Skiing in a sunburned country

Threadbo – get amongst it!

Ask people who’ve never been what they associate with Australia, and you’ll hear things like deserts, beaches, surf, kangaroos and crocs. Did you know though that you can ski in Australia? I’m talking real snow, mountains, lifts, boozy hot drinks — the works.

If you’re an Aussie local, you may want to skip this post, but if you’re an expat like me, this could blow your mind.

Ski holidays are amongst my favourites. Slicing through (and falling in) fresh powder on a bluebird day, wintry nights snuggled up in front of a roaring fire eating calorie bomb bolognese, sipping mulled wine and getting overly competitive at charades with a big group of friends… what’s not to like?

When we moved to Sydney a few years ago, ski trips were one of the things we’d reconciled ourselves to giving up trading for the beach. We knew there was decent skiing over in NZ but that seemed nowhere as easy as a roadtrip from NYC to Vermont. Shortly after I started working, a colleague mentioned he was leaving early to drive over to Perisher for a ski weekend. Say what?? Now mind you, this was July in Sydney, a time when the Harbour City is supposedly plunged into the depths of winter (but really it feels like a San Francisco summer). How could there be snow a few hours south, when it’s 20C in Sydney?

We missed that year’s Aussie ski season and the one after 😦 But this year, we made it!

Last weekend, we drove down to Thredbo. Nestled in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Thredbo is a 500km drive from Sydney and part of Kosciuszko National Park.

Now before I get into it, I should clarify that we didn’t have particularly high expectations. Pretty much everyone we knew had told us that “the snow was crap”, that there were “hills not mountains” and that “everything was twice as expensive”. I’ve never skied in the Pocanos but my husband grew up on icy East Coast skiing and had braced himself for man made snow, thin cover and short runs. To our delight, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Here are the highlights:

1. The conditions.

Blue skies

For starters, we lucked out with the weather. On an average year, Thredbo gets 196cm snow over a 4-5 month season; the night we arrived, the resort was dumped on with 30cm of fresh snow. Yippee! On top of that, we had blue skies, warm temperatures (barely a few degrees below freezing) and plenty of sunshine. Our second day however, they resorted to making snow and the conditions got a little icy. I can see how a snow dry-spell could wreak havoc.

2. The lifts

Pure magic

The lift situation turned out to be pretty good.  Thredbo doesn’t have a gondola but the high speed quad “Kosciuszko Express” gets you most of the way to the top and it’s only a T Bar or two from there to the bowls. Also, the lines are short and very orderly. Having skied a few times in France, I have a newfound appreciation for Aussie queuing obsessions 😉

3. The Terrain

This came as another pleasant surprise as we were expecting mostly groomers and some steeps. There’s some great tree skiing, lots of rocks and bumps, a terrain park and, if you take Karel’s T Bar to the top of the mountain, you can ski Golf Course Bowl, a gorgeous powdery expanse.

Hiking down a treacherous section of Funnel Web

Our last run of the day, we made our way down Golf Course through Funnel Web. Not for the faint of heart, Funnel Web is a double black that’s narrow and uneven with rocks and roots poking out the entire way. There are lots of trees, some powder and, at times, you have no option but to take your skis off and walk (crawl?) along the face of the mountain. It took more than an hour to get down and there’s no way I’d go back in poorer conditions / with lower visibility.

4. The Village

Thredbo Village is charmingly European — another surprise, although I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kareela, the mountain lunch spot of choice (if you’re happy to splurge) oozes rustic charm and boasts waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional lederhosen and dirndl serving hearty Bavarian fare.

Apple cider and smores at the Alpine Lodge
Apple cider and smores at the Alpine Lodge

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the Aussie ability to drink, and Thredbo is no exception! In the time that I’d enjoyed my gluhwein and Niraj had had a beer, the three blokes next to us had downed a ski’s worth of shots — 15 to be precise, that’s 5 shots each. A few other tables were splitting a bottle of wine or doing shots themselves, and this was at lunch time, in the middle of the mountain, with a long run to the bottom. It’s a sight worth seeing!

5. The Skiers

Fresh powder in the Golf Course Bowl

Finally, I was very impressed with the skiers at Thredbo. For a nation with very little snow, the average Aussie skier seems pretty darn good! I suspect it may have something to do with Aussie ski school, which everyone seems to go through. When I learned to ski, I spent three days in ski school and took a couple of lessons after that, but I suspect that’s because I learned as an adult. A lot of my American friends learned to ski pretty much on their own — at most copying a sibling or a friend. It’s harder to nail that perfect form or go nearly as fast without some sort of professional training. The Aussie standard has definitely made me want to step it up!

Overall, Thredbo gets a big thumbs up. It’s definitely pricier than other ski resorts and I can see why, especially as a family, you’d be better off making the trip to Japan (and getting some of that world class #japow!), but it’s not as terrible as people made it out to be. It’s no Utah or Colarado but heck, it’s just as good (better than?) Vermont! I’m looking forward to going back 🙂

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