Skiing can be an expensive sport anywhere in the world but on comparison it is especially expensive in Australia. Planning ahead and skiing during off-peak season can make a huge difference to the price, as can finding a good value pass and a willingness to drive to the resort.
While Perisher is currently my least favourite resort in Australia, by planning ahead and using ski pass sales to our advantage, we were able to plan a good-value ski trip during the first week in September 2018. The trip was enjoyable, and we had good groomed snow and blue skies on most days.
Perisher is in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, Australia and it is a good resort for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders who are travelling as a family or as a group of friends where everyone plans to be on the snow every day. If you want to spend quality time with the family and have an all-inclusive, worry-free experience than it’s an excellent option. But, if you are looking for challenging terrain or plenty of off-mountain activities, this is 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. You get unlimited skiing at Perisher for the Australian season and 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, but it’s still good value.)
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 an outer pocket to access any of the lifts. The gates read your pass each time you load a lift, then log the information on your dashboard so you can track your day and share that with friends. You can also get your official 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 you’ll need to 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, I’m sure there are probably secret pockets of good snow and challenging terrain that locals always seem know about any resort, but if you are visiting for a week like we were then 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 also got a few good runs in off the North Perisher T-Bar. Below the Olympic T-Bar and dropping off the Blue Cow Expressway towards the Pretty Valley 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. Unfortunately, this was as challenging as the week 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 snowboarders did have a good time and found a good mix of easy and challenging runs .
The Lift System
The lift system at Perisher is one of its biggest downfalls. Of its 47 lifts, 33 are surface lifts – either conveyor belts, T-Bars, rope tows or J-Bars (also known as Button or Poma lifts). A staggering 55% of the lifts are tow lifts, which is a crazy-high percentage! I think the reason for so many surface lifts is the mountain’s high potential for strong winds; tow lifts (T-Bars and J-Bars) are able to run in stronger winds than a standard chair lift. I am sure that when there is a wind-hold on the regular chair lifts the tow lifts are appreciated; however, it is a real pain on most days and real downside to the resort.
T-Bars are more difficult to ride than a regular chairlift, particularly for snowboarders (and while I’m not a snowboarder, that seems to be the consensus). It also makes it a lot more difficult for beginners to explore the mountain. So while a large portion of the runs are suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers, the lift system makes everything more difficult.
Even if you are capable of riding T-Bars with ease, they can be tiresome on the body. We could only do about three T-Bars before our legs, feet and knees needed some relief and we headed towards a chair lift.
In addition, many of the tow lifts cross the ski runs, which means not only are you looking uphill 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 and requires you to adjust your turns and speed so that you can cross between skiers riding uphill, and generally makes the run less enjoyable. There’s a much higher potential for an on-mountain collision because of these lifts and I saw a near miss or two.
Perisher Valley Village
This is where its really important to know what kind of holiday you want. If you are looking for quality time with the family and friends, then Perisher might be the right place for you. The village is more like a collection of chalets and lodges spread out among the valley than a proper “village”. Many of the lodges have full- and half-board inclusions, which means most people stay at their lodge after skiing rather than venture out to different restaurants and bars each night. That’s great if you want quality time with a group, not if you are looking for aprés ski or variety. At one point we tried to make a dinner reservation so we could eat with another couple not staying at our lodge and could only book after 8pm, as this was when all lodges finished serving their in-house guests.
The roads are not groomed so the only was around is an on-snow option: 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 made up of accommodation options.
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. In 2010, 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 (although 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 the extent of off-mountain activities. There is no town for them to explore and they will likely get bored.
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 from Perisher. 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 the park and require a pass. 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 at least one night, you need to park your car at the Bullocks Flat Terminal and take the Skitube; there is no overnight parking at the Perisher Centre car park. The Skitube is an alpine railway that takes passengers through the mountain via a tunnel. Once you arrive at the Skitube terminal in Perisher, you’ll want to take the oversnow to get to your lodge as it will be nearly impossible to drag your luggage to the accommodation.
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.
Perisher is a decent Australian resort for groups wanting a ski holiday – providing you all stay in the same lodge. If you book a several day pass or purchase an Epic Australia Pass it can also be good value. However, the lift system and lack of a proper village make it less enjoyable than other Australian resorts and it is not overly challenging for advanced skiers.
Have you been to Perisher? What did you think?