Thredbo made news last week by becoming the first snow resort to have all its major operations powered by renewable energy. This weekend a huge storm system dubbed the "Polar Express" delivered 20 centimetres of snow to the alpine village on Saturday night.
I grew up in Thredbo in the Kosciuszko National Park and I am back living here after some years of absence. My parents have operated a ski lodge here since 1966 and were employees in the village and on the mountain for some years before that.
I have observed how climate change is affecting the seasons and taxing the unique, fragile alpine environments of the high country of Australia. My parents' experience of change is even more significant. They have kept a series of snowfall charts dating back to 1958, based on data supplied by Snowy Hydro, which show a trend to lower maximum snow depths and total volumes.
My parents experienced the winter of 1964 when 24 hours a day shovelling was required to keep the top station of the Crackenback Chair (now called Kosciuszko Express) open, and everything else in the village from disappearing. It was the "winter of the shovel".
Fast forward to this past summer in Thredbo, which was the hottest I can remember, with temperatures reaching 33 degrees.
The Thredbo Valley used to be an oasis when all around the Monaro region baked. But slowly the dry conditions seem to be creeping up the mountain range. The mountain pygmy possum and southern and northern corroboree frog are already critically endangered and I fear they will not survive, given our abysmal record on species extinction.
And the impact on our enjoyment of snow sports? With each passing year Thredbo and other ski resorts in Australia are becoming more reliant on snowmaking, which is an energy and water-guzzling way to produce the white stuff. All our ski resorts should be offsetting their emissions or using renewables to power their snowmaking, lifts, snow groomers and buses, as their continued existence as winter resorts depend on it.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the former head of Tourism Australia, held up a lump of coal in parliament, it was a representation of the very thing that is trashing our natural assets and ruining Australia's attraction as a major tourism destination. Tackling climate change and switching to renewable energy as we have done at Thredbo is an investment in protecting these natural assets and jobs that depend on them.
It requires a shift to a sensible bi-partisan agreement on climate change policy. And it also requires the Australian skiing population to take action too.
I won't be popular for saying this, but many of those I observe who come to enjoy the mountain environment paradoxically lack environmental awareness or sensibility. They leave their litter, make little attempt to recycle, throw huge amounts of organic waste in the bin, consume many bottles of water (when we have arguably some of the best fresh water in the country). They leave the lights and power points on, the heating high and arrive in larger and more expensive 4WD vehicles, which at certain times of the season are used to drive their kids from one end of the village to another (unnecessary given the size of the village and the existence of a free village shuttle bus service), adding to the atmospheric pollution in the valley.
By setting an environmental benchmark for tourism resorts, I hope Thredbo can not only shame some visitors into acting more responsibly, but demonstrate how investment in clean, renewable power is key to safeguarding the land, environment and activities we all love.
- Annalisa Koeman is the assistant manager of a Thredbo lodge.
- SMH/The Age