By Steve Cuff
AS we approach the official start of winter tomorrow, where regional travel was to have been allowed from June 1, there is frustration in the Snowy Mountains regarding the “semi” announcement on Friday that the southern area of Kosciuszko National Park will be closed and off limits to visitors for the Queen’s Birthday June Long Weekend.
The snow resorts of Thredbo, Perisher and Charlotte Pass have no lifts running and are closed to skiers, their season will not commence until later in June. These alpine areas plus the campgrounds of Thredbo Diggings and Ngarigo are closed but only for the long weekend from June 5-9. (other Kosciuszko areas outside of these closures are still open)
The message delivery from the State Government and now National Parks has not been clear and poorly executed in this instance.
The problem is the detail was not explained last week when the NSW Government announced the snow season will officially start on June 22. It would have saved a lot of confusion and frustration if they had stated if the June Long Weekend was open.
Snowy Mountains Magazine spoke with National Parks today to find out more detail, and to understand why these closures have occurred, and when it is explained “correctly” it has logic.
The reasoning behind not allowing visitors to the alpine regions of Perisher Valley and Thredbo from June 5-9 is all about health and safety and the abundance of logistics associated with the looming snow season opening. The opening dates were only released last week and now the work to open safely is being finalised.
To have any glitch in the local health system at this late stage could see the whole snow season scuttled even before it starts. Whether you agree or not agree is irrelevant. We just need to comply as they are all for the benefit of the community being safe, and in this instance, the snow season commencing.
As we said last week in another story, the Alternative is NO Snow Season.
It would be disastrous now if through poor social distancing, or lack of control, or limited facilities available this long weekend there was a COVID-19 case. It would be good night snow season.
The vast numbers that visited during the last snow storm in early May when non essential was not allowed, was the tipping point. This coming weekend authorities needed to be overly cautious.
It has been very trying times, decisions and regulations have been constantly evolving and just to enable the snow season to start has been enormous for our region and local businesses. There are a multitude of procedures and regulations constantly morphing in the background as developments continually change.
NPWS Southern Ranges Director Mick Pettitt said they are working closely with NSW Police, NSW Health, ambulance, local health services and the resorts, who have all offered support to limit numbers visiting (long weekend) as the facilities are just not ready at present.
The long weekend closure is “to ensure that we have the best chance possible of having a successful ski season.”
Explaining the process for the month of June, Mr Pettitt said, “The reason the resorts are opening in around the 22nd June rather than waiting for the school holidays, is it gives us an ability locally to be able to gear up and manage for things that are completely new for all of us.”
“We know that as of 22nd June there will be more numbers coming to the area, but not as large as a school holiday period. So it gives us an ability to make sure, and the resorts as well to make sure they can practice their self distancing, regulations from their staff and directions to their staff to ensure the facilities and utilities such as toilet facilities, facilities where people can gather are all managed appropriately.
“It gives us an opportunity to actually prepare, and every business has to have a COVID safe plan so it gives us the ability to build a plan, and then start on that plan without mass numbers.”
Backcountry skiers will need to fill out a NPWS trip intention form this year.
During the Snow Season
Once the snow season starts from June 22 there will be other regulations in place. Again it is all about health and safety in the community and controlling numbers.
Camping sites within the National Park will be open during the snow season but operating at 50% capacity for social distancing regulations. You will have to book online to book your camp site.
Backcountry visitors will have to obtain a trip intention form so NPWS know how many people are out in the backcountry.
“That is more related to potential impacts if something goes wrong, or a number of emergency, or a number of serious injuries or lost people, it doesn’t put stress on emergency services and local medical groups as well,” said Mr Pettitt.
To start the season there will be no cap on trip intention forms, but will be assessed as the season progresses.
Visitor Entry Stations
The roads will have no roadblocks at the visitor entry stations, except for Kosciuszko Road on the June long weekend.
Entry stations will be monitored to observe traffic flow early in the snow season and adjust accordingly as the season progresses. The NPWS don’t want to create any traffic jams.
“So it is very much a work in progress as we go through the early part of the season to see how we manage it.”
No Snow Play or Tobogganing
The reasoning behind offering no snow play activities all comes back to the NPWS not being able to manage number capacity or self distancing regulations in these areas.
People and cars will not be allowed to stop at various parts in the alpine including Dead Horse Gap, Cascades and Kosciuszko Road.
NSW Police, Transport NSW and NPWS Visitor compliance officers will manage situations.
The message is clear, if you do not have a lift ticket to access the mountain or a trip intention form, do not visit the national park.
You can find more details here for Kosciuszko National Park
Visitors whop want to just do snow play or toboggan will not be allowed this year.