The Snow Gauge

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Will Hotham get its flights back?

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Australia | 6 comments

 

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 …

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. It’s all well and good for the flights to return and for the rich to come and spend their money in the hill, but for the price…why would they? $360pp return from Melbourne is a joke when you can fly direct to queenstown and back for a fraction more with an almost guarantee of better snow, cheaper passes, and historically better weather. Having worked in the Australian snow industry for over 12 years, I have seen first hand the skyrocketing costs of running a resort. Half the lifties on the hill are making over $23+ an hour, that’s a lot of money when the resorts have all lifts open! If Perisher is running 45 lifts on a sunny day, it’s likely the cost of just having the lifts staffed is over 25k a day! Not to mention running costs! Power to run lifts is not free! Ask any GM of an Aussie resort. Not defending the resorts, but it’s not all a scam to get money out of the average family. Save your money and go to Japan!

    • Some interesting points but there’s a few things I would say in response. If it was $360 return from Melb/Syd it would still on average be several hundred dollars cheaper than the average QT flight. Love QT – what it has over Oz is the real “destination” feel. So many other things to do which our feeder towns lack. But the “almost guarantee of better snow, cheaper passes and historically better weather”???. I’d like stats on all that! Better this season yes, but Coronet and Remarks have plenty of seasons where the base tops out at 1.2 metres or less. There’s no tree skiing for visibility, no on-snow accommodation and the infrastructure isn’t nearly as extensive. As pure ski areas without QT behind them they are a little disappointing. Some saving depending on exchange for sure and better top-end (often hiking though) terrain. But I still think the prospect of going after work and being on-snow that night should be a reasonable drawcard for Aussies. It seemed to work ok for 14 seasons! Let’s make it happen with some good all-inclusive packages from Sydney-Melbourne! Japan – another argument for another time …

      • flights to Hotham, will happen again, but it won’t be big airlines like Qantas or Virgin, who’s costs are just way too high. Rex could do it now, but they won’t unless the resort underwrites the flights to a certain extent. One way to do this, would be to sell lift tickets with the flights.

        Without flights to Hotham airport, not many people from Queensland, SA or WA will bother trying to get to Hotham.

        When Qantas flew Melbourne to Hotham, which ended about 2007, starting fares were around the $99 mark. Starting fares Sydney to Hotham, were around $169 mark. For some reason, Qantas was talked into flying too many days. We’ve been selling snow holidays for over 30 years & the only demand we can see if for flights on Sundays & to a lesser extent on Fridays & flights have to be filled in both directions.

        It’s the midweek market that has to be catered for. Anyone call sell a weekend.

        • Was told by Rex they have no current plans re Cooma or Dinner Plain so it will have to be someone else. Pelican??? I think you are spot on re flight numbers, perhaps just a few return per week from Sydney and Brisbane.

          • Pelican don’t have the right aircraft. Melbourne & Sydney to Hotham nonstop are the go. Plenty of cheap seats to Sydney on Sunday mornings from all over the place. Not that hard to connect at Sydney.

  2. Hotham completely lost me with their ignorant, asinine banning of even the most high-end spider chains. It’s absolutely ludicrous that even though they’re very highly regarded and approved for use everywhere else in the world, somehow they’re not good enough for Hotham! What a pack of morons.

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