What we actually know about Australia’s 2020 ski season so far

Hand up who can't wait to get back to days like these? Photo credit: Thredbo Media.

Six weeks ago this article link would have led to a blank page, which would have made great Covid Comedy but frustrated the die hard skiers and snowboarders who are desperate to make some turns, however limited, this winter.

Much has happened in recent weeks in the alpine regions of Australia (and New Zealand) since this whole Covid-19 heinousness (that is a word) began. 

Yes, it has been confusing. Yes, there have been conflicting messages. Yes, things are changing daily, if not hourly, regarding health and public protocols, and then how and when the Australian ski season can commence. 

What we do know today at the hour this piece is written is that all the Australian ski resort lift companies with resort management boards have worked together, with input from the National Covid Council, and alongside relevant resort occupational health and safety specialists to create a multi draft Covid Safe Plan document. This was a framework plan that once finalised was presented to both Federal and State government and health authorities last week.

This extensive and detailed plan was instrumental in the Victorian government’s decision to announce the ski season open from June 22. The season opening is pending work with industry to develop plans so people can enjoy skiing facilities.

That same industry wide plan, amended, is currently being reviewed, again, with government feedback, for industry wide protocols and further approvals. These things go back and forth until everyone has it right.

Meanwhile Mt Buller have announced they will open on June 22 if there is enough snow, and provided they get the tick of health approval for their Covid Safe Buller specific operating plan. Buller also revealed some operating changes in their announcement, with the need to limit guest volumes with a pre-visit booking system for resort entry and lift access.

Meanwhile we know that both Thredbo and Vail Resorts Australia are considering new pass options. Thredbo announced they will not be taking final transactions on June 2 for their current season pass and Vail Resorts Australia announced that they won’t be on June 1 for the Epic Australia Pass.

Vail Resorts also revealed full refunds would be available for the Epic Australia Pass should new pass options for 2020 not suit current holders. All lift pass options are yet to be revealed while the resorts wait for government approval in New South Wales to operate. 

In New South Wales we know that despite John Barilaro announcing in a press release that New South Wales will have a season this year, that those state resorts, unlike Victoria, have yet to be given an operating date from which they can commence. Though Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, says all Vail Resorts lifts including Australia should be open by late June early July.

Once New South Wales resorts are given an operating date, each resort will also be required to submit their own Covid Safe Operating Plan to be revised and advised by their relevant state health authority. 

The Covid Safe Plan preparations also trickle down to each operator within the resort who are required to have their own plans set and operating. For hotel and accommodation providers this will mean, according to the Australian Hoteliers Association in a recent meeting, collecting names and phone numbers for everyone staying and/or dining in the hotel.

There’s also not such great news for ski clubs with communal facilities as overnight stays are only permitted in Victoria if there is no communal facilities required.

The Australian Ski Areas Association has consistently said that limited numbers per day at each resort will most likely be put in place for this season. The Victorian government has flagged that shared sporting equipment should be minimised, so rentals will be impacted. 

There is still talk of reduced ski school offerings due to many instructors not arriving in the country and everything else is conjecture from no terrain parks to minimise high risk activities and reduce pressure on local medical services, to family private ski school groups only, to reduced capacity Skitube.

Whatever’s being considered now may not be considered tomorrow and then everything may change as restrictions lift further before the season even starts. So, make no mistake,  this 2020 season will be one like no other and getting it up and running is a mammoth effort.

Be prepared to be flexible when announcements are made this week and next, and if you are lucky enough to ski this winter then also be prepared to stick to the protocols the resorts have set up.

No one wants to be “that guy” that jeopardised the rest of the season for anyone. 

Remember, six weeks ago we didn’t even think we’d have a season. 

Ode to Australia's ski resorts and alpine tourism operators

Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.