Typically, Australian snow lovers would be gearing up for a long weekend on the slopes to kick off our winter season.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the tourism industry both here and abroad, the popular Australia ski season has been waiting word on whether slopes would be open for 2020.
This week, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state would in fact have a ski season, albeit a little later than normal.
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The start of the ski season will be two weeks later than the typical June long weekend start, being June 22, 2020.
The industry and ski resorts welcomed the announcement, however, are still waiting on approval of the operational plan they presented to the federal, Victorian and NSW governments earlier this month about how to comply with social distancing restrictions.
In NSW, while a date is yet to be set for the opening of ski fields, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Baliaro stated that, “NSW citizens will be able take recreational trips across NSW, as long as they maintain social distancing and good hygiene.”
“Very pleased to share that this means we will have a ski season this year, however holiday-makers should be aware that ski resorts will likely need time to put COVID plans into place and you should make contact before visiting,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The opening of the ski season in NSW will not fall before the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, with a similar start date to Victoria expected.
“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 June 5-8, 2020,” she said.
HOW THE SKI SEASON WILL CHANGE
Joanne Shannon from Falls Creek Alpine Resort said the Premier’s announcement was welcomed ahead of the ski season, noting significant changes will be made to ensure public health messaging and physical distancing was in place.
“The industry, each resort and our stakeholders have been developing detailed Safety Management plans and implementing strategies to ensure the DHHS directives regarding health and safety are applied, including putting measures in place to manage social distancing and to comply with the gathering restrictions,” she said in a statement.
“An important part of contributing to safety within the resort for all our staff and guests will be through contact tracing.”
Laurie Blampied, general manager at Mt Buller Ski Lifts, agreed that the season will be different from any other.
“There will be no international ski instructors – the Austrian ski instructors are part of the folklore of the ski industry in this country,” Mr Blampied told the ABC.
“Because of social distancing in staff accommodation we’ll have reduced numbers of staff that will mean that the range of services that we will be able to offer will be reduced significantly.”
Both alpine regions in NSW and Victoria have had a shocking start to 2020, with the bushfires followed by COVID-19 travel restrictions costing the regions hundreds of millions of dollars.
Another big change that should be expected across the alpine region is accommodation facilities including hotels and lodges, which are likely to operate at reduced capacities.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald , Nick Kennedy, owner of Guthega Inn which is adjacent to Perisher resort, said 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.
“There is always a solution,” she told the Canberra Times. “I’m planning for a June 30 opening for the hotel but that bears no resemblance to anything I know about the ski resort.
“We will definitely be at reduced capacity and that capacity is largely going to be built around how many people we can feed in the hotel, and how many staff we can accommodate safely in the hotel as well.”
Ms Mooney said some of the changes within the Man from Snowy River Hotel at Perisher include alternating rooms to ensure each room was deep cleaned before welcoming other guests, and not having their traditional breakfast buffet.
CROWDS WILL BE LESS, BUT WAIT TIMES COULD BE LONGER
While plans are still in place over how the resorts will manage social distancing requirements, lift queues will likely be longer and ski runs less crowded this year.
“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,” Australian Ski Areas Association chief executive Colin Hackworth told Traveller.
“Clothing and helmets will only be rented out this year if we can find a satisfactory way to disinfect those items after each use.”
Mr Hackworth said that private or one-on-one lessons may still be available, if social distancing measures can be adhered to but that children’s or adult group lessons were “under review”.