Australia’s highest terrain is in the Snowy Mountains, which peak at the 2228m Mount Kosciuszko, named in 1840 by the Polish-born explorer Paul Strzelecki, after the Polish freedom fighter General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. The Snowies are just one section of the Australian Alps that sprawl from northeast Victoria into New South Wales via the Crackenback Range, with much of the New South Wales section falling within the Kosciuszko National Park. This is the state’s largest national park, extending 200km north to south and encompassing ten peaks above 2100m, forested valleys and a beautiful plateau with glacial lakes and rivers. Compared to the high mountain ranges of other continents, the “roof of Australia” is relatively low and the rounded and granite-strewn mountaintops lie below the line of permanent snow. Nonetheless, in winter (roughly late June–early Oct), skiers and boarders flock to Australia’s most concentrated cluster of ski resorts, almost all in the Mount Kosciuszko area.
The downhilling isn’t world-class and the snow is rarely dry, but it’s better than you might think, and if you’re into back-country skiing, the Snowy Mountains offer a paradise of huge, empty valleys, snow-gum forests and wildlife. In summer, some of the resorts close completely but the towns are less crowded and work as bases for excellent hiking along with mountain biking, horse trekking, fishing and white-water rafting in crystal-clear mountain rivers. The main resort town is Thredbo, which operates ski-lifts throughout the year up to a high plateau, from where you can bushwalk across the wildflower-covered high country and reach Australia’s highest summit. The other main ski town is lakeside Jindabyne, 35km further west along the scenic Alpine Way and just outside the eastern boundary of the park. It doesn’t have its own ski-field but provides access along Kosciuszko Road to a string of resorts that virtually close down in summer. Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow, Guthega and Perisher Valley are jointly managed as Perisher, while Charlotte Pass is further uphill at the road end.
Eastern access to the region is through the small town of Cooma, where the hour-long drive to the snow guarantees lower accommodation prices. From here you can head for the northern reaches of the park and Yarrangobilly Caves, which are well worth the long drive.