What do you need to know before heading down to the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales? Well, lucky for you, I’ve been heading to the snow around Jindabyne for years.
If you didn’t know, the Snowy Mountains is a small-ish region in the southern parts of New South Wales, on the New South Wales/Victorian border.
This alpine region is one of just a few places that it does snow with any sort of consistency in Australia.
A bit of my back story… While I’ve spent most of my life in Australia, I learnt to snowboard while living in Canada many (many, many) years ago.
Ever since I try to, at least once dust off the snowboard and make the road trip down to Snowy Mountains in southern NSW enjoy a couple of days sliding down the mountains.
Fun fact about me: I’ve been to almost all the snow resorts on mainland Australia, and I’ve snowboarded on three different continents. Am I any good? No. But it is fun.
Here’s a couple of rapid fire questions I often get asked about the Snowy Mountains:
New South Wales has four snow resorts. Perisher, Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Selwyn Snow Fields. Perisher is the latest in terms of lift access and ski-able terrain, while Thredbo has Australia highest ski-lifted point on Australia’s highest mountain Mount Kosciuszko.
For more information about the Snow Resorts, head to their websites below.
Perisher – http://www.perisher.com.au/
Thredbo – http://www.thredbo.com.au/
Charlotte Pass – http://www.charlottepass.com.au/
Selwyn Snow Fields – http://www.selwynsnow.com.au/
The resorts are located near Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains region of the Great Dividing Range, very close to the New South Wales/Victorian Border.
Three of the resorts (Perisher, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass) are located within the Kosciuszko National Park, which is about a 6-hour drive south of Sydney. From Canberra, it’s about a 3-hour drive, while if you are making the trip from Melbourne it’s about 7-hours.
Selwyn Snow Fields is further north, about 2 hours drive from Jindabyne, located between Tumut and Cooma. However, the driving time from Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne is roughly about the same.
Obviously, the peak time to visit the Snowy Mountains region is winter. The snow resorts typically open on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June and try to stay open until the Labour Day long weekend in October. For the best of the winter conditions (i.e. snow) aim to visit the Snowy Mountains in late July and/or throughout August.
But don’t rule out the Snowy Mountains in the summer months either. The national parks are a great place to explore in the warmer months also.
It’s about a 6-hour drive from Sydney to Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains along the Federal and Monaro Highways.
It snows each winter (between June and September) in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales.
Getting To and From the Snowy Mountains?
Getting to and from the New South Wales snowfields is fairly simple. When making the trip from Sydney, follow the Hume and Federal Highways down to Canberra. From the Australian capital, it’s just a matter of following the Monaro Highway to Cooma and Kosciuszko Road to Jindabyne.
The key thing to keep in mind is that there is not a lot of overtaking opportunities along the Monaro Highway. So you will need to be patient and take your time while making the drive down to the Snowy Mountains.
It can be particularly slow-moving on Friday afternoons and Sunday nights with the weekend rush to and from the snow resorts. So give yourself plenty of time, and take it easy.
When it comes to getting around the snowfields, having a car with 4WD/AWD capabilities (or a 2WD car with snow chains) will give you a few more options.
Being able to drive right up to Perisher and Thredbo to park at those resorts will make everything a lot more convenient when it comes to spending time on the snow. Especially carrying your snow gear around. Even just having quick, easy access to spare dry, warm clothes after a big day on the mountain makes a huge difference.
Keep in mind that you will need to buy a National Parks Pass to enter the Kosciuszko National Park, which is where the resorts are located. For more information about the parks pass, visit their website – http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/passes-and-fees.
A National Parks Pass that includes access to the Kosciuszko National Park can be quite expensive if you are just making a day trip just by yourself or as a couple, but for longer trips with a full car of friends, it does make a lot more sense.
One thing that the New South Wales Snowy Mountains do offer that I haven’t seen at any other Australian ski resorts (or anywhere else for that matter) is the SkiTube.
Providing access from the bottom of the mountains up to Perisher Village (from which you can continue to Blue Cow resort or take an overland transport over to Charlotte Pass), the SkiTube is a perfect alternative if you only have a 2WD car or just generally not confident with your ability to drive on snow-covered/icy roads.
Also, if you typically like to sleep in and start your days on the mountain a bit later than most, parking will be much easier at the SkiTube. The car parks at the resorts fill up early and quickly.
So what is the SkiTube? It is an underground cog train service that will take you from Bullocks Flat. You’ll find the SkiTube car park halfway between Jindabyne and Thredbo along the Alpine Way.
Bullocks Flat is just below the typical snow line and just outside of the entrance to the Kosciuszko National Park, and you don’t need a National Parks Pass to access it. In fact, your National Park entrance fee is included in the SkiTube ticket price.
As I mentioned before, to access Charlotte Pass you will need to use the overland transport option. Luckily they offer this as part of your lift pass. But unlike the other resorts in the Snowy Mountains, you need to buy these passes at least a day in advance.
Where To Stay While Visiting The Snowy Mountains?
When you visit the Snowy Mountains region, you got plenty of options of places to stay depending on your budget and the experience you are looking for.
Thredbo, Perisher and Charlotte Pass all offer on snow (also known as ski-in/ski-out) accommodation options in their respective villages. These on snow options definitely have their advantages, especially if getting first lifts is a priority for you. As you can imagine these options book out very quickly, and I find that they are way too expensive.
Personally, I prefer to stay in the town of Jindabyne. A tourist town, it’s well set up with a good variety of different accommodation options from backpacker all the way through to luxury resorts.
Jindabyne is also a good place to base yourself if you would like to explore more of what the Snowy Mountains have to offer and not just the snow resorts. You will also give yourself a good selection of dinner/food options, supermarkets etc… Especially if you are travelling as a group with friends.
Staying in town also allows you to have the option of spending your time at two or three different snow resorts as it is conveniently located at the junction for both Perisher and Thredbo.
A couple of my accommodation recommendations in and around Jindabyne:
- Banjo Paterson Inn – This is a really good option if you are travelling with a small group of friends. The pub downstairs is massively convenient after a full day on the slopes.
- Lake Jindabyne Hotel – A great alternative if Banjo’s is booked out.
- Discovery Parks – Jindabyne – A better option if you are travelling as a family and looking for something a little more self-contained.
- Panorama Jindabyne – Offers more of your typical hotel experience, better suited for a more quiet, relaxing trip.
- Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa – The ultimate luxury experience in the NSW Snowy Mountains.
If you are trying to visit the Snowy Mountains on a budget, then a cheaper alternative is to stay in Cooma.
Cooma is a much bigger township with even more accommodation options than Jindabyne. The major drawback to staying in Cooma however is that it is about an hours drive further away from the biggest snowfields. So while it is typically a bit cheaper to stay in Cooma, and restaurants etc, are all bit cheaper with many more options, it does add an extra two hours worth of driving to your day in the mountains.
That said, it is much closer to Selwyn Snow Fields, and if you are looking to experience the snow for the first time or looking for a cheaper option, then this might be the better choice for you.
My suggestions for the best options in Cooma are:
- Cooma Motor Lodge Motel – Clean, comfortable and centrally located.
- Snow Season Motor Inn – Another good option having recently refurbished its rooms.
What To Do In The Evenings?
After a big day of snowboarding, skiing or even just exploring the Snowy Mountains there is nothing better than chilling out and sharing tales of triumph or showcasing your bumps and bruises.
Both Jindabyne and Cooma offer plenty of restaurant and bar options to either relax or kick on depending on how you are feeling.
It really doesn’t matter if you are looking for something simple or a bit fancier, both Jindabyne and Cooma will have you covered.
That said, I’ve do have a couple of recommendations around Jindabyne, in particular:
If you are looking to unwind, then your best bet will be either the Banjo Patterson Inn or Lake Jindabyne Hotel. Both offer a decent pub-style menu (offering specials on alternative nights if you are on a budget) with a good selection of beverages and ample opportunity to kick on after if you so desire.
Pro Tip: Lookout for the young crowd of lift operators, they’ll show you where the best deals in town are each and every night.
If you are looking for something a little more low-key, and maybe just a decent feed, then I would recommend Mario’s Mineshaft, Thai E Saan and the Beach Burrito Co. All excellent options but tend to get busy in peak season, so book ahead.
Realistically though, there is no shortage of options all within easy walking distance of Nuggets Crossing (the main shopping centre).
If you are staying in one of the snow resorts, you’ll quickly be able to work out what’s worthwhile but just looking out for the crowds.
Where Do You Get Snow Gear?
If this headline grabbed your interest, then the chances are you won’t own your own snow gear. Don’t fret! There are several options for picking up snow gear no matter what you are looking for.
Both Perisher and Thredbo ski resorts have snow gear shops and rentals on site. Honestly, I’d only go to these shops if you are just doing a day trip to the snow, or need emergency repairs for your existing gear. These could also be an easier option if you are staying in one of the on-snow accommodation options within these resorts.
However, if you’d like to save a bit of money on the rental prices and probably end up with better gear, there are several shops in Jindabyne and Cooma that offer both sales and rentals.
In my experience, ESS Boardstore, Rhythm Snow Sports, and Larry Adler offer the best service, friendly advice and the biggest range of gear.
Where To Get Snowboading/Ski Lessons?
Nobody is going to make you get on a ski lift before you are ready. In fact, you really shouldn’t get on a ski lift until you’ve had at least one lesson.
The good news for you is that Selwyn Snow Fields, Perisher and Thredbo all offer lessons to cater for a variety of different levels of skiing and snowboarding experience.
You can easily book lessons as part of your lift pass purchase, and I would highly recommend that you take up that option if you’ve never snowboarded or skied before.
Let’s be honest; the top of the first chairlift is not the place to work out that you don’t know what you’re doing. That said, I often find myself a little bit rusty on my first couple of runs each year. It takes a couple of runs to get back into the rhythm of it.
To find out more about the lessons on offer visit each resorts website:
Best Snow Resorts in New South Wales
As the name suggests… Snow is a big factor in the reason to go to the Snowy Mountains, especially in the winter.
So no doubt one of the four snow resorts in the area will probably be your main reason for visiting the region for the first time.
Each resort has its own unique appeal, varying in size and facilities. But they do still cater for all levels of skiing and snowboarding ability.
If you’re not feeling so adventurous as to want to take up skiing or snowboarding, don’t fret. They also have dedicated areas for kids to play in the snow and toboggan. Perisher even offers tube rides.
So you can take the opportunity to see and even play in the snow at a much more relaxed pace.
Of the four resorts, Perisher is the largest, and my personal favourite.
It’s divided up into its own four ski areas, which are all interlinked with lift facilities. Perisher Valley, Blue Cow, Guthega and Smiggins Holes.
The altitude of the Perisher Resort means it has the most consistency in terms of snowfall and coverage. It’s usually the first NSW resort to open and last to close during the snow season.
For more information about Perisher including maps and lift pass pricing, head over to their website – http://www.perisher.com.au/
Thredbo Village is the second largest of the snow resorts but it also has the highest peak, backing onto Mt Kosciuszko.
It’s a good contrast to Perisher with some steeper terrain and longer runs more familiar with what you might experience with European or North American ski resorts.
The village, however, is at a much lower altitude compared to Perisher which means the snow coverage down towards the bottom is a little more susceptible to warmer conditions and rain, particularly at the beginning and end of the season. Just something to keep in mind.
To find out more about Thredbo go to – http://www.thredbo.com.au/
Charlotte Pass is routinely one of the coldest places in mainland Australia, making it ideal for the snow. Located near Perisher, Charlotte Pass is only accessible via overland transport which picks you up and drops you off at Perisher Village.
It’s a good alternative to the other two resorts in the area and a good opportunity to get away from the crowds during peak season and explore some different terrain.
Keep in mind tickets for Charlotte Pass must be booked in advance. For more head over to the website – http://www.charlottepass.com.au/
Selwyn Snow Fields
Finally, Selwyn Snow Fields is the smallest of the snow resorts and located roughly 2 hours drive away from the others, halfway between Tumut and Cooma.
Selwyn is more catered towards families but is a good alternative to the bigger resorts especially if you are just learning to ski or snowboard.
To find out more about Selwyn Snow Fields, including the lifts and ticket prices, head over to their website – http://www.selwynsnow.com.au/
What Else Is There To Do In The Snowy Mountains?
Being on the snow is the main attraction of the New South Wales Snowy Mountains region, for obvious reasons. But if you don’t feel like learning to ski or snowboard, or just need a day of doing other things to break up your time on the snow, there are still plenty of things to do while you are in the area.
Fun fact: The Snowy Mountains are also home of the highest peak on mainland Australia, Mt Kosciuszko.
Kosciuszko National Park
The Snowy Mountains region is made up largely by the Kosciuszko National Park, the largest national park in New South Wales.
The scale alone of the Kosciuszko National Park makes it a great place to get outdoors and explore year-round. Let alone the uniqueness of the alpine region compared to the rest of Australia.
If hiking or mountain biking is your thing, then a summer trip to the Snowy Mountains is absolutely worthwhile. The park number of well-maintained trails, scenic vistas and historic pioneer huts to explore.
With a keen eye, it’s also a great area to observe several Australian icons out in the wild, with significant populations of Kangaroos, Emus and Wombats.
The most popular, for good reason, is the Kosciuszko Walk which takes you all the way to the summit of the highest peak in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 metres above sea level.
Starting at the Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo (which runs year-round), the Kosciuszko Walk will take you a few hours (roughly five) to complete the round trip to the summit. Also making it the most accessible of the Seven Summits. More info – http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/kosciuszko-national-park/kosciuszko-walk/walking
Thredbo Valley Track, Main Range Walk and Illawong Walk are also popular trails within the Snowy Mountains.
Brumbies are also a large part of the history of the region, so why not take a guided horse ride through the mountains if that is more your pace.
Kosciuszko National Park is also home to the New South Wales snow resorts, but I’ll get into that separately.
To find out more about the Kosciuszko National Park, including all the trail maps, head over the National Parks website – http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/kosciuszko-national-park
The Snowy Hydro Project
The Snowy Hydro Project was developed by the Australian government to help relieve the effects of the droughts that regularly impact the country as well as to help generate electricity for NSW and Victoria.
Following World War 2, Australia implemented the project in 1949 which took 25 years to complete. Forever changing the landscape of the Snowy Mountains region, with a series of dams and power stations built to creating several lakes and reservoirs throughout the area.
Fun Fact: The original settlement of Jindabyne actually lies at the bottom of what is now Lake Jindabyne, with the entire township being moved to its current location on the edge of the lake. You’ll also drive over one of the key dams that were built as part of the Snowy Hydro Project as you make your way into Jindabyne along Kosciuszko Road.
The Snowy Hydro Project also diverted water into the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers which feed all the way through framing lands of Victoria and South Australia.
The Snowy Hydro Project is an intriguing part of modern Australian history, impacting not only the Snowy Mountains a large number of sectors in Australia and is well worth discovering more about while you are visiting the area.
The best place to get the full in-depth history is the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre in Cooma. To find out about visiting hours head to the Snowy Hydro website – http://www.snowyhydro.com.au/discover/snowy-hydro-discovery-centre-cooma/
While we are on the topic of Lake Jindabyne, not only is it a functional waterway with the fore mentioned Snowy Hydro Project, but it is also a great spot for a number of aquatic activities.
Adventure seekers heading to the region during the summer to hike and/or mountain bike throughout Kosciuszko National Park will also often take to Lake Jindabyne as well with a boat or kayak.
Fun Fact: Another fun fact about Lake Jindabyne is that when the dam is at less than 45% capacity, which can happen during prolonged droughts, you can see the remnants of the original township of Jindabyne, which was flooded back in the 1960s when the dam was completed.
Lake Jindabyne and its tributaries are also popular with fisherman, with Trout fishing common around its waterways. It’s not for me, but I’ve been told some people find it relaxing and rewarding?
If you are more like myself and the idea of potentially spending all day fishing without a result doesn’t work for you. Then there are a couple of Trout farms in the area as well, like Eucumbene Trout Farm where you can fish with a little more certainty about reeling in a fish. Or just leave it up to the experts.
Wild Brumby Distillery
No matter if you’ve been hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing or any number of activities while you’ve been in the Snowy Mountains. A bit of variety is always good and for something a little bit different, why not a visit to the Wild Brumby Distillery?
Located along the Alpine Way between Jindabyne and Thredbo, Wild Brumby offers an amazing selection of locally distilled schnapps as well as a cafe for light meals.
It makes for a nice little relaxing change of pace from all the adventure activities and it’s a great way to spend a little bit of time off, especially if you’re giving yourself a day to physically recover after a few big days in the mountains.
I highly recommend the schnapps tasting. The Wild Brumby offers some of the best tasting schnapps I’ve tried outside of Europe.
They’ve also got some art installations and some other things to explore around the property, it that grabs your interest.
I’ll aim to drop into Wild Brumby at least once a year during my annual snow trip to pick up a bottle of their Peppermint Schnapps. Pro-tip: It goes great with Ice Cream.
To find out more about the Wild Brumby Distillery, including opening hours, head over to their website – http://www.wildbrumby.com/
There are also a couple of vineyards in the area, but that’s not something I’ve ever explored.
Sure the peaks of the Snowy Mountains might be the star attraction in the Kosciuszko National Park. But did you know that there is a cave system at the northern end of the park (between Tumut and Cooma), that is also worth visiting?
Yarrangobilly Caves just off the Snowy Mountain Highway is its own a unique and natural wonder well worth the detour.
Not only are the limestone caves features a site the behold with a choice of guided tours as well as a couple of caves that you can explore on your own. But it’s also one of the few places in New South Wales that you can swim in a spring-fed natural thermal pool.
There is just something about snow and thermal pools that just seems right.
For more information about Yarrangobilly Caves head on over to the National Parks website – https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/visitor-centres/yarrangobilly-caves-visitor-centre
My General Snow Tips:
If it’s your very first time going to the snow: then definitely go get yourself some lessons before attempting a lift.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the top of the mountain is not the place to work out how to ski or snowboard, especially the offloading ramps for the chairlifts.
Despite what your friends might say, your knees and butt will thank me in the long run.
Skiing vs Snowboarding: If it is your first time heading to the snow then you’ve got a decision to make, do you learn to ski or snowboard?
Something you might want to keep in mind is that you can learn the basics of skiing in a day. So if you’re only trying it out for a weekend this will be the better option for you. But if you really want to enjoy it and get properly proficient in skiing then you’ll need to relearn the proper way to ski in the future.
However, when it comes to snowboarding, it will take you a bit longer to learn. Realistically it’ll take you about 3 days to get comfortable on a snowboard. But once you’ve got it, there is nothing else to learn, the rest is all practice.
Fitting Snow Chains: Let’s say you are driving through the Snowy Mountains with a 2WD car during the winter, then you will be are required to carry snow chains.
Do yourself a favour; if it looks like it will be a snowy/icy day, fit your chains when you park your car in the morning at the ski resort. The last thing you want to do in the afternoon after a day on the mountain is to try and fit snow chains in a snow storm.
In all honesty, it doesn’t happen all that often here in Australia, but it does happen and fitting chains after a big day on the mountains can be an arduous task.
To make fitting snow chains even easier for yourself, bring along an old yoga/gym mat or something similar so you don’t need to kneel directly onto the cold wet carpark surface. Bring an extra, older snow jacket as well, that you can wear while fitting the chains so you don’t mess up your good one you plan to wear on the mountain.
Also bring a torch, just in case you need to fit or remove the chains after the sun has set.
Give Yourself a Break: Pro-tip, if you’re planning your first snow trip give yourself an opportunity for a rest day every few days. It doesn’t matter how fit you think you are, snowboarding and skiing use different muscles than you would typically use.
Especially if you are learning, you really are going to need a day to recover after 3 or 4 days. You will actually find that it speeds up your learning process as well to allowing yourself time to recover, instead of getting tired and frustrated.
When you are planning your trip, account for that. Especially if you are staying in the mountains for a week or longer. Why not take the opportunity to see some of the other attractions around the Snowy Mountains have to offer?
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