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Skiing in Australia: snow reliability on the Victorian slopes

Skiing in Australia can be an extremely unreliable experience as the previous snow data says. As the years go by it seems that we continue to hear more about poor ski seasons (or maybe that is the only bit I remember) and I was wondering how unreliable the snow conditions in Australia really are.

To investigate I looked at data from 5 Alpine resorts in Victoria over the past 20 years provide by the Victorian open data portal. The data includes the daily NATURAL snow levels from 1993 to 2014 and the snow levels from SNOW MAKING from 2006 to 2014.
If we focus on the single best day of the season (the day of greatest snow depth) for each season (Figure 1) to get a general idea as to the success of the season. The main conclusion that can be drawn is that Falls Creek and Mt Hotham consistently get 100cm of snow. Corollary, Lake Mountain and Mt Baw Baw are probably best for a family day out with the toboggan rather than any series off-piste skiing. On a good year Mt Buller has some decent snow, but poor snow conditions are frequent.
From season to season the snow levels are extremely variable going from a terrible year across all resorts in 2006 where the highest natural snow level recorded was 53cm at Mt Hotham to a pretty good year in 2007 where nearly all resorts recorded an above average natural snow depth.

Figure 1: Maximum natural snow depth across Victorian ski resorts.

The interesting part is the terrible year that all the resorts had in 2006, which turns out to be the same year that recordings starts for snow making areas. The snow making data shows the proportion of man made snow to natural snow in each resort. In 2006 the snow level of all resorts was nearly doubled using snow making (Figure 2). Other than 2006, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek have not had to rely on much snow making – indicating a pretty reliable place to book a ski holiday.

Figure 2: Maximum depth in snow making areas across Victorian ski resorts.

Maximum snow depth isn’t everything when it comes to a good ski season. The resorts could get a huge dump of snow which could all melt in the coming week due to a bout of warm weather and some rain. So next we’ll investigate which resort has the most reliable skiing for the longest amount of time.
Looking at the average snow level in a snow making area over the past 20 years (Figure 3) we can see which of the resorts have the longest season. We can also see how the Australian snow season generally works. Snow from the start of June will tend to stay throughout the season, slowly building up the base until it peaks at around the middle of August. The snow pack then falls off considerably around the end of August, though is also due to recording ending at the end of the ski season.

Figure 3: Average snow depth for snow making areas through the season

Finally I was interested to see how much of the snow base was man made snow over the course of the season. Looking from 2007 to 2014 we can see the average natural snow level compared to the average man made snow level (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Average snow making depth and natural snow depth over a season

Using this data you can get a pretty reasonable idea how the snow level reported on the mountain represents how much natural snow there is on the mountain. We can see that on average Mount Buller’s snow level in a snow making area is only about 70% natural snow. Whereas both Falls Creek and Mt Hotham have on average much larger snow depths, with a much smaller proportion of the base being from man made snow, which indicates that a lot more of the off piste terrain will be ski-able.

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