Canberra gets cold, because it’s inland, elevated (just shy of 600 metres) and sits in a valley (which means cold are can tend to hang around). It snows, occasionally; mostly it melts as it lands; very rarely it will snow enough to lie on the ground for a while. The first time I experienced snow in Canberra I embarrassed myself by asking my more acclimated friends why the rain was falling in squiggles. They laughed. But I didn’t recognise what I was seeing as snow – not because I grew up in Perth (where it has not snowed this geological epoch, and snow anywhere in the state is headline news) but because the only time I had seen snow – in Ireland and England – it was heavy, thick, and unmistakable for anything else. Not like the anaemic fluff I saw drifting from the sky one Saturday afternoon in Civic.
On another occasion some other chums decided on a drive to a nearby national park, in the hills south of Canberra. As we turned off the main road I said “It’s been snowing.” How could I tell, my friends asked. How would I know, coming from the dusty sunny west? I can smell it, I said, and I meant it – fresh snow has a distinct aroma. The chums expressed doubt, based solely on me coming from the west coast – but as we climbed the hill, there it was: clumps of snow piled up at the side of the road, or hiding under trees. That was the first time I saw gum trees in snow. I saw kangaroos in snow – and experienced a moment of profound cognitive dissonance: these things do not belong together. But there they were.
There are Australian animals – kangaroos and emus among them – that don’t mind a bit of snow, but none of them are so used to it that they grow a winter coat. But then they don’t have to worry about large predators …
The Canberra region gets only an occasional dusting. Nearby, though, are what passes, in Australia, for mountains, and some of the only reliable snowfields in the country. ‘Reliable’, in this case, means that most years the ski resorts have to resort to snowmaking to be sure they can offer a decent run. Not this year: after a dry start there have been actual blizzards in the Snowy Mountains (for so they are named). That’s a good enough excuse for a visit, and pictures.
For some people in some parts of the world the idea of a day trip to the snow would be strange. Snow doesn’t require a trip, or any kind of effort, and it’s not that special: it’s just there. Clogging the driveway, perhaps. But hey, this planet has a southern hemisphere, too, and we get everything backwards.
Heading to the snow means a nice drive at a nice time of year – south along the border of the ACT, and down to Cooma, the countryside green in a way that only seems to happen for a narrow window of time in Australia. There are fluffy sheep and reasonably happy-looking cows, though none of them showing the same fat health I saw in New Zealand last year. There is also roadside art of odd sorts in odd places: the weird Christmas Village in Bredbo; a giant metal ball just outside Cooma that looks like the start or end of a titanic knitting project – all going by too fast for pictures. And then it’s off the highway and up the hills to Jindabyne. A nice spot, and worth a stop – because, alas, beyond that, it’s all about the skiing: Thredbo, Perisher Valley and the other mountain towns are all lodge accommodation and overpriced eateries: the towns have no centre to speak of and little to recommend them beyond the setting. They have been trying – with some success – to become summer destinations, but they depend a lot on the snow trade. This year’s bumper falls notwithstanding, it’s an unpredictable boon, and there are many who believe the days of the Australian ski resorts are numbered.While they last, though, the towns are a magnet for tourists from New South Wales and elsewhere, for school ski trips – bizarre concept, see remarks above re Perth – from all over, and for instructors and snow bunnies of all stripes looking for somewhere to hang out in the northern hemisphere summer.
Heading up out of Jindabyne it started snowing, heavily. Chain weather – another thing I’ve never before encountered in Australia, and heavens can you tell when a car driving past has them fitted wrong. The snow fell thick, and almost horizontal, pushed by a heavy wind. On the dashboard the outside temperature showed 9 degrees … six … and then zero, where it stayed for most of the rest of the day.
We stopped at both Thredbo and Perisher, had some lunch, took some pictures, stood out on account of lack of ski-related clothing – and possibly, in my case, for my lack of a hat, not a mistake I’ll make again. Both resorts were very crowded, because of the excellent conditions. There were better excuses for photos out of town.
For myself I’ve never understood why, if you want to go skiing at this time of year (not my thing), you wouldn’t head off the New Zealand. Given Australian prices it’s probably no more expensive to fly across the ditch for a week in Queenstown …
That said … if there was somewhere in those hills you could stay, with decent food and no loonies in lycra … well, it would be a good spot for a quiet weekend.
The sun came out, late in the day, but not for ling. By the time we turned back for home snow had fallen heavily well below where we’d first seen it, slowing down the traffic to what I thought was a sensible speed. Other people … people with, it should be obvious, not a lot of experience driving in such conditions … not so much. Still: home in once piece: coffee, Thai food, and a chunk of ice falling out of the hood of my sweatshirt at an inopportune time.
Better than sand.
More pictures from the snow.