Australian ski aficionados are already planning their next overseas winter getaway, as local ski travel specialists race to keep up with early booking demand.
As record high winter temperatures in parts of Europe close slopes or force resorts to pivot to summer recreations, destinations like Japan and Canada are in high demand, bolstered by favourable exchange rates.
Melissa Cowley, managing director at Sydney-based ski specialist wholesaler Ski Travel Company, said she’s already fielding northern hemisphere holiday enquiries for Christmas 2023 and January 2024.
The early demand has meant wholesalers like Cowley are working two-to-three months ahead to finalise overseas ski packages with suppliers.
“It is unusual because normally we don’t really start to get the contracts [for ski packages] until March/April,” said Cowley.
Japan in particular, which reopened to foreign independent travellers on October 11, is proving an affordable option for travellers. The Australian dollar is currently fetching nearly 90 Japanese yen, after hitting a seven-year-high last September.
Australian expat Mark Baumann, who’s based in Japan’s Nozawa Onsen and owns travel company Nozawa Holidays Australia, said his village has a reputation for being one of the best-value ski destinations in the world.
“Nozawa Onsen and Japan in general is still some of the cheapest skiing on the planet and some of the best,” said Baumann.
“Our slogan for Nozawa has always been ‘twice the snow for half the price’.”
Accommodation near the slopes can start from 7500 yen ($A83) a night including breakfast, healthy meals can start from 1000 yen ($A11), while ski lift passes tend to cost a fraction of the daily rates charged by Australian ski resorts.
“The most popular lift pass we sell is six days which is 31500 yen last year … that is just $A57 a day for all the Aussie guests, less than half the price of Thredbo,” said Baumann.
Cowley noted that Japan’s late start to international travel has resulted in low air travel capacity and higher airfares in short-term, as Japanese nationals race to make up for lost time.
“We’re finding we can get people over there but for the flights coming back, it’s almost impossible to get seats at the moment,” she said.
However, those planning ahead for the next winter season are spoiled for affordable options around the world, including Japan, which shines for its quality and volume of snow, and close proximity to Australia.
Cowley suggests avoiding the cliched and expensive regions like Niseko for Nozawa Onsen, Hakuba and, for hardcore skiers, Shiga Kogen.
“Hakuba offers eight resorts on the one ticket… Shiga Kogen is probably the biggest and one of the best skiing resorts ever in Japan, but there is no village,” said Cowley.
In Europe, Val d’Isère in the French Alps and Chamonix are ideal for confident skiers.
Those eyeing a North American getaway will find great value in Banff, Canada, a national park with hot springs and the iconic Chateau Lake Louise.
“People shy away because you do have to transfer to ski… But the snow that you get would be comparable to what you’d get in Japan,” said Cowley.
For Australians who hold an annual ski resort pass – the main ones are the Epic Pass by Vail Resorts and the Ikon Pass by Alterra Mountain Company – there are further options.
In the US, the Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain in California are both good value for Ikon Pass holders. While those with an Epic Pass would do well to head to Breckenridge in Colorado.
Cowley suggests signing up for ski specialist email alerts to be the first to get their hands on the limited annual passes, which consistently sell out each year.
“The value of the Ikon and Epic passes are massive if you’re going to do multiple resorts and multiple trips,” she said.