During the first week of September 2018, I took a ski trip with my fiancé to Perisher in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, Australia. Two other couples met us there, with one staying in the same lodge. The trip was enjoyable, and we had good packed and groomed snow to ski with blue skies on most days.
Overall, I would say that Perisher is a good resort for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders who are travelling as a family or group of friends where everyone plans to be on the snow every day. If you want to spend quality time with the fam and an all-inclusive, worry-free experience it’s an excellent option. But, if you are looking for challenging terrain or plenty of off-mountain activities, this might not be the place for you.
For us, the biggest benefit of Perisher and the reason we chose it for our Australia trip this season was the Epic Australia Pass.
Epic Australia Pass
This pass is insanely good value if you are planning an Australia ski trip and an overseas ski trip within 12 months. Basically, you get unlimited skiing at Perisher for the Australian season, followed by access to some of the best resorts in North America and Japan for the following northern hemisphere season. These include Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Park City, Heavenly, and Hakuba Valley. There’s access to 28 resorts in total for the 2019 pass. Plus, there’s buddy passes, food and beverage discounts, equipment hire discounts, lodging discounts and more. We got the 2018 pass for $779 AUD! It’s gone up a bit for 2019, currently it’s available for $819.
We will be in Colorado for our wedding in March (Yay! So excited!), so we will be using our passes at Keystone, Breckenridge, A-Basin and Vail over two to three weeks, then Park City and Whistler for a week each for the honeymoon. All up, we’re getting at least four weeks of skiing on the passes, that makes the passes less than $28 per day! It was really a no-brainer.
One other cool thing about the pass is the Perisher dashboard and epic pics. You need to have the RFID pass in any outer pocket to access any of the lifts. The gates read the pass each time, then log the information on your dashboard so you can track your day and share that with friends. You can also get your offical on-mountain photo taken (these are obligatory in my family) and instantly added to your dashboard by scanning your pass.
Perisher resort is made up of four areas: Perisher Valley, Blue Cow, Smiggin Holes and Guthega. Together, they have more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain. They are linked by lifts and cat tracks so it is somewhat easy to get around, but it can take multiple lifts and runs to get back to Perisher from Guthega and Blue Cow.
According to the resort’s website, the mountain is 22% beginner, 60% intermediate and 18% advanced. If you are an advanced skier you will not find Perisher challenging. Now, there may be those secret pockets of good snow and challenging terrain that locals always know about, but if you are visiting for a week like we were, you probably won’t find them. We covered the whole mountain and our favourite spots were off the Olympic T-Bar, below the Blue Cow Expressway and off the Ridge Quad Chair. We did get a few good runs in off the North Perisher T-Bar as well. Below the Olympic T-Bar and dropping off the Blue Cow Expressway towards the Pretty Vally Double Chair (and over the Perisher Home Trail) we managed to get some steep but short runs (maybe 10 to 15 turns) that were holding some really good snow in the first part of the week. This was as challenging as it got. According to the website, the resorts’ vertical metres skiable is 355m (1,164 ft) with Ridge Chair having the longest vertical. Our friends who were beginner to intermediate boarders did have a good time and had a good mix of runs they could ride and those that challenged them.
The Lift System
Like most mountains, Perisher has a combination of high-speed and fixed-grip lifts, and surface lifts. Of it’s 47 lifts, 33 are surface lifts – either conveyer belts, T-Bars, rope tows or J-Bars (also known as Button or Poma lifts). A staggering 55% of the lifts are tow lifts. I believe the reason for this is the high potential for strong winds on the mountain and the tow lifts (T-Bars and J-Bars) are able to run under stronger winds than the standard chair lift. I am sure this is a welcome fact when there is a strong wind hold on the chair lifts, allowing skiers and riders to still access the runs. However, it is a real pain and downside of the resort.
T-Bars are more difficult to ride than a regular chairlift. This seems to be particularly true for snowboarders (which I’m not one but that seems to be the consensus). It also makes it a lot more difficult for beginners to explore the mountain. Even if you find riding the lifts fairly easy, they can be tiresome on the body. We could only do about thee T-Bars before our legs, feet and knees needed the relief of a chair lift.
In addition, many of the tow lifts cross ski runs, which means not only are you looking uphill from time to time and when merging runs to avoid a collision, but you have to look downhill when crossing a lift line to avoid a collision with skiers being dragged uphill. It’s awkward if you are not used to it. It also requires you to adjust your turns and speed so that you can shoot between skiers riding uphill of consecutive T-Bars. I saw a near miss or two.
Perisher Valley Village
This is where that quality time with the family and friends really comes into play. The village is more like a collection of chalets and lodges spread out among the valley. The roads are not groomed so the only was around is on-snow options: walk/trudge through the snow, ski (if you’re heading downhill), snowmobile if you have one registered to be on the national park, or pay for an Oversnow (either a snowcat converted to a people-mover or a truck with all the wheels taken off and fitted with a rubber track system like a tank’s). Many of the lodges include arrival and departure oversnow from the Skitube to facilitate moving your luggage.
At the base of the 8-pack chairlift there is Perisher Centre, which houses the ticket office, equipment hire, ski school, and a collection of shops, restaurants and an ATM. Across a short bridge at the Skitube Terminal you can also find a few shops, as well as a small grocery store, the post office, the police office, the pharmacy and the medical centre. Apart from those two central buildings the rest of the village is basically accommodation options. Some seem to be self-contained options, but many are lodges that offer included meals. Both times we stayed at Perisher (this trip and one back in 2010), we have stayed at lodges that included half-board. Given that there are not a lot of options to go out to dinner this is really the best choice. At one point we tried to make a dinner reservation so we could eat with the third couple and could only book after 8pm, as this was when all lodges finished serving their in-house guests.
This trip we stayed at the Matterhorn Lodge with half-board. For dinners, you sit with your booking group. It’s a good option for families or groups of families because everyone dines together no matter what they were doing all day. Dinners included soup, a main meal and a dessert. There was no choice with the main, so while all the food was tasty and correctly portioned, it might not be a good option for picky eaters. Previously, we stayed at Sundeck, where we had at least two options each night. Both lodges were staffed by friendly employees and had licensed bars on premises – although Sundeck’s is larger and is known as the aprés ski destination. Our room at the Matterhorn was larger and more comfortable than the one we had at Sundeck. That said I’m sure both lodges have a few different types of rooms.
If you have a non-skier in your group be aware that while one hotel does have a day-spa, that is about the extent of off-mountain activities. There is no town for them to explore.
Getting to Perisher
Perisher is in the Snowy Mountains and the Kosciuszko National Park. It’s roughly a six-hour drive from Sydney or Melbourne. For us it was a 14-hour drive from Adelaide. If you are not up for a drive longer than six hours, you can fly to Canberra, which is a two and half hour drive away. If you drive in via Jindabyne then you don’t need a national park pass, but if you are coming from the other direction you will be passing through. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle you are required to carry chains.
No matter where you come from, if you plan to drive to Perisher and spend a night or more, you need to park your car at the Bullocks Flat Terminal and take the Skitube. The Skitube is an alpine railway that takes passengers through the mountain via a tunnel. There is no overnight parking at the Perisher Centre car park. Once you arrive at the Skitube terminal in Perisher, you need to take the oversnow to get to your lodge.
If you’re not keen on driving through the mountains and contending with the road conditions and wildlife, there are several shuttle options from Sydney and Canberra.
Have you been to Perisher? What did you think?