Early stop to snow season

Screenshot of Mt Baw Baw's live camera on the Hut Roll. Photo: Mt Baw Baw website

Zaida Glibanovic

WARMER conditions have forced an early end to the snow season.

Mt Baw Baw closed its snow season on Sunday, September 3 after Alpine Resorts Victoria (ARV) made the announcement on August 25, following many predictions that this snow season would be a very disappointing one.

Normally, Australian ski resorts will remain open until the first weekend of October, but warmer spring weather forecasted by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has forced an early closure.

Baw Baw has struggled to accommodate snow sport lovers; with one lift and run open for most of the 2023 season, the snow season became unviable.

Research by Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, into climate change’s impact on snow conditions has found a growing trend of snow depth decline and shorter snow seasons.

“By 2050, the average snow season becomes 20-55 days shorter for the low scenario and 30-80 days shorter for the high scenario. Larger changes are likely at lower elevations, such as Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain,” the CSIRO report found.

Additionally, the BoM has said that changes in snow cover in Australia are strongly linked to changes in air temperature. According to the BoM, Australia’s climate has warmed an average of 1.47 degrees Celsius over the past century, with peak snow depths decreasing by 0.35 centimetres per year.

With Australia only recently officially entering an El Niño event, the BoM previously warned of El Niño conditions with below-average rainfall across eastern Australia, meaning less snowfall on the Australian Alps.

Additionally, during El Niño, temperatures are often warmer during the day and night, creating terrible conditions for snow production.

Another climate factor – a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) year – also tends to affect the snow season across south-eastern Australia, with negative years producing higher snow depths on average.

The lower recent natural snowfalls on Mt Baw Baw have affected skiing, tobogganing, lessons and snow play, with warmer night conditions making man-made snow production difficult.

Snow-making is one way resorts are combating poor snowfalls. The electricity and water intensive process works by compressing water to create a thin mist; if it’s thin and cold enough, it will stay in the air to crystallise and form snow.

However, snow-making is incredibly costly and very little snow fall takes a toll on resort budgets, with the smaller peaks like Mt Baw Baw unable to foot the bill.

Talking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Climate Council research director, Dr Martin Rice, said the costs of snowmaking would continue to grow, forcing resorts into year-long activities like hiking.

Dr Rice added that ski resorts would struggle to operate at their peaks due to the climate change factors affecting snowfall conditions.

While the entry and chain hire at Mt Baw Baw resort has ceased since September 3, access to the mountain remains open.

Visitors outside the snow season are reminded to check the local weather forecast before visiting, as snow can fall at any time of the year, creating icy conditions on the road. Just two weeks ago, on Friday, September 5, Mt Baw Baw received five centimetres of snowfall overnight.

Contrastingly, September is commonly the time of year with the deepest snowpack. In an exceptional year for snow in 2022, the heaviest recorded depth of the season at Spencer’s Creek in NSW was 232cm on September 20.

Though it’s been a tough season for Victoria’s local alps, some positives have come out of snow season 2023.

Parks Victoria has reaffirmed its commitment to Saint Gwinear; DEECA (the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action) has committed to a three-year service agreement for the South Face Road; and ARV is working towards new projects and funding models to ensure the long-term viability of the Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort.

Erica Ski Hire took to Facebook to thank the community for its ongoing support into the green season.

“The township has been hit hard by poor snow conditions, but is ready to welcome you in green season and has plenty to offer so book accommodation, do that walk, ride the train or just relax in the beautiful mountain air. Check out some of the locals waiting to welcome you in green season.”

Mt. Baw Baw is not the only resort to announce early closures. Two other Australian resorts, Mt. Stirling and Lake Mountain, also ended the season on September 3.

Other Victoria Alpine resorts remain open, with Falls Creek, Mt Buller and Hotham still operating yet with limited skiing and snowboarding available.