This is my 50th year on skis. But I have little enthusiasm about continuing to use lift-serviced resorts in Australia. They continue to raise their prices well in excess of the inflation rate. I’m not rich. I’ve had enough.
The lift rates are similar at all the major resorts: Perisher, Thredbo, Mt Buller, Falls Creek and Mt Hotham. I ski at Hotham, where I’m a member of a club lodge, and will quote their rates. For overseas readers, the Australian dollar worth a couple of percent more than Canadian and US dollars.
An adult day pass will cost $107 this snow season. Half a day costs over $90, so why bother. A seasons pass costs $1450. Mt Hotham claims that it is a “deal” to get it for $999 if I buy it by Feb 29. As a full-time postgraduate student, I can get it for $750 if I buy it now. That’s still a big wad of dough.
With only a 3-month ski season (it opens in June but there is rarely enough snow for the first few weeks), it is rare to get full value out of a season’s pass unless you live on the mountain. Climate change seems to be shortening the seasons and making snow cover less certain. Melbourne is 4½ hours away by car from Hotham.
If that isn’t enough, it costs $39.50 per day paid online or $43 per day in person to take your car into the resort, even just to drop somebody off let along park overnight. A winter pass for park entry costs $460 or $395 if you purchase online well before the season starts. That only gets you into Mt Hotham. If you plan to visit other resorts in Victoria (Lake Mountain, Mt Baw Baw, Falls Creek or Mt Buller) then an all-resort pass will set you back $554 or $481 in advance. They each have similarly steep resort entry fees charged by them, not the government, and help fund their operations like snow clearing. Over the past decade, the resort entry fees have more than doubled.
This is unlike the New South Wales resorts Perisher and Thredbo that operate within New South Wales “National” Parks. There it is the government that charges $27 per day or $190 per season if you need to drive in (if you take the Ski Tube, you don’t have to pay to get into Perisher). At least that pass gets you into every national park in NSW for a whole year. The price has increased only marginally over the past decade.
So in the upcoming Australian winter, for the first time in many years I’ll pay as I go rather than invest in any pre-purchased pass. Although I just bought some new downhill skis, I’ll probably only use the lifts on a handful of choice days. The rest of the time I’ll pay the still relatively low trail-head fees to cross-country ski on groomed tracks and also venture more into the back country. I’ll car-pool or bus into the resorts when possible. And I’ll drive up to NSW once or twice.
The Victorian resorts are surely being run by their bean-counters. If climate uncertainty wasn’t bad enough, they will continue to lose customers who increasingly realise that winter snow sports do far too much damage to credit card balances. The massive cost, especially resort entry and parking, comes as a rude shock to most families who would venture up the mountain for the first time. They won’t return, preferring instead to fly to New Zealand or beyond to slide if they can afford it at all.
The whole marketing campaign in Australia is to promote snow sports not as a sport to be exercised over the whole season, but as a holiday event to be used up in one go. This has never been a sustainable strategy.
I wonder what would happen if the resorts actually dropped prices, even a bit? What about giving visitors an incremental discount for returning multiple times. What about season passes that pay off in a week. People would take up the offers, and the resorts would probably make more money overall.
In this my 50th year on skis, you will find me far away from the fleeced and thinning crowd, enjoying the fine wilderness of the Australian high country with my bank account intact.
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