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THREDBO, Australia (Reuters Life!) - As Europeans strip off and head to the beach, many Australians are wrapping up for a trip to the snowfields, ready to brace the cold -- and some of the most expensive piste prices in the world.
While the "land down under" may be better known for its beaches and outback, it also boasts an active ski season that runs from July until early October at about 10 resorts where man-made snow helps supplement natural falls.
But the snow comes at a price, with Australia's major ski resorts topping a 2010 survey of lift prices at 16 resorts in eight developed countries compiled by the Australian Alpine Club. Australian resorts were found to charge more than those in Europe, North America and Japan.
The annual survey, conducted using prices and exchange rates on April 14 each year, found that Australia's biggest alpine destination, Perisher, about five hours drive from Sydney, topped the list, charging A$105 ($95) for a one-day lift pass.
This compared to A$100 in Whistler in Canada, A$70 in St Moritz in Switzerland and A$65 in Val D'Isere in France.
The Japanese ski resorts of Niseko and Hakuba charge $63 and $49 respectively for one-day lift passes for skiers and snowboarders while in neighboring New Zealand the resorts of Mt Hutt and Cardrona charge $68 a day.
"Ski lift prices at the five major Australian resorts have increased faster than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the past six years," said the Australian Alpine Club which oversees ski lodges in seven resorts.
The club pointed out that the survey did not compare other factors like multi-day or discounted passes, terrain, snow depth or ski lift capacities.
Ian Farrow, chairman of the Australian Alpine Club, said there were various debates around why ski prices are so high in Australia.
"Some say it is due to the cost of snow-making but then I would also suggest that there are factors around the lack of competition as well," Farrow told Reuters.
The high prices have created opportunities for ski resorts in New Zealand and Japan to aggressively target Australian skiers and snowboarders.
The strong Australian dollar and cheap air fares are also incentives for Australians to head overseas for a snow fix with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing a 16 percent rise last year in the number of Australians holidaying overseas.
But the convenience of being able to drive to the snowfields for a day or a weekend and be back at the desk on Monday morning continues to draw Australians to their local resorts.
Susie Diver, communications manager at the resort of Thredbo in the state of New South Wales, said up to one million of Australia's 22 million population ski or snowboard every year and this year was as busy as ever.
"To participate in a snow sport all day for $100 is not that bad, particularly in a country known for its beaches and warm weather where a short season and the cost of staff and making snow is a factor," Diver told Reuters.
"People can jump in their car after work on Friday, drive down and be on the snow the next morning and for two days and get back to work for Monday morning. You can't beat that!"
Editing by Steve Addison