Part of Perisher Ski Resort Ends Season Early Due to Record Warm Winter
PERISHER, Australia - With ski season rapidly winding down in the Southern Hemisphere, Perisher ski resort announced this weekend that it will cease operations on two of its four mountain areas, Blue Cow and Guthega, citing a lack of snow. The early closure comes as Australia recorded its warmest winter on record since 1910, according to meteorologists.
The last day of skiing and snowboarding at Blue Cow and Guthega was Sunday, September 3rd. Typically these areas remain open through at least the second or third week of September, but warmer-than-average temperatures have melted the snowpack faster than normal.
"We're a little ahead of schedule in closing them, however in the past decade we have typically closed them in the second or third week of September in the majority of the last 10 snow seasons," said Michael Fearnside, Perisher's mountain operations director, in a statement.
Only the Perisher Valley area will remain open at the resort. Nearby ski areas Thredbo and Charlotte Pass also plan to stay open for now. But the early closures at Perisher's Blue Cow and Guthega mark a premature end to what has been a disappointing snow season.
Warmest Winter On Record
The early closure of terrain comes as Australia recorded its warmest winter on record. The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that nationwide average temperatures were 1.53°C above the long-term average this year.
Across the Australian Alps, where major ski resorts like Perisher, Thredbo and Mount Hotham are located, temperatures were approximately 2°C warmer than average in July. The region also saw only half as much precipitation as normal.
"The decline in snow depths has largely been at the end of the season, leading to shorter seasons," said Neville Nicholls, a climate expert at Monash University.
Nicholls added that the reduced snowpack is directly caused by climate change-driven warming, rather than changes in precipitation patterns. "It's been driven by a gradual warming," he said.
Snow Depth Trending Down
Snow depth across Australia's ski resorts has been noticeably decreasing in recent decades. At the Spencer's Creek snow course in New South Wales, which measures snowpack halfway between Perisher and Thredbo, peak snow depth has declined 10% over the long term.
The length of the ski season has also shortened by approximately 5% on average, according to a UN climate report released last year.
"Observations at Spencers Creek in NSW showed the snow season had already shortened by 5% and snow depth had dropped by 10%," the report stated. "Several other locations were also experiencing long-term falls in snow depth."
Perisher Struggled All Season
Located in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Perisher is Australia's largest and most popular ski resort. But this season has been a challenge since opening day back in June.
On June 10th, Perisher was only able to open very limited terrain, with just one small beginner conveyor lift running. Cold temperatures and high winds had prevented snowmaking operations from building up a sufficient base.
Since then, a relative lack of natural snowfall and warm spring-like temperatures have plagued the resort's snowmaking efforts.
"Mother Nature sure has made it difficult for us this season relative to my previous 21 years at Perisher," said Nathan Butterworth, Perisher's general manager, in a September 1st update video.
Despite the weather challenges, Perisher has managed to expand its terrain over the course of the season. On September 1st, 30 lifts were operating across its four mountain areas. However, maintaining coverage has required extensive snowmaking whenever possible.
Early Closures At Other Aussie Resorts
Perisher isn't the only Australian ski area impacted by one of the warmest and driest winters on record.
On August 30th, Hotham Alpine Resort closed down the Heavenly Valley lift and terrain citing insufficient snow cover. Other resorts like Selwyn Snowfields and Mount Baw Baw completely ceased lift operations in August and early September.
Mount Baw Baw, located in the state of Victoria, is one of the lower-elevation ski areas in Australia. With sparse natural snowfall this year, its limited snowmaking capacity could not sustain continued operations.
Selwyn Snowfields, despite a small mid-season reopening after fresh snowfall, shut down in early August. The resort in northern New South Wales is now closed for the season.
Australian Ski Season Ends In October
The early closures at Perisher and other Aussie resorts are even more notable given the typical Australian ski season timeline. Most resorts aim to remain open through the first weekend in October.
September is usually the snowiest month, allowing resorts to expand terrain later in the season. Last year, for example, the greatest snow depth was recorded at Spencers Creek on September 20th, measuring over 7 feet deep.
Perisher stated that it still hopes to operate through October, but its closure of Blue Cow and Guthega in early September doesn't bode well. Continued warm and dry spring weather could force the resort to shut down entirely.
Climate Change Threatens Australian Snow Tourism
The dismal 2022 Australian snow season provides a glimpse of the future challenges climate change poses for ski resorts. As winters trend warmer and drier, maintaining consistent snow coverage will become increasingly difficult and expensive.
Resorts will need to invest heavily in snowmaking infrastructure to stay viable. But man-made snow still requires cold temperatures, which cannot be guaranteed in a warming climate.
Australia's $1.5 billion snow tourism industry employs over 15,000 people directly. But warmer winters threaten the long-term sustainability of alpine resorts and regional economies that rely on them.
Perisher's early closure of key terrain is a symptom of the larger threat. Australians usually celebrate the arrival of spring. But this year, the new season is quickly shutting down the snow.
- Perisher Ski Resort closed two of its four mountain areas early this season due to insufficient snowpack.
- Australia experienced its warmest winter on record, hastening the melt of the snowpack.
- Snow depth and ski season lengths are declining across Australia due to climate change.
- Perisher struggled all season with limited openings and snowmaking capabilities.
- Other Australian resorts like Hotham and Mt Baw Baw also closed early this year.
- The premature closures highlight the threat warming winters pose to the future of Australian snow tourism.