Aussies are experts when it comes to the beach, but not so much when it comes to hitting the slopes. Should you snowboard or ski? How do you buy and use your lift passes? Where should you stay – on the mountain or at the base? We've got all the tips, tricks and hacks, so get your lecture pad out and settle in for Skiing 101.
Ski or snowboard?
It's the big question everyone asks the first time they head to the mountain. How can you know which one you're going to like more before you've even tried it? Well, there are a few factors that go into deciding whether you're going to be a skier or snowboarder.
Skiing is generally easier for a newbie – let's get that out of the way first. A lot of people think snowboarding is going to be easier, but in my experience, I've been able to teach someone to ski a green run in a matter of hours, while friends trying snowboarding for the first time are still spending a lot of time on their butts by the end of the first day.
Snowboarding takes more time to master the balance and turns. However, once you're up and running, snowboarders tend to be able to scale up much more quickly – while even quite competent skiers can still find those black runs quite challenging on skis, as it requires a much higher level of technique and refinement to master.
In the end, it comes down to how often you're going to go skiing, and how quickly you'd like to be ready to go it alone. If you're not going to go often, and want to be zooming down green runs alone by the first afternoon, I'd recommend skiing. If you're willing to put in the work, are a bit of a daredevil, and don't mind the learning curve of snowboarding, go for it. You'll be hitting up the harder runs more quickly once you've worked it out.
Where to get your ski gear
You have a couple of choices here – and for newbies, I'd only recommend hiring gear, rather than buying anything straight off the bat. If you love it, and you'd like to go more often, you can always buy your own gear later – but even as a regular skier, I still hire my skis and boots. It's just not worth the investment unless you're skiing several times a season – and also it takes a while to work out what your personal preferences are.
You can hire almost everything you need – skis/snowboard, boots, poles, ski suit, jacket, apres and helmet (which is required and highly recommended for safety, particularly as a newbie who is going to be falling over a lot. Head injuries are no joke.) Or, if wearing other people's clothing gives you the ick, you can purchase your personal ski gear (ski suit, jacket) and hire the rest.
If you're buying your own personal ski gear, make sure it's warm, waterproof, and loose enough to move in. Make sure pants have a wider opening at the bottom to fit over your boots, including an internal section with an elastic that folds over your boots, and keeps the snow out of your pants. Normal clothes won't cut it here – one fall and you'll be wet (yes, snow is wet), cold and uncomfortable.
You can hire ski gear in the city, at the bottom of the mountain or on-mountain. Generally, hire is cheaper at the bottom of the mountain or in the city, while on-mountain will mean you pay for the convenience. Make sure you leave at least an hour in your itinerary if you're picking up ski gear on the way – it takes quite a while to fit, adjust, and fill out forms.
A word on apres boots: I've seen a lot of people wandering around in sneakers, gumboots and the like when they're out of their ski boots, but they really won't cut it. You'll need a warm, insulated, waterproof option if you're planning to walk around a lot in the snow – particularly if you're staying on-mountain.
Snowboarding boots, however, are much more comfortable, and many people do double duty by wearing them out and about too.
What to pack
It bears repeating; snow is wet and cold – and if it gets into your clothes or socks, you're in for a pretty crappy day. Pack lightweight, warm, stretchy clothing for underneath your ski suit, particularly layers that you can peel off easily if you get hot. Thermals and slim-line heat tech leggings, long sleeve tops, and tees are great – you don't want anything bulky or sweaty.
If you are staying on the mountain or plan to do a lot of apres-ing (drinking, eating, sightseeing etc), ensure you have appropriate apres boots that you can swap in for your ski boots when wandering around the village. They will keep your feet warm, and the moisture out. Pack warm, thick socks for skiing to avoid blisters and keep your feet warm – and wear them when you try on your boots. Buy a pair of affordable ski gloves – the wind chill can really bite at your fingers, particularly on lifts, and woollen or leather gloves will get wet, which renders them useless.
Generally in Australia, it's not cold enough to wear a beanie under your helmet – but it's great to have when you're not skiing. A pair of sunglasses that you don't mind being broken if you happen to take a few falls are great also – the glare coming off the snow is pretty intense if the sun is out. And on that note, don't forget the SPF! Snow burn is definitely a thing...
What is the deal with lift passes?
If you'd like to ski, you need a lift pass. If you'd like to apres, head up the lifts, or check out the on-mountain bars and restaurants, you'll need a lift pass. If you're planning on hanging out in the village only, or tobogganing, you don't need a lift pass.
The best way to purchase a lift pass is online, ahead of time – during busy times, and especially on weekends, there are a limited number of lift passes available, so showing up and purchasing on-site might mean you miss out. Plus, most ski resorts will issue you one to keep, so you can just load them up online for further visits, meaning you can walk straight onto a lift without the line-up.
Some ski resorts are also located within a national park and require a park pass for daily entry. Check with your transport option first, as it may be included in your transport cost, or head online to purchase a pass ahead of time.
Stay on-mountain or at the base?
Personally, I like to stay on-mountain, because it means that you can get up in the morning and hit the slopes straight out the front door – before the day trippers even arrive. But it'll cost you. Generally, private apartments can range between $1,000 and $5,000 per night, depending on how sleek they are, how many bedrooms they offer, and whether it's peak season.
You can also book hotel rooms, depending on the resort, that are priced more reasonably. For a much more affordable option, you can even look at the dorms on-mountain too – you may not get a private room, or a private bathroom, but are perfect for booking in a group and they can be fun for meeting new people.
Staying at the base means two things: it's cheaper, but you'll have to either drive up each day and park in the day parking lot or catch a shuttle bus. This will generally add at least an hour on either side of your day. It'll save you a bit on accommodation – but make sure you factor in the transport costs as well.
If you're looking for a more comprehensive rundown on hitting the slopes for a little less moolah, check out our guide to skiing on the cheap.
How to get there
Generally, you'll need to find a car. If you're set on catching public transport, it's certainly possible – but will take you a few swaps, and quite a bit of extra time. However, most people will either drive to one of the smaller towns at the base of the mountain, to the long- or short-term car parks on-mountain, or straight to their on-mountain resort.
If you're planning to drive up the mountain, you'll need a 4WD, or chains – and you'll need chains on-hand, even if you don't need to put them on your car at the time, due to sudden weather changes. There will be signs, as well as ushers checking at various stop points on the drive up, and they will inform you whether you need them fitted to your car at that time.
Hire chains for your 2WD vehicle at almost any ski hire outlet that you're planning to hire your gear from. A word of warning, however: it can get a little hairy if it's snowing or wet, so it's best to only consider driving up the mountain if you have a competent and confident driver at the wheel.
You may need to purchase a pass if the ski resort is located in a national park – and these can be purchased ahead of time. Parking should also be booked ahead of time if you're planning to park in the short-term carpark (for day trips) or long-term carpark (for overnight trips). From there, you can catch a free shuttle for the short trip to the village, and this can also be booked ahead of time.
Personally, I prefer to park in an all-day spot at one of the towns at the base of the mountain and book a transfer or catch the shuttle from there. That way, you can be taken straight to your accommodation, and unpack all your gear in much more comfortable conditions, as well as avoid chain hire and fitting. Often the park permit is included in your transport cost as well.
On the slopes
Before you head up the mountain, add the emergency contact to your phone. You never know what's going to happen, and you don't want to be stuck halfway down a mountain, with no one around, and no way to call for help. Check the weather ahead of time, and stay to the marked runs only.
Once you're ready to ski, look for small and large public lockers generally available at every ski resort – they're your first stop so that you can pop your apres, valuables, and bag somewhere safe while you ski. Change into your ski boots here, and bring only your phone, money, and ski gear. It's best to ski light!
Pop your lift pass in the upper pocket of your jacket, on the side that the lift scanners are on – then you won't have to remove it each time. Ask lift operators for tips if you've never used a ski lift before – they'll generally also slow down the lift for you so you can board more safely.
Once you're off the lift, look for run indicators on the various signboards scattered around the slopes. They'll indicate the difficulty of a run – generally, green is for easy, blue is for intermediate, black is for hard, and black diamond is for extremely hard.
Make sure you try lots of different runs and lifts – not only is it more fun to explore the entire ski resort, but you'll often find apres bars and restaurants tucked away at the bottom of the more obscure runs and chair lifts.
If you're staying on-mountain, it's best to book a table for dinner ahead of time, as they book out very quickly. There's nothing better than dinner and a drink after a long day of skiing, so check the resort's website for all your options. They may even have live music on weekends.
But most of all, have fun, stay safe, and enjoy the best ski resorts New South Wales have to offer.