Australia's not-so Snowy Mountains: Why Vail bought a ski resort Down Under

Sun Apr 5, 2015 5:00pm EDT
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By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY, April 6 (Reuters) - When self-confessed snowboarding addict Risma Utami planned ski trips from her adopted hometown of Sydney, conspicuously absent from the wishlist of destinations were the fields in the nearby Snowy Mountains.

"Europe, Japan and New Zealand are cheaper, you have better quality snow there, more challenging slopes, great accommodation, less waiting time at the lift and more skiing," the 29-year old said.

With climate change threatening Australia's already meagre alpine skiing resources, the Snowy Mountains might not seem an obvious choice for the first international foray by U.S. ski giant Vail Resorts Inc, which last week agreed to pay $136 million for Perisher Ski Resort.

Perisher is Australia's largest and most popular ski resort, but in a country better known for deserts and beaches, it faces some significant natural hurdles.

The summit of Mt Perisher, at just over 2,000 metres (6,500 ft), is nearly 900 metres (2,950 ft) below the base of Vail's Breckenridge, one of the almost dozen U.S resorts it owns.

Perisher's annual snowfall has varied between a healthy 384 cm (12-1/2 ft) and a woeful 7 cm (3 ins) over the past five years, according to snow sports website, forcing the resort to increasingly rely on artificial snowmaking.