Since 2008, it’s been a uniquely good-different phenomenon. Every year in mid-May, hordes of shoppers clamouring like wild animals outside grocery stores on a frosty Saturday morning.

Grown men hurtling down aisles like they’re at a high school track meet. Women leaving fingernail marks as they scrabble in the centre aisle for thermal underwear and Gore-Tex.

We’re talking of course about the Aldi skiwear sale. A chaotic, and beautiful, part of Australian skiing culture that we thought would define us for decades to come.

That was before 13 interest rate rises in 15 months, and overall inflation of 20 per cent in two years to March 2024, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In 2024, the cost-of-living crisis appears to have ground Aldi’s skiwear sales rush to a depressing standstill. Centre aisles are still stocked with the new season’s goggles, ski jackets, pants and other paraphernalia more than two weeks since the Saturday morning it opened.

“Isn’t it a sign of the current financial times that the days of the highs of the Aldi ski sales gone? Of not being able to get stock, with the long queues on a Saturday morning and shoppers vying for the last of the items,” Juliene Locke, a Sydney physiotherapist, skier and mother of three posted on the Miss Snowitall Australia Facebook group.

“Both of the Aldis in North Strathfield and Auburn Aldi in Sydney have got so much stock left, with all the bins full and a huge range of items and sizes remaining.”

Inflation all around

Never mind the cost of lift passes (we’ll get to that), prices for everything else in life have gone up significantly. With regular interest rate rises, the average annual mortgage repayments for NSW residents increased by $27,000 between December 2022 and December 2023, according to the ABS. Meanwhile renters have forked out more and more since the end of the Covid pandemic – with house rents jumping by $100 per week in just three months across some areas of Sydney.

According to the Australian Institute prices have risen “so much faster than wages that the purchasing power of the average wage now is almost 5% lower than it was before the pandemic.” In reality, according to Canstar Analysis, the average Australian needs a $3536 pay rise to keep up with inflation over the past year.

In this environment it’s understandable that many diehard skiers and boarders could become unable to find the discretionary spend to ski. That certainly appears to be the case in the US, where data from the National Ski Areas Association found skier visits dropped by five million in 2023-24 compared to the previous season. Dollars that may have previously been saved for annual ski trips are now reallocated to mortgages, rent and sky-high grocery prices.

Skier numbers in Australia were already down from 2.59m skier days in 2022 post Covid to 1.93m in 2023 after a lacklustre snowfall season and many resorts closing early. However a representative from Mt Buller told us there had been no significant dip in sales or bookings this year compared to the same time last year, but that guests may be changing how and when they ski to prioritise value.

“Anecdotally we’re hearing some people may change their plans if their budget is a little tighter this season – for example renting a lodge or apartment accommodation with friends and doing more eating in. Or reducing the length of stay by a day or two and focusing on mid-week and off-peak periods where the savings are,” they said.

The cost of skiing in Australia in 2024

The reality of skiing and snowboarding is they will never be “cheap” pursuits – and at every stage in history have cost more than other sports. Ski resorts are not immune to rising inflation, and no doubt have been stumping up more for insurance, national parks fees and operational costs (those snowmaking machines don’t come cheap) in recent years.

These days, $199 will only just cover a day lift ticket at Thredbo. Perisher is a little more expensive – up to $249 if you buy on the day mid-season. Of course, no savvy skier or boarder simply rocks up to the ticket window on the day, given there are always discounts for booking online in advance. It’s also cheaper per day to ski for multiple days – a five-day pass in July at Thredbo, bought now, works out to $164 per day.

“This day-ticket pricing policy is a huge barrier to new and improving skiers and boarders – many of whom will never ski enough days to consider buying a season pass,” Geoff Simmons commented on Locke’s Facebook post about the Aldi sale.

Let’s not even start on accommodation costs, that have sky rocketed since the pandemic for various reasons, not least being owners wanting to cover mortgage repayments (and then some), insurance rates and more.

““In 1998 I skied and stayed at the Sport and Recreation Centre for $199 including bus ticket down and weekend ski pass at Thredbo,” said Locke who priced a week skiing in NSW for her family of five at AUD$15,000.

“There’s nothing remotely reasonable in Jindabyne for less than $5,000 a week now. I could most likely spend $20-$25,000 and do an overseas holiday to ski somewhere where there is guaranteed snow, and not have to travel 40 minutes or catch a ski tube every day in order to teach my children to ski.”

Though “guaranteed snow” is surely an oxymoron anywhere in this world. Many European resorts closed early in 2022/2023 season and parts of Canada and USA had similar issues in the season just gone and even Japan isn’t immune to rain.

Ski-flation, are we really paying more for skiing and boarding?

Season passes have always been the better deal for regular skiers and boarders since Australia’s season pass wars began back in September 2011. Perisher (owned at the time by James Packer and partners) disrupted the industry, and changed the way Australians chose their resort of choice, by slashing the cost of a season pass by half. The Freedom Pass was a limited release of 2012 season passes for $699 with a $200 deposit in October 2011 and the rest paid the following May.

Thredbo soon followed with a price match limited release pass, then Hotham and Falls Creek (owned by Merlin Entertainment) announced the Hero Pass for the same price.

So, how does that compare to today with inflation?

The 2011 $699 price is the equivalent 13 years later to $952 in 2024. Which makes the current Epic Australia Pass a skier maths bargain selling in 2023 for $949 early bird prices – and that gets you unlimited skiing at all three Vail Resorts Australia resorts Hotham, Falls Creek and Perisher plus access to 75 global resorts.

Even Thredbo’s 2024 season pass, at $1795 the most expensive in Australia, is still on inflation par. The 2010 season pass was selling at $1275 equivalent to $1799 today. Yet the Thredbo season pass itself has also evolved with many more benefits and limited skier numbers on the mountain for a more personalised experience.

We’re effectively paying less for more with season passes than we were over 10 years ago. However, day pass inflation equivalents,  are around 30-50% more than over a decade ago (based on peak price).

Resort report – best ways to save at the snow

We raised the ski-flation issue with all the Australian resorts, who are acutely aware and considered the cost of living in creating their prices and packages this season.

All resorts advise buying tickets and accommodation online, at least a week in advance, to save up to 30 per cent on lift tickets. Bundling ski hire with your lift and accommodation can give you a package price that will be cheaper than booking separately.

Skiing in shoulder season (early June and after 9 September) is also cost effective – avoid school holidays and if you don’t mind spring conditions, you’ll find lower prices. Skiing at one of the smaller resorts for a day can also be a fun, uncrowded experience that is far lighter on the wallet.

“Blyton Group have frozen online prices at both Selwyn and Charlotte Pass, meaning there has been no price increase at either resort for winter 2024,” said Lucy Blyton, General Manager of Selwyn Snow Resort.

“We know Aussies are struggling and we pride ourselves on being able to offer an affordable snow holiday to all Australian families.”

Our favourite deals at Australian ski resorts in 2024

Charlotte’s Pass has a great deal called Two Buck Tuesday – where you can buy a day lift pass, return oversnow transport and lunch on the mountain at Charlotte’s Pass for just two dollars if your friend buys a full-priced “Day Tripper” pass for $151. On Thursdays, a single Day Tripper pass is $75 per person.

Value season in Thredbo is between June 8 – June 28 and September 9 – October 7. Prices come down to $175 per day for adults, and kids can ski from just $44 per day. Uni students also have access to a five-day pass during Thredbo Uni Week from Monday 22 – Friday 26 July at the cheaper price of $679 – which works out to $136 per day.

At Perisher, Falls Creek and Hotham, the Epic Australia Pass is still available until 12 June, and offers an option to spread payments across four instalments using PayPal Pay. It’s currently $1,299 for a full season of unlimited skiing and boarding – plus access to some of the biggest resorts overseas in the 2024-25 Northern Hemisphere Season.

It pays for itself in five days and effectively makes the lift ticket free if you are considering heading over to the Aussie favourites Whistler, Park City, Telluride, Vail or Hakuba during Australian summer. The Thredbo equivalent, the Ikon Pass, allows seven days at Thredbo and seven days at Mt Buller, plus access to overseas resorts like St Moritz, Steamboat, Aspen Snowmass, Big Sky and Jackson Hole, for about $2,000.

At Mt Buller, midweek tickets are 30 per cent cheaper than weekend prices and help you avoid weekend traffic and lift lines from Melbourne day-trippers. The ski lodges at Buller have some of the cheapest on-snow accommodation – for example SkiLib Lodge starts at $90 per adult per night in an ensuite room. Many offer Kids Stay Free packages. Buller also has night skiing sessions between 5-8.30pm on Wednesday and Sat nights for the cheapest in the nation at just $35.

*Additional reporting by SnowsBest.

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