24 years. Canberra is three hours and 10 dead wombats behind us. The hired Statesman is steaming up the mountain road when an emu wanders out of the eucalypts and onto the road. Another follows. That’s something you certainly wouldn’t see in Niseko or Beaver Creek. For nostalgic snow-tragics like me, whose enduring ski memories are linked to the baby pommer and Merritts chairlift, there is no better place to be.
As everyone knows a trip to the ski fields of Australia is fraught with certain certainties and certain uncertainties. There’s the certainty that a family skiing holiday will set you back the best part of $10,000 and the uncertainty of whether you’ll be skiing on snow, grass or rocks. As luck would have it our holiday coincides with an alignment of the snow planets and we are welcomed at Thredbo by a perfect blanket of snow on the slopes and a dusting of snow on the village. Even my Europhile husband is quietly impressed.
The last time I visited Thredbo I was a student, staying in a modest apartment in Jindabyne, making the daily trek to the ski slopes by coach. This time, it’s convenience all the way. We settle into the centrally located Denman Hotel, just across the way from the Village Square. The hotel has an outstanding restaurant, a well stocked library and a fabulous mountain view. As I tuck into a piping hot banana tarte tatin and make plans for the following morning, snow ploughs are grooming the slopes and snow makers are spewing out white stuff. I wonder why anyone would drag their family across 50 times zones and risk deep vein thrombosis to ski on the other side of the planet when all this is on the door step.
The following morning there is a small hiccup in my perfect-ski-holiday-plan when the children boycott kids’ club. They’ve been scarred by clubs in the French Alps and insist on skiing with us. After a bit of tuition we are all crisscrossing the Merrits basin, schussing down High Noon, riding the Super Trail and traversing the Sundowner. At the end of each glorious day we lock our skis in the conveniently located locker room, ascend the stairs to our lovely hotel and (only slightly) smugly think of friends who chose to ski in New Zealand, where the snow is fantastic but the mountain roads are blocked. Our friends are stranded counting sheep in Methven.
By day five the rain sets in. The beginner slopes of Friday Flat turn to slush and the Village Trail ends in a bog. By tomorrow the wet snow will have turned to ice and those perfect skiing conditions I enjoyed earlier in the week will just be another chapter in Thredbo folklore. Skiers and snowboarders will return to the more familiar pastime of skating down the mountain. But the snow enthusiasts keep pouring in. Sydneysiders pack onto the Kosciuszko chairlift and Canberra residents jam the Gunbarrel. The forecast of fine weather over the weekend is drawing the crowds.
At the Merritts mountainside eatery, it’s standing room only. My chicken laksa and gluehwein are going cold as we scour the place for somewhere to perch. I remove my rose-tinted goggles and notice that Thredbo does indeed get very crowded. And the difference between great conditions and ordinary ones is just a couple of warm days.
On the tray in front of me is an advertisement for cheap ski holidays in Japan and North America. Suddenly a ski holiday in Canada doesn’t look so absurd, after all. In a good season, Thredbo is fantastic. But I’m not so sure I’d be prepared to part with a small fortune to ski on ice and rocks if conditions weren’t so good. Fingers crossed it won’t be another two decades before I return.