FIRST TIME TO THE SNOW

This page outlines everything that we think you need to know if you haven’t been to the snow before.  For detailed information on travelling in alpine areas, First Timers to the snow should also refer to our ‘Getting to and Driving in Alpine Areas’ page.

You don’t have to ski or snowboard if you go to an alpine resort in Winter.  Walking through a snow-covered village to dinner or a spa treatment, sitting by a fireplace reading a book or socialising as the snow falls outside the window, or just building a snowman, can be the most enjoyable holidays of all. It’s a great excuse to enjoy mulled wine, rib sticking hearty meals and experience a true Winter holiday like no other. Whatever you hope to do on a Winter holiday in the alps, here’s some of our advice to help make your trip a success.

Some resorts offer free guided tours of the village and ski areas with staff on hand to show you around and give you information and advice about the resort. Most of the larger resorts have Child Care services and some resorts even have kids snowmobile rides, adult snowmobile tours and sled dog tours, providing an exciting and unique way to explore the Winter wonderland. Fireworks are a highlight of some resorts’ events calendars and are spectacular reflecting off the snow.

Travel Insurance is worth considering. You may be surprised at how cheap it is and what is actually covered, giving you peace of mind that you can book your holiday with confidence.

What to wear/pack?  The best advice is to pack and dress with warmth and layers in mind. Layers of quality thin, light clothing are often better than heavy thick items. It’s easier to take off layers as you warm up while out on the slopes but also to have enough warm clothing on if standing in queues, sitting on chairlifts and for when you aren’t too active, yet still outside. The most important factor apart from warmth is to keep yourself dry. A day in the snow can turn dangerous if you become cold and wet and any wind will make any exposed or wet skin very cold, very quickly.

Thermal underwear is the first layer, next to your skin and often the one that’s going to make you feel the most warm and comfortable. Woollen or synthetic thermals breathe best, allowing any sweat to be drawn away from your skin and not leave you wet and then cold. Sunglasses or goggles should be worn in all conditions (and sunscreen) due to the reflection off the snow and for keeping cold wind and snow out of your eyes.  2 pairs of socks, can be beneficial to some, with a liner or thermal type sock being the first layer, next to your skin.

Most bushwalking, outdoors and snow gear shops sell quality thermals, fleeces and waterproof jackets and pants, beanies and gloves and although some are dearer than others, this is one area that you really do get what you pay for and most of these items should last many years and if you shop around and do some research, many of the ‘name brand’ outdoor stores have sales through the year and even factory outlets in some capital cities where you can pick up great deals.

Avoid wearing jeans in snow. Cotton isn’t as effective at keeping us warm and dry as woollen or synthetic materials and gumboots will not keep your feet warm. Snow boots can be hired or purchased at snow gear outlets and will go a long way towards ensuring you have an enjoyable time.

When we take Children to the snow we want them to have a great time and be warm and dry. If they are warm and dry, that’s the first step towards them wanting to come back again. If they are cold and wet, they’ll struggle to have a good time. Some time and money needs to be spent on ensuring everyone is ready and equipped for a snow holiday.

If day tripping to the snow, a change of clothes is important for the trip home. Spare gloves, socks and beanies are also very important. Often a glove, or beanie is lost if taking them off on a chairlift and dropped. Beanies, gloves, sunglasses and goggles cannot be hired and will need to be purchased. Talk to a retailer about what will suit your needs for the type of snow holiday you are planning.

To Hire or Buy Equipment? Depending on how often you are going to the snow, it can be more cost effective to buy rather than hire. It depends on how long you intend to be at the snow and if purchasing is better off in the long run, although hiring allows you to try out different types and styles. If your Children are still growing, then hiring can also be best or of course purchased gear can be handed down to siblings.

Skiing or Snowboarding? It’s a good question and can often be answered by trying both and booking a lesson and seeing what feels right for you. Skiing means both feet are separated so one can be used to support the other if you start to lose balance and you have ski poles for balance also. Snowboarding has both feet attached to one board so some find this leads to more falls whilst trying to learn and gain balance. It is common for skiers to make quick progress during the first lessons but then take some time to master the more technical aspects but snowboarders generally find once they are used to the restricted feeling of both feet attached to the same board and can turn, they progress fairly quickly to more advanced runs. In regard to falls and injuries, skiing falls tend to lead to more knee injuries due to the rigid, longer boot and snowboarding falls can lead to more wrist and ankle injuries (shorter boot). Whichever you choose and whatever your age, a helmet should be worn and can be hired from most snow gear hire shops. Some resorts won’t allow participation in their ski school programs without a helmet being worn.

Staying in a resort or off mountain? There are different reasons to either stay in the resort or off the mountain. The main reason some stay off the mountain is that it’s generally cheaper for accommodation with options in nearby towns catering for most budgets. Also, if you’re not intending to be on the snow each day, if staying for a few days, you have the freedom to explore the towns attractions off the mountain. Some towns are also located near a couple of resorts, giving you the option of trying both during your stay. On the other hand, staying on the mountain, in the resort, allows you to be based in the village, wake up to a snowy landscape, unpack once and not have to travel up and down and park the car daily, possibly fit chains and you can access the village facilities, bars and eateries on foot or via village transport that most resorts have available. Some resorts may require a minimum number of nights stay and to check in and out on specific days, whereas staying off the mountain in the towns below, will generally not have this restriction.

Night Skiing is available at some resorts on certain days of the week and on specific runs and can be great fun, with the ski run lit up from top to bottom. If this is coupled with a starry night and a big moon in the sky, this is unforgettable. There’s nothing like a full moon lighting up the snow, from casting snowgum shadows on the snow around you to lighting up distant peaks and the snow glistening in the natural light. 

Snowshoeing is a more enjoyable, often easier way to get around in the snow than walking. Snow shoes are designed so we don’t sink into the snow and therefore make it easier to walk across snow covered areas, even in deep soft snow. Some snow shoes offer excellent grip, with cleats that allow for a secure footing, even on ice. Snow shoe tours are available at some resorts and ski shops often have snow shoes for hire or purchase.

Cross Country Skiing, also known as Nordic Skiing, can take you across snow to distant places quicker and often with more fun, than walking or snow shoeing. Most resorts have designated cross country areas following kilometres of groomed trails taking you away from the main resort areas and apart from the obvious fitness gained from this energetic sport, you don’t need to purchase a lift ticket! Cross country skiers can tour areas en route to mountain huts and popular places further afield and if experienced and fully equipped, overnight camping trips can be undertaken.

Playing in the snow is often a highlight and the first experience of many first timers to the snow. Most resorts provide a designated area for snow play where tobogganing and sometimes snow tubing can be enjoyed. Tobogganing is fun but needs to be done in a safe manner and in a tobogganing designated area.  Sit down, feet first, at all times. Always use the toboggan slope being mindful of where other people are, looking ahead before you start, in case someone has stopped or fallen off going down the slope. Serious injuries are caused when toboggans hit people. Always walk up the side of the toboggan slope to return to the top, watching for others coming down that may be heading off line. Only toboggans made of moulded plastic, weighing under 2.5kg are generally allowed to be used.

Building a snowman and making angels in the snow can be enjoyed anywhere that is safe to do so. Keep clear of roads, ski runs, pedestrian areas, car parks and beside buildings, under rooflines, where shedding snow can fall off the roof and cause serious injury or death.

Some tips for keeping safe in the snow. Beware when walking near buildings when snow is on the roof. It has to come down at some point and will generally do this in one large amount that can be quite violent and dangerous. Don’t allow Children (or anyone) to play under the roofline of buildings where snow may shed from the roof. Take care walking in snow, especially on ice. If conditions around the village are icy, it’s better to find areas with snow on them or where the surface is broken rather than the smooth, glazed ice that is most slippery. Snow covered steps will become packed into ice quickly by people walking over them and compacting the snow, the snow melts and then refreezes as solid ice so stepping to the sides around the ice can be safer. Another tip when walking in icy conditions is to take very small steps, not stepping your feet far apart means your other foot is never far away for balance.

Never ski/board on roads and always approach village transport on foot, carrying your gear as the surface around these parts is often snow packed and icy from being driven and walked on.  Some retail shops in the High Country sell de-icing spray, which you can use to thaw ice from windscreens, car doors/handles, steps into accommodation and various other areas.  Upon parking your car in a resort, a great idea is to lift your windscreen wipers off the windscreen so they don’t freeze to the glass.  Don’t pour warm or hot water over a car window to thaw it, room temperature water generally works, otherwise you risk cracking the glass. We’ve always found having the interior heater on the car’s windscreen on a low heat to be worthwhile as you clear the vehicle of snow and ice before driving. It thaws the windscreen gradually, as long as it’s not too hot or you risk cracking the glass.

By law, snow must be removed from the roof, bonnet, boot and windscreen of vehicles prior to driving, as is an offence to not do so, as this is an unsecured load. Snow will almost always fall off your car as you drive down from Alpine areas as the outside temperature increases, the engine warms the bonnet and the warmth from inside the car causes the snow to fall off the vehicle, often into the path of another car or yourself. More information on this can be found in our section on Getting to and Driving in Alpine Areas

When to go? This is a hard one to answer with a great deal of confidence. What we can say is that Peak season is generally found in the middle of Winter and through August and this is when your holiday will often cost the most, but this is also generally when you are assured of the best snow conditions. By August the resorts usually have a good cover of snow and more, if not all, runs open and lifts operating. In saying that, some years we have had excellent snow in June, when it’s generally cheaper, but as with most weather predictions, snow falls are unpredictable and some of us don’t have a choice when to travel due to work commitments or needing to wait for school holidays. Spring skiing conditions, in September, can be excellent if there is sufficient snow on the ground. The days are longer, often warmer, the snow a little softer, there can be less people around and prices are often reduced.

Most of the resorts have a snow guarantee, which allows us to book with confidence that there will be a minimum number of lifts operating during our stay or we can change the dates or some resorts allow a refund. The resorts always do their best to get terrain open and if conditions allow, will top up the snow cover with man-made snow to help out Mother Nature in times of need. Be sure to understand the conditions of the snow guarantee of the resort you are heading to.

Parking & Gate Entry. Gate Entry Fees need to be paid upon entering most Victorian and NSW Alpine Resorts. In NSW, there is a fee upon entering Kosciuszko National Park, year-round, if going to Thredbo, Charlotte Pass, Perisher Resorts or the surrounding alpine areas. If travelling between Jindabyne and Khancoban, in either direction, without stopping to use the resort or National Park, there’s no charge. There’s also no charge for entering Kosciuszko National Park from the North, via the Snowy Mountains Highway. The fee varies between different resorts and Parks and assists with providing services like road clearing, ski patrol, cross-country trail grooming, village transport in some resorts, parking and other services.

Follow this link to further information about entering Kosciuszko National Park

Glossary:

  • Powder: The type of snow we love, dry, light and fluffy, occurring after snowfalls in very cold temperatures and much nicer to fall in and play in!
  • Groomer: Machines that are used, generally at night, preparing the runs for the next day, resulting in the straight ridged lines or ‘corduroy’ smoothing the run after the previous day’s use.
  • Off-Piste: Unpatrolled, ungroomed, unmarked ‘back country’ areas often out of the resort boundaries.
  • Downhill or Alpine Skiing: Mostly going downhill on a ski run only where a chair lift (or yourself) takes you back to the top and the process is repeated. The heel and toe of the boot are attached to the ski.
  • Cross-country, X-C or Nordic Skiing: Often over undulating terrain, where just the front of the boot is attached to the ski and although more effort is required to propel yourself along (like up hills), it will take you to more places like snow covered plains and trails used as bushwalking tracks in Summer. This is generally the cheapest form of skiing as a lift ticket, for access to the chairlifts, isn’t required as cross-country areas are not in downhill ski areas. Some resorts are cross-country skiing only, having no chairlifts.
  • T-Bar or Rope Tow lift: These will take you up a ski slope without sitting (sitting is what we do on a normal chairlift), where the user stays on the snow and holds on to the bar/rope or it is placed behind them and pulls them up the slope as they stand on their skis or snowboard. Often found on smaller, beginner runs.
  • Snow plough: Some think of this as the road clearer, ploughing the road of snow but this is also something skiers perform to slow down, stop and to turn by pointing their ski tips towards each other while the rear end of the skis stick out at opposite angles to the tips, resulting in a pizza slice shape. There’s more to it than that and it will be one of the 1st things a skier is taught.
  • Man-made Snow: Man-made snow is snow made via a snow making machine or ‘snow gun’. If the temperature and other conditions are suitable, resorts can turn these machines on to send water into the air that freezes which then lands as snow, helping to top up the snow depth and keep us skiing longer in the season or to start us skiing earlier in the season.