Snow and powder-white mountain tops are not what one usually associates with Australia. The fact that the temperature could drop below zero might feel absurd. But think again. Because in the south-eastern part of the state of New South Wales lies the Australian Alps and the Snowy Mountains. The contrasts are striking. During winter, the eucalyptus trees are embedded in a soft snowy blanket and the sun is glistening over the mountains. This is one of two alpine areas in the country. And skiing is great in these regions. The Snowies are part of the Great Dividing Range and are located right on the border of the southern state Victoria. With barren mountains and expected snowfall every year, there are several ski-resorts scattered around the area. The resorts Thredbo and Perisher, Charlotte Pass and Selwyn Snowfields live up during the winter, attracting adventurous tourists and skiers from all over. The season is short but intense. Between the beginning of June to the end of August, the ski-lopes are open, and the snow cannons are working non-stop when needed to ensure powder-white pistes. High season also means job opportunities. Young people flock to the resorts to work there during winter. After spending long days among the crowds in stiff ski-boots, take a breather in one of the local restaurants. Relax with some good food and listen to live music filling the air. But, make sure you have enough money to spend. A ski holiday here is far from cheap.
If skiing or snowboarding is not really your thing, it works just as well coming here during the warmer seasons. There are plenty of activities to indulge in when the snow melts and the heat slowly returns. The mountains are great for hikes, with wonderful views. Discover clear streams and lakes, just stop for a rest whenever you feel like it. Come here in spring when the wildflowers are in bloom, dressing the mountains in colourful blankets. Many rare plant species thrive in the alpine landscapes. Challenge yourself and take a mountain bike along one of the many fine trails. There are several hundreds of kilometres to cover if you feel like it, and there are options that suit both beginners and more experienced cyclists. Or get a different view of the mountains by trying horseback riding together with informative guides that take you through valleys and over the plains. And don’t forget to explore the ghostly Yarrangobilly Caves with its stalagmites and wide puddles. No matter what season, there is always something to do around the Snowy Mountains.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Kosciuszko National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/kosciuszko-national-park) is the largest national park within NSW. And, here is the country’s highest mountain peak, Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 meters altitude. You can save your strength and take a chairlift up to the top of the mountain from Thredbo. The chairlift is also open during summer. On the way to the pistes within Kosciuszko National Park, you will pass either Jindabyne or Cooma (visitcooma.com.au). They are small rural towns making their living by being located close to ski resorts. Jindabyne is closer to the National park’s entrance. Within Kosciuszko, there are four resorts. Perisher, Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Selwyn Snowfields.
Perisher Blue (perisher.com.au) is the collective name for an area consisting of Perisher Vallery, Guthega, Mount Blue Cow and Smiggin Holes. Perisher Blue is the largest and most popular ski resort in the Snowy Mountains. There are ski slopes of varying degrees of difficulty. There are many different accommodation options as well as a good selection of restaurants. Thredbo (thredbo.com.au) is also a good option. They have good slopes and the longest pistes in the Snowy Mountains. Also, they have off-pistes options. Thredbo Village is the most picturesque of all facilities. Here is a good range of activities to indulge in after a day on the slopes, such as swimming and spa treatments. Thredbo is also open during the summer. Hiking, fishing and horseback riding are popular summer activities. The guide Nev arranges horseback riding through the picturesque Thredbo Valley (thredbovalleyhorseriding.com). No prior experience is required.
Charlotte Pass (www.charlottepass.com.au) is located at the foot of Mount Kosciuszko and is not quite as easy to get to. If you want to escape hordes of visitors and families with children, this might be the place for you. The slopes are shorter but also quieter. To get here you have to use the Snowcat that goes from Perisher to Charlotte Pass (charlottepass.com.au/getting-here.html). Book through the Visitors Information Centre or the resort you live on. The trip costs about 100 dollars roundtrip per adult. Selwyn Snowfields (selwynsnow.com.au) is better suited for a family holiday. The resort is family owned and is considered an excellent place to learn to ski on. With many lighter slopes, you can gradually work up your confidence before heading out to the more advanced pistes. There is a good ski school for younger people.
Snowy Mountains are not just snow and skis. The resorts are growing as summer destinations. With its beautiful hilly terrain and alpine surroundings, Snowy Mountains is a beautiful place for hiking. Kosciuszko National Park offers many opportunities for those who like nature and photogenic views. With a network of winding paths, it is possible to travel both on foot and on two wheels. An increasing number of enthusiastic cyclists are finding their way to Kosciuszko and its many trails, especially the Thredbo Valley Trail. During spring and summer, the national park is particularly beautiful as the flowers cover the ground (snowymountains.com.au/things-to-do/activities/bushwalking-hiking).
Make a visit to the limestone caves Yarrangobilly Caves (visittumut.com.au/exploring/yarrangobilly-caves.aspx). Join in for a guided tour to learn more about its geology and the original inhabitants around Yarrangobilly. Or discover the largest cave, South Glory, on your own. But don’t forget the flashlight. Visit the Visitor Information Centre for more information and for help making bookings and getting maps. It is located at the northern entrance of the Kosciuszko National Park.
Be prepared with a big budget if you plan to go to the Snowy Mountains. Expect juicy prices wherever you turn. In Thredbo, Central Road 2625 (thredbo.com.au/restaurants-bars/central-road-2625) at 17 Friday Drive is a popular café with a mix of Asian and Australian flavours. They cook hearty breakfasts with pancakes and fried eggs, but a tip, try their breakfast burritos. Lunches consist of warming stews, soups and filling sandwiches. And they serve the tastiest coffee in Thredbo. The White Spider (eiger.com.au/index.php/our-restaurant.html) is a nice restaurant belonging to Eiger Chalet at 1 Wheatley Road in Perisher Valley. Here, locals hang out to eat or have a beer. A bit outside Jindabyne, at Werralong Road lies Snowy Vineyard Estate (snowyvineyardestate.com.au). Since the 1980s, sweet wines have been brewed here. There are also various beers to try.
Good to know
There are four Visitor Information Centres around the Snowy Mountains. You will find them in Tumut, Jindabyne, Tumbarumba and in Cooma. The one in Jindabyne has a large and helpful information centre with a café and cinema at Kosciuszko Road (snowymountains.com.au/visitor-centre/snowy-region-visitor-centre). Here are maps to download and lots of information. They are open between 08:30 and 16:30 all week. Also, visit the official website of tourism Snowy Mountains (snowymountains.com.au) before departure.
Warnings and preparations
The Snowy Mountains are one of few areas in Australia that have four different seasons. Between June and August is the ski season. The weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so be prepared that the temperature can drop without further ado. Pack enough equipment, warm clothes and water, and check the weather report before you go out (bom.gov.au). There is an entrance fee for going into Kosciuszko National Park, which can be purchased on site at the park’s entry point.
If you use a two-wheel drive car within Kosciuszko National Park during winter, the car must be equipped with snow chains. You can rent snow chains from the gas stations in the area. Also, keep in mind that some roads may be closed off, so stay up to date through Live Traffic NSW (livetraffic.com/desktop.html). The nearest airport is Canberra Airport. From here departs amongst others Virgin and Qantas (wotif.com/Flights). Driving from the airport takes about two and a half hours. You can rent a car at the airport (wotif.com/Car-Hire).
Several bus companies can take you to the Snowy Mountains from a few major cities. Greyhound (greyhound.com.au) is the largest company and runs daily from Canberra and Sydney to Thredbo and Jindabyne.
Most accommodation options around the mountains are built for skiers and lies close to the ski slopes. Make sure to book in time if you arrive at peak season. Several resorts are also open during summer, spring and autumn, but far from all. Be prepared that prices are considerably higher in winter than summer. Budget options are available at Thredbo YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Thredbo_YHA.htm) at 2 Buckwong Place. They are within walking distance of the slopes.
Stay at the centre of Thredbo Village at Kasees Apartments & Mountain Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Kasees_Apartments_Mountain_Lodge.htm) at 4 Banjo Drive. With a splendid view of the mountains and the snow-capped forests, it is hard not to be satisfied. Rent one of their apartments and relax in their Mountain Lodge. Try the baking hot sauna and enjoy a crackling fire in the evening. Boali Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Boali_Lodge.htm) at Mowamba Place is a nice bed and breakfast aimed at vacationing families. Stay here for a few nights and pay a little extra to avoid planning meals. Breakfast, lunch and a three-course dinner are prepared by the chefs every day. Boali Lodge is centrally located in the city, just a short walk from everything you could possibly need.
Along Summit Road you will find Smiggins Hotel and Chalet Apartments (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Smiggins_Hotel_Chalet_Apartments.htm). At a convenient distance to the ski lifts, just snap on the skis or your snowboard and you are all good to go. A lovely option for families with children who want to stay close to the slopes. However, a little expensive, but keep an eye on their website. Sometimes they have great discounts. In Charlotte Pass, you have many options to choose from (hotelscombined.com/Place/Charlotte_Pass.htm).
A Saturday in the Snowy Mountains in winter
08:00 – Starting the day at Central Road
To get your ski resort longings satisfied, hang out in Thredbo all day. Start up your system with a filling breakfast at the café called Central Road 2625 at 17 Friday Drive in Thredbo Village. Don’t miss out on their breakfast burritos, preparing you for a day in the snow-powdered pistes. Enjoy with a cup of hot chocolate or a strong coffee.
11:00 – To the pistes
Stay on the east side around Merrits Mountain during the morning. There are several green and blue slopes here, giving your body a chance to a gentle start. Take the Cruiser lift to the top and choose a suitable piste, for example the three-kilometre-long High Noon Cruiser. Back down, you can take Gunbarrel Express up to the Glades and then west towards High Noon once more. Continue up to the middle slopes with the lifts Sponars and Antons, where you will find more blue slopes.
13:00 – Burger in the mountains
If the sun is shining, it is difficult to beat a stop at Frostbite Cafe located at High Noon, between Gunbarrel Express and Anton’s T-bar (thredbo.com.au/restaurants-bars/frostbite-kiosk/). They offer a few different options of simple, no-frills food. Try their Wagyu bacon & Egg burger and enjoy the meal outdoors.
16:00 – Last go
After lunch, head to the slopes in the west. Take Kosciuszko Express to Eagles Nest if you are ready for a challenge. From here, you can choose on some more difficult pistes, ranked as black slopes. Further west lies Funnel Web, a black slope at just over three kilometres. The World Cup and Super Trail are two other long, but slightly easier slopes. Or try some of the appreciated off-pistes in the area.
18:00 – Restaurant visit
At Bernti’s Mountain Inn you will find Bernti’s Grill restaurant (berntis.com.au/restaurant). They serve juicy meat of the highest quality along with well-balanced wines. They also have fresh vegetarian dishes such as spring rolls and spaghetti. If you like seafood, there are good oysters from the nearby coastal resort of Tathra. The restaurant has an inviting atmosphere, a good choice in summer as well.
20:00 – Classic après ski
After having drained most of your energy in the slopes, it is time to rest. Boots and layers of clothes come off. Visit Apres Bar at Denman Hotel (thedenman.com.au/food-drink/apres-bar). Recently renovated and tastefully decorated, this is the obvious evening-destination for locals as well as tourists. Order a cocktail or stick to a classic cold beer.