Photo highlights grim reality facing Aussie alpine tourism industry

The 2024 ski season has suffered a sluggish start after kicking off over the long weekend.

Small pockets of snow on Mt Kosciuszko taken by a Perisher snow camera.
A photo taken of Mt Kosciuszko from a Perisher snow cam on Monday shows 'remnant patches of last week’s light snowfall'. Source: @Antsharwood/Perisher snow cam

Two drastically different photos taken of Mt Kosciuszko exactly two years apart have highlighted a “clear trend” occurring at Australia’s popular ski resorts.

The photographs, posted online by Weatherzone journalist and life-long skier Anthony Sherwood, show a person wearing skis standing on mounds of fluffy snow that expand across the Kosciuszko National Park. The other, taken on a Perisher snow cam in the same mountain range on Monday, depicts a very different scene.

“Mt Kosciuszko holding the world’s smallest remnant patches of last week’s light snowfall,” Sherwood said on social media.

Despite the first drop of snow for the year hitting slopes in early April, resorts reportedly saw a dire start to the 2024 snow season last weekend, with only one chairlift out of 75 set to operate in NSW during the opening. It follows an underwhelming season last year after warmer than average temperatures and low snowfall failed to produce ideal conditions in alpine regions.

Speaking to Yahoo News on Tuesday, Sherwood said he simply posted the photos “to illustrate the slow start to the season”. However he explained it “is not indicative of the chances of good or bad snow for the rest of the season”.

The author said the sluggish beginning of the season among visitors could be attributed to the Kings Birthday long weekend being celebrated earlier this year, and “just natural variation”.

“Some years start slow and end big. Some years start with heaps of snow in June,” he continued, pointing to the 2010 and 2020 seasons, which saw similar low snowfall at the beginning, but both eventually reached over 160cm by September.

Despite this, “there is obviously a clear trend of shorter seasons and less snow overall due to human caused climate change in Australia”, he lamented.

A graph of the snowfall during the 2010 and 2020 ski seasons.
The 2010 and 2020 ski seasons saw similar low snowfall at the beginning, but both eventually reached over 160cm by September, However 2020 finished much earlier. Source: Snowy Hydro

A graph published by Snowy Hydro shows last year’s snowfall in Perisher Valley began just a few days behind the 2022 season, however, the 2023 season came to an abrupt halt on October 10 — an entire month earlier that the previous year.

Last week, researchers published a report arguing the country’s $3.3 billion local ski industry is “on thin ice” thanks to changes in the climate.

New modelling suggests the annual season will be slashed by an average of 55 days by 2050 due to warming temperatures and less regular snowfall.

The Our Changing Snowscapes report warns Australia’s lucrative ski and snowboard season could be wiped out in just two generations, and no matter what we do, the average resort season length will decline by 16-18 days by the 2030s.

A skier at Hotham as heavy snow falls on Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson for Perisher said the resort saw 'some amazing snow' at Hotham and Falls Creek on Tuesday morning. Source: Supplied/Perisher

Speaking to Yahoo, Nathan Butterworth, VP and General Manager of Perisher Ski Resort, said “it’s not unusual for the King’s Birthday long weekend to have limited snow coverage and is certainly not an indication of the season to come”.

“Some of our best seasons have started like this,” he added. “We typically start making snow in May each year and we’re grateful to have both snowmaking conditions and natural snowfall in the forecast this week.

“We’re excited about the season and look forward to sharing when more terrain and lifts will open.”

A spokesperson for Perisher said there was “some amazing snow” falling at Hotham and Falls Creek on Tuesday morning.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.