In Buller, a country resort just three hours north of Melbourne, just 33,000 people managed to hit the snow in 2020, compared to 422,500 this year.
“We have two trade days for 2020,” Belli said of Hotham.
“We’ve broken a lot of records in terms of attendance, and we’ve had a lot of people who haven’t been on snow before.”
Snow Business Operator Steve Belli
After a year of restrictions placed on businesses across the state, “it eventually became too much,” he said. “We pretty much closed up shop and just went along with everybody.”
Belli, whose businesses include catering, a snow park and cross-country sled tours, said operators have been suffering from staffing and housing shortages this year, forcing him to close one of his businesses.
“Usually we have 15 people. This year there are five of them. We fought a lot,” he said.
“We also have a problem with housing and communal services. It’s not just for us, but we don’t have a lot of affordable housing in the resorts.”
The major NSW resorts of Perisher and Thredba are facing similar housing and staffing problems after a COVID-induced buyout forced people to move permanently to the mountain village of Jindabyne, eliminating a key source of workers’ housing.
“Jindabine has gone crazy, and so have the prices,” said Forbes Stynes estate agent Michelle Stynes.
“We have a large influx of people who buy real estate and use it permanently. The workers who serve Thredba and Perisher live here. Both resorts now have huge staffing problems because they can’t afford to live here anymore. People who paid more for houses want more rent.’
Stines said the problem is slowing, and rising interest rates could force owners to rent out properties for profit, making more affordable for workers. “People can’t get cleaners to service their property like Airbnb,” she said.
Thredbo general manager Stuart Diver said the winter season had been strong from start to finish, on and off the mountain.
“We had 125 centimeters of fresh snow in the week leading up to the opening, one of the best starts to the season in decades,” Diver said.
The halo effect from this year’s Winter Olympics, two years of pent-up demand and record early-season snowfall have turned things around at Buller Mountain, said resort executive director Mark Bennetts.
“It was the cracker of the year,” Bennetts said.
“The snow sports market has been very strong this season, which has also led to strong sales of excursion lift tickets.”
There were also more first-time skiers and boarders.
However, one strong season doesn’t make up for two bad ones. “It’s going to take a couple of strong seasons to make up for the losses over those two years,” he said.
US snow giant Vail, which owns Perisher, Hotham and Falls Creek, said: “We’ve seen a healthy mix of skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels returning to our mountains after two years of limited activity and other challenges related to the global pandemic.”
Perisher’s increased visitation has impacted demand for parking at the resort, the spokesman said.
More snow is expected to fall in the highlands in the coming days, raising hopes that there will be plenty of white snow to see the season end in early October.
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