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Perisher: conquering Australia's biggest ski resort

June 29, 2018
Perisher: conquering Australia's biggest ski resort

Six years, several price hikes, a few uncomfortable blizzard situations, and plenty of frustrated queueing later, Perisher has still got us totally revved for the white season. Yeah it’s crowded, expensive and has a trail network that we suspect was inspired by a termite colony, but these are shortcomings we’ve either learned to love, or to get around… and by going there every year for the best part of a decade, we’ve also been able to extract some nuggets of wisdom from our mistakes.

First though, some real talk. No lift ticket is especially cheap, and the only way to ride on a shoestring is to bootpack through the backcountry. While a frosty fight with gravity sounds like a quad-killer we might get behind, the effort required makes it hard to put a dollar value on the luxury of being ferried to the top. So what does this luxury cost? A one day Perisher lift pass will set you back $139, more than $15 more than nearby Thredbo.

But here’s the upshot; where else in Australia, or the Southern Hemisphere for that matter, do you get 1245 hectares of skiable playground, four distinct resort areas, five terrain parks, the country’s only Superpipe, seven individual peaks and a whopping 47 lifts at your disposal? The answer is nowhere; Perisher outsizes Thredbo almost three times over, and is a staggering 25 times larger than Selwyn or Charlotte Pass. If you start thinking in terms of bang for buck, that additional $15 a day could be seen as money well spent.


Let’s get lost

With great size comes a great big, rabbit-warren of a trail map that spans several PDFs and gets only marginally easier to follow with each trip. Do we always know what run we’re on or what T-bar we’re riding? Nah. Do we always end up where we planned on going? Nope. Does our crew of eight or more find it easy to meet up? Who needs friends anyway. Do we really understand why there needs to be two T-bars next to each other, that dangerously bisect runs, only to dump you a dozen metres from the other one? Hmmm, we’ll just trust the engineering department on that one. Perisher might make it easy to get lost (and tangled with an unsuspecting skier on a T-bar), but it also makes it bloody hard to get bored. Try Rhythm’s #PerisherChallenge, in which you’ve got to ride every lift in a day, and we think you’ll see what we’re saying.


Our favourite spots

As suckers for natural kickers and long, wandering lines through the snow gums, Perisher’s ungroomed tracts of sidecountry and all that juicy low-hanging fruit between the runs always get us frothing. But on a high vis day you’re just as likely to find us scrambling up the boulders at the top of Mount Perisher, to the resort’s far west. A bluebird day spent lapping up those pristine valley views, before strapping in and clocking up vertical on Mount Perisher’s long, clean navy blues is a reminder that you can still get a lot out of inbounds riding.

Hidden out the back of Blue Cow, Guthega Peak is well worth the traverse. It’s hard to make the call on how it’ll ride on any given day, but we’ve always found this out-of-the-way mecca of bomb-able blues and squirrelly blacks substantially quieter than the other three hubs. That’d explain why, mid-morning on a Saturday, we found stashes of virgin powder – velvety, ego-stroking riding at an inch or so deep – between the trees and flanking the groomers. A lazy powder hunter’s dream come true.

Advanced riders shouldn’t overlook the Olympic T-bar, though it’s not always spinning. The views from up there are gobsmacking, and if bouncing down black bumps is a stressfest you can live without, you can always sideslip partway down the T-bar till the pitch evens out and drop off the lip for smoother descent.


The nice-to-knows

We could wax lyrical on this topic for some time, but the love letter must end at some point, and we did start this whole spiel with the promise of sage advice about how to manage some of Perisher’s less endearing qualities. What we’ve got to say about logistics, costs, crowds and kit won’t suit everyone, but if anything you’ve read so far rings true, we reckon you might want to keep going.

Reload last year’s lift pass

This won’t be useful if you’ve never been to Perisher before, but for everyone else – dig out that old card, sign into the Perisher dashboard and reload this year’s ride days pronto. In doing this ahead of time, you’ll get an early bird discount, you’ll avoid paying for the cost of the card again, and you get to eliminate one more of those pesky queues. Trifecta much?

Stay further afield

Ski-in ski out accommodation is scarce in Perisher, and the price would scare most sensible people away anyway. Jindabyne is only 30 minutes from the hill, and a shared house, cabin or tent site makes the whole adventure more affordable. If you’re all about apres, you’ll find a lot more glasses clinking in Jindabyne than on the hill – otherwise consider true alpine villages like Thredbo or Victoria’s Falls Creek.

When we leave planning to the 11th hour (which we do more often than we care to admit), we’ve found Cooma to be a brilliant place to crash on the Friday night drive down from Sydney. On Saturday morning no later than 6am, we head straight for the Skitube at Bullocks Flat – which is a very reasonable 60 minute drive away.

Take the Skitube

It took us a few years of carpooling with mates to wise up to the many advantages of Perisher’s choo-choo train. Tickets to ride aren’t cheap, however you avoid paying the national park entry fee, and the time it saves you if you’re there on one of Perisher’s epic overspill parking days is worth every cent. At its most crowded, the parking situation becomes a roadside nightmare, often extending hundreds of metres beyond Smiggin Holes, to where we once had to walk with all our stuff, before getting shuttled to the front valley, where we then had to queue for our pass. At that rate you’d be lucky to get on the snow before lunch.

By comparison, the tube may as well be a teleporting device. Drive out to Bullocks Flat for the first departure, jump aboard with all your gear, and you can ride it all the way up to Blue Cow Terminal and clear the front valley mayhem and parking lot chaos completely. Alight, strap in, and you’ve claimed your first run without even riding a lift. Heck yeah. We also aim to get back on the tube before the 4pm rush – around 3 or 3.30pm usually cuts it – by which point the mountain’s typically been reduced to moguls and slush anyway.


Pack plenty of patience

Perisher’s network of lifts can move over 50,000 snow-goers per hour. Despite the lifties’ best efforts, queues happen, as they do everywhere. To minimise the amount of time we spend waiting in lines, we get up to Blue Cow just before the lifts start spinning, then beeline for the areas furthest from front valley, where crowds are always the thinnest.

We’ve also found patience has rewarded us on other levels. Take the blizzard of July 2017 – riding hardpack in cloud and horizontal sleet, saturated, stiff and a little bit depressed. Only a handful of lifts were open due to the wind, and by 1pm most people had given up and left. But minutes later the wind settled, sun beamed through, and because we’d stuck around, we managed to salvage the day shredding the now soft, uncrowded snow… under a rainbow.

Eat lunch early, or late

If you’re like us, lunch is merely fuel. We wanna fill up as quickly as possible so we can get back on the slopes. But attempting to buy lunch from the main hubs after midday will very likely foil such hopes. That’s why we start early – up at Blue Cow Terminal before 9, and ride ourselves starving by 11am, before there are any hideously long lunch lines to contend with, or the need to initiate aggressive seagull-like prowling for empty tables. Wiser peeps will go one step further and BYO so they can eat on the go. Very wisdom. Such wise. We’re not quite there yet because, if we’re being honest, it’s quite nice to take 30 minutes to put our backsides somewhere dry.

Get your own snow gear

We get that snowboards, skis, boots and all the necessary clothing, accessories and safety gear you need for snow trips are exxy investments. But unless you plan on riding over gravel or practicing your rails in the local parking lot, investments they are! That gear will easily last hundreds of ride days over multiple seasons.

Having all of our own gear is also one of the main reasons we’re able to save time and get up on the mountain before the hordes – we get to bypass all that faffing in the rental stores. More to the point, our own stuff is immeasurably more comfortable to wear and responsive in the snow, which means superior riding and bigger smiles. Besides, is there a bigger buzzkill than thinking about the various sweaty feet that have contributed to the unique formula of stank in those rental boots you’re wearing? If there is we’d rather not know.


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