User:Tdaniel/The Changing Nature of Winter Sports in Australia

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The snow sports industry in Australia is predominantly regarded as recreational. For most people, skiing and snowboarding is no more than an adventure holiday enjoyed for a few days a year. However, Australia is fortunate to can claim two Winter Olympic Champions from the 2010 Games and four world champions this year alone.

Furthermore, Australia is beginning to grow a world-class reputation in 'freestyle' winter sports. This is a more contemporary form of skiing and snowboarding that branches away from the traditional competitive styles such as downhill racing and jumping. Rather, athletes perform acrobatic skills awarded on execution.

Fortunately, the International Olympic Committee announced in July that the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will include eight new sports which will include slopestyle events for both skiiers and boarders. These additions could help place Australia in its best ever medal position. Last year Australia placed 13th in the overall medal tally: the highest ranked finish at any Winter Olympic Games. This was with a total of three medals.

This article will examine the changing nature of winter sports in Australia with a history dating back to the mid 1800s. Since then, nine olympic medals have been claimed by Australians. Last year, Australia's two gold medals were both in freestyle events. This opens up issues such as the direction of funding, athlete development, coaching and access to training facilities. With less than three years until the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Australian Olympic Committee with the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia need to consider these changes to winter sports in order to allow our athletes the best chance to compete.


Alpine skiing pictogram.svg

Australia is a country regarded more for its beaches, sunshine and droughts. However, Australia is also home to ten ski resorts. These areas experience seasonal fluctuations in visitors during their short season of up to three months. For some winter athletes, these ski resorts may have been the introduction to their chosen sport. Australian winter athletes are beginning to grow a reputation in freestyle sports, which includes aerial skiing, mogul skiing, halfpipe and slopestyle events. Australia has recently celebrated two Olympic Champions and four world champions. It is now up to sporting institutions, such as the Olympic WInter Institute as well as government organisations, such as the Australian Olympic Committee, to nurture and continue to grow on the talent. The International Olympic has also recently accepted slopestyle and halfpipe skiing into the 2014 Winter Olympics. Australia's best ever medal position is now at stake and changes are likely to be made to programs including, funding, athlete development, coaching and access to training facilities. These developments at the competitive level, is also likely to affect local ski resorts, communities and snow enthusiasts who support the tourism industry.

Background of Australia's snowsports industry[edit]

History of Australia's snow industry[edit]

Skiing in Australia began in 1859 in Kiandra, Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.

The discovery of gold brought 15 000 miners from all over the world to the area. During the winter of 1860 Scandinavian miners introduced snow shoeing (skiing) to Australia [1].

It was from here that the world of snowsports in Australia began its journey to what is today a multi billion-dollar industry.

In the 1870s the Kiandra Snow Show Club was formed: the first and oldest ski club in the world. Every July the club held a snow-shoe carnival. The inaugural event marked the world’s first ever ski competition.

In the 1890’s, the New South Wales Alpine Club was formed. Inter club competitions began when eight members visited Kiandra for the annual snow-shoe carnival [2].

The NSW Government showed its recognition of skiing when in 1909 they funded the building of Hotel Kosciusko.

Following WWI, Australians began travelling to Europe for ski vacations and returning home with new skills and enthusiasm. Vice versa, skiers from overseas came to Australia, bringing with them new equipment and technology.

The Chalet at Charlotte’s Pass opened in May 1930. International skiers visiting the area introduced ski jumping and slalom racing.

During this period, the Ski Council of NSW was formed to administer the sport of skiing. This was an important step in developing the sport from a recreational hobby to a competitive exercise.

Following World War II, Governments relaxed restrictions on building within National Park boundaries and new roads allowed access into remote areas. Resorts continued to develop with rope tows, T-bars and chairlifts being built during the early 1960s. From then, the early days were past and gone, and Australia’s mountain resorts were under way [3].

The Contemporary Mountain[edit]

A freestyle skiier. By Jibbert (2007) Wikimedia Commons

Today ski resorts are shared by both an abundance of skiers and snowboarders. However, snowboards did not appear in Australia until 1987 at the Victorian resort of Mount Buller [4]. Since then snowboarding has progressively grown as a sport across the country’s resorts.

With the influence of America, terrain parks began to appear in Australia. These areas of the mountain contained features that allowed skiers and snowboarders to perform tricks. Terrain parks have their roots in skate parks and many of the features are common to both. This includes, rails, jumps and half pipe features. As a result a new area of snowsports has opened up, often referred to as ‘freestyle’ skiing and boarding.

Australia's Winter Athletes[edit]

Australia first competed in the 1936 Winter Olympics with just one representative. It wasn’t until 1994 when Australia won their first Winter Olympic medal: bronze in short track relay team. Since then, Australia has progressively improved their position on the medal tally [5].

Australia’s improving performances can be linked to the establishment of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWI). The Institute was established by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). following the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. At the Games Australia celebrated their first individual medal when Zali Steggall won bronze in the women’s alpine slalom.

The OWI was set up to enable the development of elite performances in winter sports by Australian athletes. This was to be achieved through the provision of adequate funding, world-class sports programming and technical coaching.

During the first year of operation the OWI sport program consisted of aerial skiing, alpine skiing and mogul skiing. Immediately international results increased to include two world champions and five individual world cup medals.

Today, the OWI provides sport program opportunities for approximately 30 athletes across seven winter sport disciplines. The sports includes: alpine skiing, mogul skiing, aerial skiing, snowboard, short track speed skating, skeleton and figure skating [6].

With the recent introduction of a number of freestyle events to the 2014 Winter Olympics, the number of athletes in the OWI programs is likely to increase. This year Australia has celebrated four world champions in freestyle events: Holly Crawford, Nathan Johnstone, Alex Pullin and Anna Segal.

The newly introduced Winter Olympic events will include slopestyle skiing, slopestyle snowboarding and halfpipe skiing [7]. The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision recognises the millions of youths who are already participating in the sport in terrain parks around the world.

Development of our Athletes[edit]

Currently a number of opportunities exist for Australia’s winter athletes to compete at national and international level. However, these avenues can be exclusive and restricted to athletes and their families that are willing to dedicate time and money for private coaching, training camps, equipment and travelling costs. This section will look at the pathways opened to winter athletes at varying levels of competition. Pathways in snowsports

Talent Identification[edit]

One of the aims of the OWI is to ‘develop and prepare elite Australian athletes for their participation in Olympic Winter Games…’ [8]. One of the issues for the OWI is finding these athletes. Many of the sports at the Winter Olympics have a culture and history which can be more closely linked with European countries. For many Australians there is little to no opportunity to train and compete in some of the more traditional events.

The OWI has overcome this issue by partnering with the AIS and ASC to run talent identification camps that focus on former sport athletes. This has been successful in the winter sport of skeleton. Emma Licoln-Smith, a former beach sprint champion was able to transfer her power and skills to finish tenth at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Men's Aerial Finals, 2010 Winter Olympics. By Duncan Rawlinson (2010) Wikimedia Commons

The talent identification program has also proved its success in aerial skiing. The program restricts itself to gymnasts who have formerly competed at elite level but who are looking at transferring their skills onto snow. Currently, the OWI only has a women’s program but it is regarded as one of the best in the world. At the last three Olympics, Australia has had podium finishes: in 2002 and 2010 receiving the gold medal.

Winter Sports Clubs[edit]

One of the major pathways that open up young athletes to the elite stream of competition is through competitive sport clubs which are offered at most ski resorts.

Perisher's Winter Sports Club (WSC) conducts a variety of season long programs specially designed for athletes to develop and progress their snow riding skills. The WSC’s program is tailored for juniors from 8 years old to 14 years and over. To be critical of the program, accessibility is difficult once a child reaches 14 years of age. The WSC is primarily focused on training athletes from a young age and having full control of their development in the sport.

Also, the WSC is an expensive program making it exclusive to families with a high disposable income and who are willing to commit their time. This factor is of particular concern, as it allows for only the wealthier children to participate and may exclude those with talent. On a positive note, the program offers highly qualified coaches from Australia and around the world as well the opportunity for athletes to compete in National competitions and participate in overseas training camps during the summer [9]. Other clubs in Australia include: Falls Creek Race Club, Mt Buller Race Club, Team Buller and Thredbo Race Club [10].

National Competitions[edit]

Over the winter season, a number of national events are offered to winter athletes. It is not a requirement to compete under a winter sport club or team, however the riding ability often requires a high to an elite level of skill.

There are a number of events opened just for younger riders. These tend to be linked to Winter sport clubs and difficult for lower level juniors to enter without being part of a program. These events include: Teenage rampage Australian junior series, Australian Rookie fest, Junior National Mogul Championships and Interschools.

Events such as Thredbo Freeride Series and Perisher Night Slopestyle Series includes both the juniors and professional riders. It is a display of the diversity and depth that Australian freestyle riding has developed over the seasons.

Overseas athletes[edit]

Freestyle riding has its roots overseas where it continues to progress. Most Australian riders therefore spend their summers at American and European resorts to continue to work on their skills. Younger riders will attend training camps conducted by professional Australian or international coaches and riders.

Some athletes in particular sports will continue living overseas all year round. For example aerial skiers spend 10 months a year overseas in order to use facilities such as structured water jumps and progressive on snow jumps that are not available in Australia [11].

Similarly, Olympic Champion, Torah Bright, began spending 6-months a year overseas by the age of 14. Today, she bases herself in Salt Lake City, Utah where she trains and lives with her American husband and pro snowboarder Jake Welch.

Tourism and the Local Community[edit]

Tourism is a key contributor to the Snowy Mountains region. Every year the area experiences an influx of visitors and workers during the snow season. This places an increased pressure on the local community and businesses who annually experience the highs and lows that come with being a seasonal tourist destination.

The Tourism Industry[edit]

The tourism industry is important to snowsports as it helps to support the economy by providing profit to local businesses and ski resorts. A high turnover can result in increased expenditure placed back into maintaining the region such as improving accommodation and resort facilities. Also, the more people introduced to skiing and snowboarding, increases the interest and possible competitive nature of the sport. The issues preventing the area from sustaining an economically viable tourism industry year round is linked with maintaining a permanent labour force in the region, investing in tourism infrastructure and improving transport access [12].

The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism recently conducted a visitor survey to help effectively increase the year-round contribution of tourism to the local economy. Of the 1,200 people surveyed, only 38% cited an interest in skiing. This was found to be as a result of the region not being ‘top of the mind as a domestic tourism destination’ and having a ‘limited knowledge of the area.’ The region was also perceived as not offering good value for money, being expensive and difficult to organise a trip to the region [13].

Perisher have responded to the marketing aspect of tourism by including 2010 Olympic Gold medallist, Torah Bright to become the Resorts Ambassador. Torah is now the face of Perisher in advertising and promotional campagains, representing the resort where she first started snowboarding and where she developed as an athlete [14]. This strategy is likely to attract a diverse range of people as well as promote the resort at an international scale.

The Departments survey also found that the region’s main competitors with regard to skiing were identified as New Zealand and Japan. This has resulted in Perisher and Thredbo ski resorts reducing their ticket prices for next season by 50 per cent. The ABC reported that the offer by the two resorts is ‘designed to stimulate demand and counter pressure from overseas ski fields. Furthermore, ‘the resorts want to grow the market and help boost businesses throughout the region.’ [15]

Sustainable Tourism[edit]

The Snowy Mountains, as well as its ski resorts, is also regarded for its scenery, landscapes, and lakes. The region’s natural environment is the one of the main contributing factors as to tourists visiting the area [16]. The challenge is to ensure that the industry is managed to prevent the loss of the natural and cultural values of the area. The Snowy Mountains must develop a strong commitment to sustainable tourism in order to minimise impact on the natural environment while generating income and employment. The NSW Government has released a Strategic plan to help promote sustainability in the Snowy Mountains region.

Global Warming[edit]

Global warming is one of the biggest concerns in respect to Australia’s snow seasons. Global Warming will disturb the snow cover, affect the ski industry as well as harm native species. In the Snowy Mountains alpine area, snow depth has decreased by approximately 10% and spring snow depth has declined by 40% over the last 40 years [17]. Snow-depth Chart (1971-2010)

Local resorts have responded to this by installing millions of dollars worth of snow making equipment to help with snow cover over their more popular ski runs. For example, Perisher has undertaken a three-year $19million investment in automated snowmaking that culminated in 2009 [18] . Perisher has also become known for building a terrain park regardless of their snowfall. Some terrain park features, such as rails and boxes, do not require much snow and as a result it attracts riders to the area. It is also a reflection of the popularity of freestyle riding.


Australia's history in snow sports is relatively underrated considering it all began in 1859. Since then, it has continued to grow and develop under the influence of European and American culture. Today, most Australian ski resorts contain a terrain park or multiple parks. This is a reflection of the growing popularity of freestyle skiing and snowboarding. This paper has examined the development of Australia's winter athletes and the pathways available to becoming an elite competitor. The main issue is accessibility. Sporting institutions in partnerships with government organisations and local ski resorts need to overcome this, in order to find the most potential athletes. This has already been successful in aerial skiing and similar programs need to be set up and suited to each sport. The tourism industry is a huge contributor to the economy of local ski communities such as the Snowy Mountains region. It is important that visitation remains at a level that will sustain or increase business profit without damaging the environment. This is a key aspect of sustainable tourism which is vital to the area. There is much potential in the snow industry in Australia but is reliant on a number of variables such as weather, snow fall and economy.


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  3. Flattely,S. (1952)The Australian Ski Pictorial Melbourne, Georgian House
  4. National Alpine Museum of Australia 2010, The History of Snowboarding viewed 23 October 2011,
  5. Wikipedia 2011, Australia at the Winter Olympics viewed 24 October 2011,
  6. Olympic Winter Institute 2011, OWIA History viewed 24 October 2011
  7. United States ski and Snowboard Association July 5 2011, Slopestyle added to the 2014 Winter Olympics viewed 20 October 2011
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  9. Perisher 2011 Winter Sports Club viewed on 22 October 2011
  10. Ski and Snowboard Australia 2011, Resorts/Clubs viewed on 20 October 2011
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  13. Tourism Research Australia (2010). Consumer Perceptions of the Snowy Mountains as a holiday destination viewed on 20 October 2011
  14. Perisher (2010, 4 June) Torah Bright joins the team at Perisher viewed 23 October 2011
  15. ABC News (2011, 20 September) Ski resorts slash prices as competition heats up viewed on 13 October 2011
  16. The Snow Mountains (2011) About the Snowy Mountains viewed on 29 October 2011
  17. Slatyer, R (2010) Climate change impacts on Australia's alpine ecosystems viewed on 27 October 2011
  18. Perisher (2010, 18 July) Perisher's $19million snowmaking investment an outstanding success in 2010 viewed on 28 October 2011