Trying to decide where to go on a snow holiday? ANGELA SAURINE gives the lowdown on the top family-friendly resorts in Australia
Australia’s largest ski resort, with 47 lifts across 1245ha, Perisher is around five to six hours’ drive south from Sydney, and six hours from Melbourne. It’s made up of four resort areas – Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow and Guthega. Smiggins is ideal for beginners and families, while Perisher Valley has beginner to advanced runs, as well as terrain parks, a half-pipe, night skiing and evening fireworks shows. You can ski or snowboard, and catch the Skitube alpine railway to Blue Cow, which has a large bistro with an outdoor deck and some super fun runs the kids will love, such as the aptly named Rollercoaster. Locals’ favourite, Guthega, also has pleasant intermediate and advanced runs, and beautiful views. Children as young as three can do ski and snowboard lessons as part of the Discovery Kids program. Stay on snow in ski-in, ski-out hotels or lodge at the resort, or save money by staying in the gateway town of Jindabyne, 30km away. The family-friendly resort The Station, which is owned by the same company, has a Kids Stay Free offer for children under 14 who are accompanied by two adults in June and September. They can also eat free when you buy two adult meals.
It’s an exciting year for Thredbo, which will welcome Australia’s only alpine gondola this season! That’s right – the Merritts double chairlift is being replaced with the type of high speed, eight-person gondola found in the US, Canada and Europe. It will span over 1.3km and quadruple the capacity of the previous lift. Around a six-hour drive from Sydney, Thredbo is known for its village vibe, with an abundance of restaurants, cafes and bars, fireworks shows, and fire pits dotted throughout. The 480ha resort has 14 lifts, and claims the longest runs in the country. It also offers night skiing on Thursday nights. There’s plenty of family-friendly accommodation, including self-contained apartments, B&Bs, lodges, hotels and chalets, with a free shuttle bus linking them. The beginner’s area, Friday Flat, is a great place to learn to ski, with snowboard lessons offered for children aged from vie, while Thredbo Leisure Centre has a pool, gym and squash courts, day spa and a museum. Kids ski free in June and September, and there is also a Kids Snow Festival from September 21 until October 3, with a kids’ flare run, movie nights, face painting and more. Long-term, there are also plans for a major revamp to the kids snowsport school, Thredboland, for winter 2022, with construction to begin after this season.
The only completely on-snow resort in NSW, this small resort is particularly popular with families. Accessible by Oversnow Transport, it is the highest snow resort in Australia, with five lifts and a dozen hotels and lodges. While most are members’ only, Stillwell Lodge is a commercial lodge with a restaurant and bar, while Southern Alps Lodge and Pygmy Possum Lodge offer self-catering accommodation. The grand Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel, built in 1930, has a restaurant, bistro, cocktail lounge and bar, with bingo and trivia nights, plus Frosty’s Chill Out Zone with activities and games for children aged three to 13-years-old. The Winter Festival, held in August, is a great time to visit, with a flare run, outdoor ice bar, daily barbecue out the front of the chalet, live music and fireworks.
Sadly, Selwyn will be closed in 2020 while it rebuilds, after suffering extensive damage in bushfires earlier this year. 2020 Season Pass holders can transfer their pass to Charlotte Pass, or receive a refund. For those who want to plan ahead for 2021, the 40ha resort is wonderful for first-timers and families on a budget. It’s less daunting than the large resorts, with 11 lifts, gently progressing runs, and lift passes are about 30 per cent cheaper. There is no accommodation at the resort, so most people stay in surrounding areas such as Adaminaby, about 50km away, making it more affordable. The resort is 7km from Kiandra, the place where skiing began in Australia during the Kiandra Gold Rush in the 1860s.
For your first taste of the snow Corin Forest, just 45 minutes’ from Canberra, has a snow play area for tobogganing, snowman building and snowball fights. There’s also a small area to learn to ski and snowboard, with lessons available for ages five and up. Afterwards, warm up with a hot chocolate in the lodge, where you can sit and toast marshmallows around the central fireplace. In September, guests can bring their furry friends along for special snow dog weekends.
Victoria’s largest ski resort, Falls Creek, has a ski-in, ski-out village where you can slide straight from your door to the lifts and home again at the end of the day. It has 14 lifts giving access to 450ha of terrain, with a range of family-friendly activities including night skiing every Wednesday and Saturday on Australia’s longest green run, Wombats Ramble, fireworks on Thursdays, tobogganing, snow tubing and snowmobile tours. Dining options abound, including a pizzeria and donut shop.
The only resort in the Southern Hemisphere where the village is located on top of the mountain, Hotham has spectacular views of the Victorian Alps and Great Dividing Range. It’s around 4.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne, but if you want to splash out you can fly there – Hotham even has its own airport. The 320ha resort has 13 chairlifts and three terrain parks. But one of the best things about this resort is all the other activities, such as dog sled tours, snowmobiling and Harry the Dragon’s live show every Wednesday and Saturday. There are heaps of on-snow hotels and chalets, or stay a short shuttle bus ride away at charming Dinner Plain, which also has a Japanese-style onsen that mum will love. But dad isn’t forgotten here – Hotham is also home to Australia’s highest brewery.
Around 3.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne, Mt Buller has the largest lift network in Victoria, with 21 lifts spread across around 300ha of skiable terrain. Kids aged from three can sign up to the ski and snowboard school, and Kids Stay Free packages are offered in June and September. Teens can also ski at child prices all the way through to Year 12, and enjoy child rates for rental equipment. The resort has a range of family-friendly accommodation, with everything from full-service hotels (think kids’ zones, indoor pools and room service) to self-contained apartments and classic ski lodges with communal kitchens, free shuttles to the door and games rooms with ping pong tables. Mt Buller even has Australia’s highest cinema, which screens mainstream movies during winter as well as events such as the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. Mt Buller’s Air Zone is also a hit with the kids, with Olympic-sized trampolines, a climbing wall and a foam pit. You might even find yourself bouncing next to a winter Olympian, as Australia’s freestyle team trains for aerials and moguls at Mt Buller. Big changes have been taking place in the village in recent years and the second stage of the Kooroora complex development is finally complete for the 2020 winter season. The final touches include a new retail colonnade, outdoor dining at the Kooroora Hotel, and large open public spaces in the village centre. There’s also a new Iron Maiden Smokehouse at the top of the Northside Express offering beef brisket, smoky chicken and tater tots cooked in a converted cast-iron steam boiler that’s more than 4m long.
The closest resort to a capital city in Australia, Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort is around 2.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne in West Gippsland and just an hour from the Latrobe Valley. The small resort appeals to families and first timers, with seven lifts spread across 35ha. There’s also a toboggan park with a magic carpet and a snow play area. The village has a restaurant, a hotel, self-contained apartments, cabins and lodges. A highlight of any visit is meeting the resort’s two resident alpine dingoes, Warragul and Rowdy, at the Dingo Resource Centre. Other year-round offerings include In-Ground Trampolines, Laser Tag and Archery Attack, plus Big Air Bag.