The bare facts: Mount Selwyn has closed early due to lack of snow. Photo: Kristjan Porm
As customers walked through the doors of the Snowgoose Hotel with snowflakes lightly dusting their shoulders, everybody's spirits soared. But within hours they sank again.
''We nearly got some this afternoon; we had a good little flutter,'' the proprietor, Jan Rankin, said on Thursday night. ''But it's all melted now.''
That has been the story of this year's ski season. And, scientists predict, many more to come.
The Snowgoose is in Adaminaby, adjacent to the Selwyn snowfields. Business has suffered this year from the unseasonably warm winter.
The season got off to a disappointingly slushy start. But by late July and through August falls were encouraging and above average in many parts of the state.
But now the snow is melting fast. In the past week alone, more than 30 centimetres of snow has melted at Spencers Creek. ''The rate of melting has been very significant,'' said Ben McBurney, a meteorologist at Fairfax-owned Weatherzone.
Adaminaby locals say business is down by as much as 30 per cent this year.
The Snowgoose still drew a lively crowd on Thursday night. But they were also marking an early end to the ski season.
Snow cover at Selwyn has been thinning out over the past fortnight, with temperatures as high as 16 degrees. On Thursday, the ski fields officially called time on the season.
Even the larger snowfields' PR outfits, not known exponents of understatement, agree the season is waning, nearly a month before the official end on the October long weekend.
''We've already closed quite a few runs,'' said Emily Elkington at Thredbo. ''We're not sure [we're] going to make it.''
Climate researchers agree that a longer-term trend towards warmer winters is leading to much shorter seasons.
''It's a different snow season, it's a shorter snow season,'' says Kathryn Bormann, a researcher from the University of NSW climate change research centre, who analysed satellite images of coverage in NSW and Victoria between 2000 and 2010.
Researchers believe the trend is clear: the length of the season has declined by about 30 per cent over the past decade. ''That was due to an end of season melt, rather than a later onset,'' Ms Bormann said.
Of course, seasons still vary year to year - 2009, for example, was a bumper year with plenty of coverage through October.
But the researchers believe the decline of the season is consistent with warming temperatures over the past 50 years.
Tony Sutton, enjoying a drink at the Snowgoose on Thursday, is in his 56th season and tends to agree.
''I remember plenty of early starts and later finishes,'' he said. ''Now it comes and goes.''