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 where snows with any 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 have tried to, at least once, dust off the snowboard and make the road trip down to Snowy Mountains in southern NSW and 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 are 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’s 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. National parks are also a great place to explore in the warmer months.
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.
Yes. Not all the time, but it does snow in the township of Jindabyne sporadically over the winter. From time to time, it even snows in Cooma.
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 are not many 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 in 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 park passes, visit their website.
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 are going to have plenty of options for 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. But, as you can imagine, these options book out very quickly, well in advance of the snow season, and I find that they are way too expensive.
Personally, I prefer to stay in the township of Jindabyne. A tourist town, it’s well set up with a good variety of different accommodation options from backpackers all the way through to luxury resorts.
It’s also a good spot to base yourself if you would like to explore more of what the Snowy Mountains have to offer and not just the snow resorts or want to visit both Perisher and Thredbo during your stay.
Staying in Jindabyne will also give you the best selection of dinner/food options, supermarkets etc… Especially if you are travelling as a group with friends.
Here are a couple of my accommodation recommendations in and around Jindabyne:
- Banjo Paterson Inn – Recently refurbished, 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 solid alternative if Banjo’s is booked out; it hasn’t been refurbished (yet) but offers similar convenience.
- 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. Nothing else needs to be said.
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 at least an hour’s 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 a minimum of 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 do have a couple of recommendations around Jindabyne, in particular:
If you want to unwind with mates, then your best bet would 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 around Jindabyne, all within easy walking distance of Nuggets Crossing (the main shopping centre).
Cooma offers even more variety, with even more range, including your typical fast-food chains (which don’t exist in Jindabyne) through to fine dining with the Cooma Hotel, my favourite.
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 making a day trip to the snow or need emergency repairs for your existing gear. You do pay a fair bit extra for the convenience of not having to go anywhere else to get your gear. And they are very busy each morning, especially on weekends. So you could lose a couple of hours on the snow just waiting to get fitted for gear.
However, if you’d like to save a bit of money on the rental prices and probably end up with slightly better gear, there are several shops in Jindabyne and Cooma that offer both sales and rentals.
Where To Get Snowboarding/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. It’s something you don’t want to find out the hard way.
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. They can also be a good refresher if it’s been a while since you’ve been to the snow.
Let’s be honest; the top of the first chairlift is not the place where you will want to work out that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s extremely busy at the top, and there is only one way down (sorry, staying on the chairlift isn’t an option).
That said, I often find myself a little bit rusty on my first couple of runs each year. Even me, who has been snowboarding for years, take a couple of runs to get back into the rhythm of it. But just take the pressure off yourself and take a lesson. It will make a huge difference to your snow experience.
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 in the New South Wales Snowy Mountain region, Perisher is the largest and my personal favourite.
Perisher is divided up into its own four ski areas, all interlinked by the lift facilities. Perisher Valley, Blue Cow, Guthega and Smiggins Holes. Featuring 15 chairlifts and numerous other T-Bars and J-Bars to give you access to a huge variety of terrain, from gentle wide-open beginner slopes through to fun runs through trees and steep long runs to really get the legs pumping.
Located deep in the mountain range, the altitude of Perisher Resort means that it has the most consistent snow coverage and snowfall of all the resorts. Also making it one of the most popular.
Perisher is usually the first New South Wales snow resort to open and the last to close during the snow season. Typically opening for the June long weekend and remaining open until the October long weekend each year, although the snow that last weekend can be patchy.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, an added advantage of visiting Perisher is the Ski-Tube. This cog-railway service allows you to access the resort without having to drive up through the snow-covered roadways, especially if you have a 2WD car and would have to fit snow chains.
There are also a number of ski-in/ski-out lodges around the Perisher Valley, some of which I mentioned in the where to stay section of this post.
Just keep in mind that Perisher is extremely popular, particularly on the weekends, so you might find that you get caught up in some long lift queues from time to time. That said, these can be avoided by heading to some of the more remote parts of the resort, like Guthega.
Thredbo Village is the second largest of the snow resorts, but it is also where you will find the highest lift-accessible peak, backing onto Mt Kosciuszko.
Thredbo offers a good contrast to Perisher if you’ve been going to the snow for a while, as it features steeper terrain and longer runs, something that is more familiar with what you might experience with European or North American ski resorts.
The village in Thredbo is also bigger, with a much more diverse range of offerings if you are planning on staying “on snow”. However, it is at a much lower altitude compared to Perisher, which means the snow coverage closest to the village is much more susceptible to warmer conditions and rain, particularly at the beginning and end of the season – just something to keep in mind.
If you’ve never been to the snow before, I would start at either Perisher or Selwyn (which I’ll cover shortly) and save Thredbo until you are fully confident on either your skis or snowboard. That’ll help you make the most of the terrain and runs that this resort has to offer.
Thredbo features five chairlifts as well as the only gondola in a snow resort in New South Wales. While some of the best terrain is only accessible by T-bar, including the highest lifted point in Australia, Karel’s T-Bar, which is signified by the Thredbo community bell at 2037m above sea level.
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 also means that this is the only New South Wales snow resort that you have to book at least a day in advance to ensure your spot on the overland transport to get over to the resort.
A such Charlotte Pass is a good alternative to the other two major resorts in the area, offering a good opportunity to get away from the crowds during peak season and explore some different terrain.
Charlotte Pass only features one chair lift, where you will find the easiest runs. But what makes this resort stand out are the more challenging runs, only accessible via t-bars and poma’s.
As I mentioned earlier, if you plan to visit Charlotte Pass, you will need to book in advance, but they do include a hot lunch with their lift passes.
A popular way to experience Charlotte Pass is to stay for a couple of days at one of their on-snow lodges, but unfortunately, I can’t give you a recommendation on that as I haven’t personally tried it.
Selwyn Snow Fields
Selwyn Snow Fields is the smallest of New South Wales’s snow resorts and is located in a slightly different part of the Snowy Mountains region, roughly a 2-hour drive away from the others, halfway between Tumut and Cooma.
Catered towards families and first-timers to the snow, Selwyn is a family-owned snow resort with predominantly more relaxed ski runs. Making it a good alternative to the bigger resorts, especially if you are just learning to ski or snowboard.
That said, after being completely destroyed by bushfires in 2020, a brand new resort opens for the first time in 2023, featuring a brand new visitors centre – Selwyn Centre – and a fresh new chair lift.
Selwyn features two chair lifts, with poma’s and t-bars interlinking the rest of the runs.
They also have dedicated areas for snow play and tobogganing if you would like to experience the snow but do not want to commit to learning how to ski or snowboard.
What Else Is There To Do In The Snowy Mountains?
Being in 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 in the snow, there are still plenty of things to do while you are in the area.
Fun Fact: The Snowy Mountains are also home to the highest peak on mainland Australia, Mt Kosciuszko.
Kosciuszko National Park
The Snowy Mountains region largely comprises 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 comes alive with native flora and fauna, and there are a 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 trail, and 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.
Fun Fact: This hike also makes Mount Kosciuszko the most accessible of the Seven Summits if that’s on your bucket list.
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.
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 New South Wales 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 create 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 the 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. Well worth a quick stop either on the way to or from the mountains.
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 fishermen, with Trout fishing common around its waterways. Personally, standing around for hours hoping to catch something doesn’t really appeal to me, but I’ve been told that some people find it relaxing and rewarding.
However, if you would like to try Trout fishing and want to ensure you have success, 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 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.
A visit to the distillery makes for a nice little relaxing change of pace from all the physical adventure activities of the Snowy Mountains, especially if you’re giving yourself a day to 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. Trust me; you’ll want to buy one or two flavours to take home with you.
Pro-Tip: Their Peppermint Schnapps goes great with ice cream if they have it in stock.
If the alcohol doesn’t appeal to you, it’s still worth a visit to Wild Brumby to just simply stroll around the grounds and check out the various art installations around the property.
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 unique and natural wonder well worth the detour.
These limestone caves are simply amazing to discover. Be that on one of the guided tours or by simply enjoying the caves you can explore on your own.
However, the star attraction isn’t the caves at all; it’s the spring-fed natural thermal pool – one of only a few places in New South Wales where you can swim in natural hot pools. And what’s more perfect after a couple of days on the snow than swimming in a thermal pool?
My General Snow Tips:
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 three 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. You will be 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 snowstorm. It’s hard work; trust me on this.
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 will give you something to 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 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 by 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?
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.
And if you have a travel-related question, you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.