The easing of travel restrictions means that the 2020 Australian ski season will go ahead, but it may look a little different. From reduced accommodation capacities to cancelling kid’s ski school classes, resorts in New South Wales and Victoria are looking at creative ways to keep skiers and boarders safe while on the mountain.
Restrictions are starting to lift in all areas of our everyday lives – with nail and beauty salons, schools and public transport being reopened for wider public usage – but it’s the easing of regional travel bans that has perhaps been the biggest source of joy for Australians who are sick of being cooped up at home.
Cabin fever can now be cured, thanks to most states and territories allowing regional holidays – however interstate trips are still restricted, depending on the individual state border regulations (yes, we’re looking at you, Queensland). This great news for domestic travel operators. Especially those in New South Wales and Victoria who rely on the winter ski season to bolster their businesses – but even better news for snow-mad skiers and snowboarders keen to get out of the house, and onto the slopes.
The 2020 winter ski season is GO
New South Wales deputy premiere John Barilaro announced on May 20 that residents were free to travel within the state for the purposes of holidays, saying he was “Very pleased to share that this means we will have a ski season this year, however holidaymakers should be aware that ski resorts will likely need time to put COVID plans into place and you should make contact before visiting.”
Similarly, Victorian premiere Daniel Andrews announced that ski resorts in his state would be operational “slightly later” than usual, nominating June 22nd as the official date for reopening for VIC resorts including Mount Hotham, Mount Buller and Falls Creek.
Mountainwatch reports that the Victorian premiere’s announcement may have taken Victorian lodge, resort and hospitality workers by surprise, because they “like their NSW counterparts, are still waiting on approval of the operational plan they presented to the Federal, Victorian and NSW governments last week.”
So, whilst resorts they may legally have the green light for visitors, the logistics of how snow-lovers will need to safely navigate the ski runs, lifts, lift queues, equipment hire as well as bars and restaurants are still yet to be examined or approved by the state governments.
No long weekend opening parties
However, neither state will be hosting visitors over the June long weekend, which is traditionally seen as the opening weekend of the season. Thredbo resort in NSW’s Snowy Mountains released this statement to clarify: “While we welcome the lifting of the NSW travel ban, however please note that Thredbo Resort will not be opening the snow season for skiing and snowboarding over the June long weekend. This means there will be no skiing/snowboarding or any opening weekend events in Thredbo over 5-8 June 2020.”
This is in line with what a spokesperson for US-owned Vail Resorts (which owns Perisher Resort, in NSW) told Traveller, stating that they were working “with the government towards a date in late June for “the safe opening of the 2020 snow season”.”
How will things change?
Social distancing measures will need to be put in place, both on and off the hill.
Accommodation facilities including hotels and lodges are likely to operate at reduced capacities. Nick Kennedy, owner of Guthega Inn which is adjacent to Perisher resort, told the Sydney Morning Herald that he will operate at 50 per cent to reduce the risk to guests and staff.
Jen Mooney, general manager of Perisher’s largest hotel The Man From Snowy River, will do the same – if and when the ski resort reopens. But creative solutions will need to be found to ensure the health of guests, and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections.
She says of her plans, “There is always a solution. Some of them have taken a lot longer to solve than others but I’m really happy with our plan to open and even though we’ve got limited capacity it’s looking quite viable for the hotel… We’ve got some unique solutions up here that we have to deal with like boot and clothes drying rooms, so we’ve got some unique stuff that we’ve got to try and solve but we’ve got that in the plan now.”
Lift queues will be longer
Chief executive of the Australian Ski Areas Association Colin Hackworth spoke to Traveller about some potential new measures that ski-goers should expect this season, saying “Resorts are going to manage very carefully the numbers of people who come up to the resorts… Social distancing will be maintained at all times so, for example, a quad chair, you will ride alone or with family members.”
Ski runs will be less crowded
On the upside of that however, is that if ski resort numbers are restricted, the runs down the hill will contain less people at any one time – meaning you may have more of a chance of catching that fresh corduroy first thing in the morning.
Hiring equipment may be harder
He went on to list equipment such as skis, poles and snowboards as most likely still being available to rent, and that boots would also be available to rent but would be subject to stricter sanitisation protocols. He said, “Clothing and helmets will only be rented out this year if we can find a satisfactory way to disinfect those items after each use.”
So you should BYO clothing, gloves, goggles and helmets, but you should be able to rent the rest – if you need.
Group lessons may be cancelled
On the subject of ski and snowboarding lessons, Hackworth stated that private or one-on-one lessons may still be available, if social distancing measures an be adhered to – but that children’s or adult group lessons were “under review.”
Accommodation may be restricted
Many accomodation venues on or around ski resorts – like shared lodges – have shared kitchens or bathrooms, posing a potential problem for infection risks. Hackworthy said that such places would need to review their procedures so that they comply with “social distancing, hygiene and sanitisation directives”.
As the finer details are yet to be nutted out – both by the state governments and ski resort operators – the best advice we have is to regularly check in with the official websites of your ski destination of choice: Perisher, Thredbo, Mount Hotham, Mount Buller or Falls Creek.