Some of you might be surprised to discover that there is actually snow in Australia.
With an international reputation as a hot country filled with desert and lined with beaches, it can be a pleasant shock to learn that Australia has an impressive set of snow-covered mountains, too.
There are a handful of places to go skiing in Australia, mostly located in the southeast corner of the country where the Great Dividing Range cuts through the states of Victoria and New South Wales. When Australians decide to take a trip to these parts, we affectionately refer to it as “going to the snow” as this really is the only destination to see white-capped mountains on the Australian mainland.
I’ve now visited two of Australia’s ski resorts: Mt Buller, where I learned to ski with my family at the age of 13, and Perisher, where I recently had a much more adult version of a weekend on the slopes (which included numerous espresso martinis) with Rob and two of our friends.
Perisher, which is located in the NSW Snowy Mountains, is the largest ski field in the Southern Hemisphere and is a popular destination for both locals and international visitors. This post is going to focus on planning a ski trip to Perisher, though most of this information will also be relevant for the neighbouring Thredbo ski field which is only 15-minutes further along Alpine Way.
S – Sydney
C – Canberra
B – Berridale
J – Jindabyne
P – Perisher Valley
T – Thredbo
When to go skiing in Australia:
Australian winter is from June to August. Ski season at the Snowy Mountains is generally between two New South Wales public holidays – starting on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (mid-June), and ending on the Labour Day long weekend (early October).
Altitudes at Perisher range from 1640 metres to 2054 metres. The resort has 12.45 sq kms (1245 ha) of skiable area, 47 lifts from rope tows to high-speed chairlifts, and 240 snow guns that build on the natural snow cover overnight.
Where to stay in the Snowy Mountains:
It takes around 5-hours to drive to the Snowy Mountains from Sydney, so while it is possible to do it in a day trip, most travellers will choose to make a weekend of it. It’s best to travel down in the afternoon or evening, then stay overnight and hit the slopes the next morning. We stayed three nights and got a 3-day lift pass to maximise our ski time.
Perisher Valley accommodation:
Perisher Valley has a handful of hotels that are located on the snow such as the Marritz Hotel or the Man From Snowy River Hotel. Of course these ski village hotels are generally pretty pricey at around $400-$1000 per night, but they are also super convenient if you don’t want to be commuting between the nearby towns and the ski fields every day.
Most people who are heading to the snow choose to stay in the town of Jindabyne. This is the closest major town to the ski fields (a 20-minute drive) and is a popular spot for the thousands of skiers and snowboarders that come through each winter. The town has loads of accommodation options, and while it’s cheaper to stay here than on the slopes at Perisher Valley, it’s still not entirely budget-friendly.
A discount option would be the Discovery Parks caravan park on the foreshore, which has a range of basic cabins available. For something a little nicer, go for the Jindy Inn or Panorama Jindabyne which have simple hotel-style rooms.
Seeing as Rob and I had a rental car, we decided to stay a little further out in the town of Berridale. It did take some extra effort to drive to the ski fields each day (a 40-minute drive each way) but we did save loads on the accommodation costs for our three night stay. We chose to stay at Cottonwood Lodge, which was a simple but nice motel filled almost entirely with fellow skiiers!
How to get to the Snowy Mountains:
The options for getting to the Snowy Mountains from Sydney include driving, hopping on a group tour, getting a bus transfer, or a regional flight. We chose to drive as this option offered us the most flexibility, but I’ll give you an overview of all four options.
Driving to the Snowy Mountains:
If you’re comfortable with driving in Australia, this option is a great way to get to the Snowy Mountains. Rob and I rented a car in Sydney in the late afternoon (making sure it had folding back seats to fit our ski gear) then began the 4.5-hour drive to our accommodation in Berridale, stopping in at Canberra for dinner along the way.
Group tours to the Snowy Mountains:
Group tours are a good option for backpackers or solo travellers. Our two friends chose to join a weekend snow trip as they were on a budget and liked the idea of having someone else organise the entire itinerary. The group tours depart from Sydney or Canberra and usually include bus transfers, dorm room accommodation, and some meals. The tour company may also organise lift passes and ski hire for an extra fee.
Bus transfers to the Snowy Mountains:
If you want to travel independently, you can book a bus transfer and organise your own accommodation. Greyhound Australia has a Snow Express bus service that departs from Sydney Central Station to the Snowy Mountains (via Canberra). This leaves daily at 7AM and takes 6 hours and 45 minutes to get to Jindabyne, or you can take the bus straight to the ski fields. Murrays also offer a similar bus service that will take you from Sydney to the Snowy Mountains.
Flying to the Snowy Mountains:
Regional Express Airlines offers flights to Snowy Mountains (Cooma) airport, which is a 50-minute drive from the ski fields. The flight takes 1-hour and costs anywhere between $150-$350 each way. On arrival there are a handful of transport options for onwards travel, including car rental or private bus transfers. This is definitely the most expensive way to get to the Snowy Mountains, so not many people will choose to fly.
Getting to Perisher ski field:
Getting to the ski field at Perisher might be somewhat confusing for those who haven’t done it before. Here are the drive and bus options:
Drive to Perisher Valley:
Perisher Valley has an access road but it requires snow chains for cars, and the resort has limited parking. As the ski field is within Kosciuszko National Park, this option also means that you must pay the daily $25 per vehicle fee for entering the national park.
Drive to Bullocks Flat for the Skitube:
The alternative way to access the ski field (and this is by far the most popular option) is taking the Skitube alpine railway from Bullocks Flat. There is loads of free parking here where you can leave your car for the day. Once you find a spot, you’ll just need to carry your ski gear to the terminal then catch the train directly to the ski resort.
The Skitube is quite an adventure in itself – the train is a rack-railway that takes you through a long tunnel under the mountain and drops you off at the base of the ski field. When you get off at Perisher Valley terminal, it’s only a short walk to the chairlifts where you can hop on to your skis and hit the slopes.
Tickets for the Skitube can be purchased with Perisher lift passes. It’s not particularly cheap, but it’s definitely convenient. We ended up paying $90 each for the Skitube tickets along with our 3-day lift passes, so the price was $30 per day for the return trip up and back down the mountain. This price also included the national park fee.
Get a bus transfer from Jindabyne:
Where to hire ski gear:
We chose to go with Jindy Snow in East Jindabyne to rent our skis, boots, and poles. The store was easy to access on our way to the slopes, their service was great, and there was a nice cafe next door where we could grab our essential morning coffees. We paid $64 each for our 3-day hire – make sure you book online as you’ll get a 20% discount on your rates!
If you’d prefer to collect ski gear from Jindabyne, there are loads of options – just do a Google Maps search for ski hire in Jindabyne and you can compare a range of outlets.
There is also the option of hiring your gear from Bullocks Flat or Perisher Valley, which can be added on to your lift pass purchase. These options are obviously more expensive at around twice the price of the Jindabyne outlets, but the location is convenient and you might also be able to avoid lugging your ski gear to and from the slopes each day.
How to buy Perisher lift passes:
You can buy lift passes for Perisher online. If you purchase them in advance, the tickets are discounted. We ended up buying our 3-day lift passes a few weeks ahead and paid $348 each ($116 per day). If you buy the lift passes on-site, expect to pay up to $146 per day. The passes can be collected from a counter at Bullocks Flat terminal or at Perisher Valley.
It’s important to consider whether you will be using the Skitube when booking your lift passes. The tickets are added on as an extra when you proceed through the checkout, and if purchased separately they cost an insane $85 per day!
You will also be prompted to add on a Perisher Card through the checkout process. This card is for first timers to Perisher who have not purchased a lift pass previously. If this is you, then you will have to pay the $5 for a Perisher Card.