Most people don’t think of snow when they think about Australia (or skiing!) but we do have some ski slopes. I have heard people say many times ‘the best skiing in Australia is at Thredbo’ and with domestic travel the only option these days I figured.. why not?
I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this blog post. I paid for everything myself and as always, all opinions are my own.
Snowshoeing and Skiing at Thredbo
This post is quite long so I’ve broken it down into:
- How to get to Thredbo
- Snowshoeing tour review
- Skiing beginner lesson review
- What to wear
Time of year I visited: 20th to 21st June, 2021
Thredbo Snow season: End of June to September
How to get there: I flew from Brisbane to Canberra, spent a day in Canberra (read more here), and then drove a hire car down to Jindabyne via Cooma (2 hours with no stops but I’d allow a bit of time to look at Cooma and have lunch).
On the way to Cooma
I took this snowshoeing tour booked via the Thredbo website (not affiliated or sponsored), it’s basically the only snowshoe tour option I could find at Thredbo. The dates of the tour were only released 2 weeks prior to the date we wanted to book, and it books out quickly so make sure you’re regularly checking in the lead up to your trip.
Upon arrival at Thredbro Village, you’ll need to collect the snowshoes, walking poles and boots. The earliest bus transfer available from Jindabyne to Thredbo was at 8am and there were other hotel pickups too so we didn’t get to Thredbo until 8:45am. We thought that half an hour would be enough time to hire the equipment, put our stuff in a locker and meet for the tour…
Well, we waited in line for the snowshoes, but the line wasn’t moving and the tour was due to start in 10 minutes. I had to go back our of the queue to the information centre building and get a staff member to come with me so we could queue jump and tell the tour guide to hold the tour for us.
The tour consisted of meeting a guide at the Thredbo Village, taking the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift as far up as you can go (to the Eagles Nest restaurant at the top) and then walking around with the snowshoes for a few hours at the top. All up the tour was about 3 hours (wished it was longer!)
The guide did hold the tour for us (other people in the group coincidentally were on the same bus and were directly behind us in the queue so that was lucky!) and went overtime to make sure we had the full 3 hours.
We were the only people at the top!
The chairlift takes you up to a few hundred metres below Mount Kosciusko. In summer you can do the Summit Walk right to the top and get your photo with the sign (like they did at the finish line on the Amazon Race Australia). All of that rocky alphine area was covered under metres of snow.
Despite the snow, walking with the snowshoes takes a bit of effort and there’s no protection from the sun so I ended up having to shed a layer.
On the chairlift on the way day I thinking, I wonder how they get the food up to the restaurant? And now we know…
The Kosciuszko Express Chairlift was closed for maintenance so we had to take a different chairlift up and down. There is a lot of gear to carry – your backpack (they tell you to take 2L of water but I never follow that and only took 750mL which was plenty), the walking poles, the snowshoes and you’re wearing clunky boots and multiple layers of clothing so don’t move as easily. My sister and I wanted to take photos going down the chairlift and coordinating trying to carry all of these, time the chairlift, put the bar down and have one hand free to take photos.. my camera broke. One of the ski poles got caught in the mat at the end of the platform, the force jerked the chairlift and my camera fell out of my pocket and hit the concrete platform.
Thankfully someone in the same tour group was behind us and managed to get the camera. It turns on but nothing displays on the screen and the shutter won’t close, there’s something internally wrong with the camera. When I told the tour guide when we got to the bottom, he didn’t really care. I was like can you please tell your manager this is far too much gear for people that aren’t used to carrying all this to lug up the chairlift. Could a guide take this up before the start of the tour, or can the chairlift operator put the bar down. Everyone in the group agreed with me too, but the tour guide was just like whatever, wasn’t interested in feedback and left.
I was wearing a ski jacket I had hired by the way, not my usual winter jacket that has pockets on a diagonal and are easy to zip up. You don’t need a ski jacket, I wished I had worn my normal puffer jacket (like a Kathmandu, Columbia, North Face etc.) – it would’ve been fine.
I had never tried skiing before and figured if I was going to, it was probably best to do it in my home country in case I injured myself.
The kids / beginner ‘slope’ wasn’t very wide so you felt like you were constantly in the way of other people. If one person went down it was like dominoes for the rest of the group. I was there during school holidays so I’m not sure if it’s like that the entire ski season.
The ski lesson had a group of 8 of us. The ski instructor might’ve been doing this for years, but he was a little impatient with us and seemed to forget that it’s difficult to master.
The ski lesson was 2 hours and then I continued for another hour after that. I was only just starting to get the hang of a stop / start shuffle down the slope, definitely needed another day before I’d feel confident enough to take the chairlift and try a small slope.
Skiing is not something I recommend doing solo. I went with my sister and my Dad. My Dad wasn’t skiing so he organized the locker, looked after our gear while we went to the loo etc. and then I had my sister with me while learning to ski. I found it near impossible to get up if I fell. The ski boots were difficult to walk quickly in, and restricted my movement so much that the angle of trying to reach over and the force required to unlock the boots from the skis and get myself up was too difficult to do on my own.
Tips for skiing
- When I visited during school holidays (I didn’t choose the date, was my sister’s birthday trip and her birthday always falls on school holidays), it took 2 hours of waiting in a queue to get the ski gear. We literally got the ski gear at 11:29am and the ski lesson was due to start at 11:30am
- Australian school holidays fall around the end of June. Try and avoid visiting during this time
- Keep your ski pass in your left pocket so you can lean against the access pass machine when taking the chairlifts, rather than getting the lift pass out of your pocket each time
- If you book the ski lesson you’ll also need to pay for a lift pass and hire the ski gear separately, it’s all additional to the cost of the ski lesson
- There are lockers for hire in the same building where you collect your ski gear, you do not need to pre-book a locker but you’ll definitely need one for your shoes and bag
- Some people were hiring gear in the afternoon when it was less crowded. If you’re staying at Thredbo I would do this and beat the morning rush
- We chose to rent the ski jackets and pants from a ski shop in Jindabyne. A lot of them close early so if you need to return the ski gear in the afternoon to avoid another day’s rental cost, check if they open past 5pm.
- We chose to rent the ski gear at Thredbo rather than carting it to and from Thredbo (heavier than they look!)
- If you hire shoes, they were in European shoe sizes
If you’ve never tried skiing before, the Merritts Gondola will be a waste of money. It takes you halfway up the mountain to a cafe and… that’s about it unless you want to get on the chairlift and actually ski. For $50 it was a huge rip off and that only included 1 trip up and down per day so you can ride it a few times and enjoy the view.
View from the Merritts Gondola
How much did all of this cost?
There’s a reason I’d never done a holiday to the snow in Australia. Everything in this country is expensive let alone a winter holiday. Here were my costs for the ski part of the trip:
- Hertz Hire car 5 days from Canberra $660 + $20 for fuel / 3 people = $225 per person
- $60 each day per person for a return mini bus transfer (with other people) from Jindabyne to Thredbo (or can go to Perisher for the same price) x 2 days = $120
- You can drive yourself but if it’s snowing you might need to put snowchains on. There was plenty of parking – far more than we thought there would be
- Ski clothes rental = $60 for a jacket and ski pants for 3 days from The Base Ski Service in Jindabyne
- Skis, poles and helmet rental at Thredbo = $85 for one day
- Food = approx. $30 for a main meal at Thredbo or Jindabyne x 5 meals = $150
- Jindabyne hotel $1242 / 3 people = $414 per person
- Thredbo snow shoe tour = $139
- Thredbo ski lesson = $85
- Covermore ski insurance (probably didn’t need this but knowing me if I hadn’t bought it, something would’ve gone wrong) = $45
- Merrits Gondola = $45
- Lift Pass (you still need to buy this even if you’ve already paid to do a beginner ski lesson) = $169 per day
- Locker hire $20 per day (you definitely need this, 1 locker can fit 2 people’s stuff)
- My Thredbo Card = $5
Total cost = $1,562 (all prices are in AUD, cost per person). Flights from Canberra to Brisbane are on top of this (about $250 each way). Alternatively, you can fly to Cooma during peak season and arrange a bus transfer from there.
Note: there may be a discounted cost per day if you hire ski equipment for multiple days in a row and buy a multi-day lift pass
I’ve never skied overseas or looked into the cost but… this was way overpriced in my opinion. Holidays in Australia are expensive.. but I’ve never spent so much on a holiday that was only 3 days (excluding the day spent in Canberra and the Canberra accommodation).
For how well known Thredbo is for skiing in Australia, and how many times the people working there would do the same repetitive tasks, I was very disappointed in the messy way it operated.
The majority of staff at Thredbo (even the Manager’s) gave the impression they were only there for their own self interests i.e. probably discounts off ski gear or early access to the slopes without other people around, and were only working because they had to. The customer service was terrible:
- It took 2 hours in a queue (only 8 people ahead of us) to hire ski boots, poles and a helmet
- They don’t work as fast as they could, they just dawdle or stop and chat to their mates while everyone waiting in the queue is staring at them
- Lack of care – just put one ski boot on and don’t show you how to do up all the locks then sent you off to the next station
Apart from a generic map of the overall village, there wasn’t signage saying ‘lockers this way’, ‘snowshoe tour meeting point is here’ etc. The information on the ticket confirmations were vague too. Oddly, you collect the snowshoes and exit the building, only to realise you have to go back through all the chaos of the shop to get to the lockers, and then through the chaos again to get out. Why not put the lockers in a separate, clearly labelled building?
You can choose to stay at one of the hotels at Thredbo, but there are limited food options, expensive accommodation and then you’re stuck in the small town. It was only about a 20 minute walk from one end to the other.
The beginner ski lessons are at Friday Flat. If you’re getting dropped off be sure to tell your shuttle bus driver where to drop you off. The snowshoeing was at the main part of the village which is at the other end.
Tips for booking
- There is a lack of public transport between Jindabyne, you need to book a private bus transfer or, if stay in Thredbo to avoid paying this, you will probably pay that much in expensive food and higher priced accommodation anyway
- I would’ve liked to visit Perisher Ski resort (literally just up the road from Thredbo) however it’s ski lessons were completely sold out
- We went at the start of snow season (end of June) and tour bookings were only open early June so make sure you book quickly
- Make a dinner reservation if you’re there during school holidays. I made dinner reservations each night. If you don’t, you’ll need to get there at 6pm because after that, people were queuing outside for a long time out in the cold waiting for a table
- There was an email the day we were heading home … no ski gear left to hire at Thredbo, so if you want to ski you have to bring your own. Not much warning for people to try and find ski gear in Jindabyne hoping one of the hire shops opens at 7am before the bus transfer and which could chew into your ski time
What to pack for a ski holiday in Australia
This is what I wore (keep in mind I’m from Queensland and don’t cope well with cold weather):
- Thermal heat-tech shirt from Uniqlo
- Uniqlo puffer vest
- Polartec fleece jumper
- Polartec thermal scarf
- Ski jumper I rented
- Lorna jane thermal leggings
- Ski pants I rented
- Thermal Kathmandu socks
I didn’t need a beanie and I only wore gloves off and on. The temperature hovered around 5 degrees or less most of the time. It was early winter so wasn’t as cold as I suspect it could get. If you’re snowshoeing and skiing you’re moving all the time so warm up quickly, be prepared to ditch a layer.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Banjo Patterson Inn at Jindabyne and.. I wouldn’t stay there again. We had a loft style room and the upper windows had no blinds. The room was directly opposite the bowls club whose lights were on all night (I’m talking about lights like the ones at a soccer field) so the room was never really dark when trying to sleep. The hotel was dated and the cleaning questionable – one of the throw pillows on the beds was dirty with food stains from the previous guests. The breakfast was nothing special either.
Where to eat
For convenience, we ate at the hotel restaurant. The food was ok and they let you order pizzas from the restaurant upstairs too. We tried Angies Italian another night and oh my… the pizza I had was worse than a frozen pizza from Coles. Never ever, eat at that restaurant (terrible customer service and it was very expensive).
Would I do this holiday again?
Skiing was good to try but I think you need a few days to get the hang of it and the slopes packed with people are daunting. I would definitely do snowshoeing again (somewhere overseas, maybe through a forest for something different), but I don’t think I’ll bother trying skiing again.
While it wasn’t as enjoyable as it might’ve been due to the crowds, I’m still grateful I was able to go. The day I was flying home from Canberra, states started closing borders to Greater Sydney due to the latest COVID outbreak, and now that all of NSW is in lockdown (and could be until Christmas at this rate), I’m very glad I went when I did!
My sister and Dad were going to continue on to Bateman’s Bay, Wollongong, Blue Mountains and loop back to Canberra, but ended up booking flights out the day I was leaving so they didn’t get stuck. Those flights were 3x the cost and there were charged 100% of the cost for all hotels they had to cancel, within 48hrs of when they were due to stay, as well as the extra cost of a hotel in Canberra for the night (my flight out that afternoon was full by then), and a fee to return the hire car early.
Despite this, I thought that booking a holiday to Cairns (within my home state of Queensland) would be safe, but I ended up having to cancel that because of lockdowns too. I have also booked and unbooked holidays to Ayers Rock and Sydney 3 times since COVID hit and nobody is giving refunds anymore, only credits so they can hold onto your money. So I’m not going to even attempt to book another domestic holiday for the foreseeable future!
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