A Winter Wonderland
Skiiers revel in the snowfalls as the NSW resort of Thredbo is covered by a fresh snow fall this week. Photo: Steve Cuff
It's been a long time coming but the ski season has finally arrived in force, with alpine resorts enjoying "by far the best" snow conditions of the winter.
The latest cold front has dumped 55 centimetres of snow at Thredbo, allowing the NSW resort to open all 14 of its lifts on Friday for the first time this season.
''Definitely we needed it,'' Thredbo snow reporter Emily Elkington said. ''It looks a lot better than it has.''
Another 20 centimetres is expected by Monday and all but three ski runs are open, she said.
The fresh snow cover combined with sub-zero overnight temperatures across the alpine regions should also favour additional snowmakers.
"There should be some pretty clear skies up there as well over the weekend," said Jane Golding, a duty forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology.
"August is probably the best month to be hitting the slopes this year with a late-season increase" in snow, said Rob Sharpe, a meteorologist with Weatherzone. Another front, arriving next Saturday or Sunday "also looks fairly good at this stage", he said.
While Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have all enjoyed a mild winter - last month was the warmest on record for all three - the ski resorts have struggled.
Precipitation has been plentiful but often falling as rain, while extended days of above-average temperatures have melted much of the remaining snow.
Snowy Hydro's Spencers Creek snow-depth gauge near the Perisher snowfield, for instance, had been tracking near record lows for this time of year in data going back six decades, said David Jones, the head of the Bureau of Meteorology's climate monitoring.
While the latest snow dump doubled the weekly reading to 103 centimetres as of Thursday, the warm winter has extended into this month. ''It hasn't been very winter-like for long", Dr Jones said.
Sydney is forecast to have a string of days well above the August average of 17.8 degrees until at least late next week.
At Cabramurra, in the Snowy Mountains, day-time maximums for June and last month were two or more degrees above-average. "Suddenly you find it's functioning like a sub-alpine location," Dr Jones said. Those 2 degrees effectively moves the snowline 300 metres up the mountain.
The survival of the industry, and the thousands of jobs it generates, has been increasingly reliant on artificial snowmaking.
"If it wasn't for snowmaking the industry would have been in quite dire straits this year," said Colin Hackworth, chief executive of Australian Ski Areas Association. "Instead of having a soft year, we would have had a disaster year."
While the season has weeks to run and more snow is on the way, the number of visitors to alpine resorts will still likely end 15 to 20 per cent below last year's record of 2.3 million skier days, Mr Hackworth said.