Will Hotham get its flights back?
Australia and the local snow industry needs its alpine airports. Following the great news that Cooma looks set for commercial flights next year there is talk that Mt Hotham may yet see flights again too.
Waking up to a view like this you can’t help but think all is right in the Australian Alps. As the sun gives its morning kiss to the mountain top the vista to Orchard at Mt Hotham is superb. There’s nary a breath of wind and the snow is holding its own in a season that won’t go down as one of the greats but is far from one of the worst either.
But then I get all Talking Heads and have to ask myself, well, how did I get here?
A flight from Sydney to Albury (1 hr 20 minutes) and then another 2 hr 20m drive to Mt Hotham.
It is plenty more relaxing than a straight five hour drive from Sydney to the NSW ski fields but not completely ideal for a market of five million people either. Straight drive time is around eight hours.
The good news is discussions are underway about re-introducing a commercial service into Horsehair (Dinner Plain), the airport about 20km from the resort. And with Cooma in the NSW Snowy Mountains set to re-introduce flights from Sydney and a likely first regular service from Brisbane as exclusively revealed here last week, perhaps those negotiations become a little more serious.
At the moment there are charter flights to Horsehair (owned by a subsidiary of the Merlin Group which in turn owns Mt Hotham and Falls Creek) out of Melbourne. The prices aren’t unreasonable. Yarra Valley Aviation run direct routes out of Lillydale and Essendon Airport that take 45 minutes, starting from $360 per person for a group of four for a day return flight and $660pp return for a group of four for 2-3 night stay. And Sydney? Unfortunately from what I can ascertain it’s a whole lot more than that. AustJet offers more of a premium service from $1790 pp.
Qantas ran Sydney and Melbourne flights from 2000 to Horsehair before pulling the pin in 2013 as the stuttering carrier instituted a range of cutbacks across its services. Cooma dropped out the same year when commercial carrier Brindabella went under.
With Queenstown offering frequent direct winter services right up and down Australia’s east coast, you have to wonder just how much of a dent that is putting in our ski industry.
President of the Dinner Plain Chamber of Commerce, Doug McDougall is champing at the bit to see a commercial carrier return to the area.
“The airport is still in great condition,” he says. “I know from a personal point of view here in Dinner Plain, I know that when they were flying in from Sydney the flights were full and business was good. ”
“We’ve noted (now) that without the flights we don’t have the big spenders so to speak, the people that spend the money in the shops and in the restaurants. Particulary I think the Sydney market had opened a whole new area up for us with skiers that were traditionally Perisher and Thredbo skiers.”
Hotham is a great mountain and deserves a bit better. It’s not a Jackson Hole or Red Mountain (nowhere in Australia is just quietly) but overall it has the best advanced terrain in a ski resort we’ve got. It had been nigh on a decade and I had forgotten how good it was. I happily spent my days there picking apart the myriad runs off Heavenly, Gotcha, Keoghs and Orchard. Good, genuine fall-line terrain across multiple runs and multiple lifts.
These days they tend to celebrate this, not shy away from it. And so Hotham should.
The New Zealand resort of Treble Cone, another rock solid real skiers’ mountain, made the mistake a few years ago of publicly moving away from its strengths as a hard charging hill. It was an attempt to appeal to the masses. Intermediate terrain and ‘hey, we have great beginners’ options too y’know’ got positioned above their sumptuous chutes by the marketing department. Apparently everyone was the winner. Except no-one really was. Season pass prices went through the roof for this new ‘all-encompassing product’, the locals cracked the shits and the pushback was enormous. I wouldn’t say there has been a complete about face (they still plug the intermediate angle a lot) but at least they acknowledge that serious terrain is at the heart of the TC experience.
And so it goes with Hotham. You want to cruise and play with the kids, you’re probably best of going over the hill to Falls Creek. That’s not meant to be a slight, just the way it is. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was …