THE Victorian Alps are crowned with fresh snow and ski resorts are gearing up for the best spring in eight years. With 43 centimetres of snow in the past week and 10 centimetres forecast before the weekend, Hotham has all 13 lifts running and a caterpillar taking skiers to back-country terrain. Skiers and snowboarders are gliding down all 95 runs on the mountain.
Heavy snowfalls this month have left Hotham with 186 centimetres of natural snow, the best coverage since 2004. It is only the fourth time in 20 years there has been so much snow this late in August.
The helicopter service between Hotham and Falls Creek takes skiers and boarders above the peaks and valleys and allows them to ski two resorts in one day. ''You get to see the high plains in all their winter glory and right now the snow is as good as it gets,'' said Helilink director and chief pilot Vaughn Kennett. After a slow season last year, visitor numbers at Hotham are up 27 per cent this year, 15 per cent up on the 10-year average.
The season has been a panacea for Australian resorts after a warm, wet August last year and increased numbers of skiers heading overseas. The late snow is a boon before the September school holidays and a blessing for skiers and boarders wanting to take advantage or reduced hotel and lift prices.
Accommodation prices are at low-season rates from tomorrow and multi-day ski passes are more than 25 per cent cheaper from September 17. Marco Gionfriddo, manager of the Mt Hotham Accommodation service, said bookings had been solid this year and were already filling up for the next few weekends, but there was still a good range of accommodation available midweek and on weekends later in September.
''The snow has been a lot more consistent this year and when it's snowed, it's been in solid dumps,'' he said. ''With the current level of snow there should be good skiing all September.''
Hotham and Falls Creek have had the biggest snowfalls all season and are still the best spots going into spring, but there is snow across the high plains.