THE ski bunnies, the electro-engineers and the resort operators all agree on one thing: 2012 is the best season in the Snowy Mountains for a long time.
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According to the levels measured by Snowy Hydro, the snow was 204 centimetres deep on August 30, which is as deep as it has been since 2004.

Some say the quality and consistency of the snow is as good as it was in the famous 2000 season. Others mutter about 1990. Thredbo resort is so excited it has extended its season until next month.

What they can’t agree on is how long it will last.

While climate scientists predict Australian ski seasons in future will have scantily clad slopes, the ski resorts prefer to focus on the here and now, while hedging their bets with technology that maximises the snow they have, for however long they have it.

”It’s the best since 2000 in terms of snow quality,” Reggae Elliss, the editor of ChillFactor magazine and a long-time Thredbo resident, says.

”It’s been consistent because the season started early. We had really good snow in June and it stayed cold for a long time.”

This was Elliss’s 22nd Thredbo winter, so he has seen some change, both of the climate and cultural kind.

The biggest transformation, he says, is in the sophistication and the reliability of the resorts’ snow-making.

Whereas once it was a crude affair, involving men on a skidoo pumping out snow manually through a hose attached to a hydrant, now it is sprayed across the slopes by giant guns. The guns are connected by optic fibre, and operate automatically when the temperature hits the right point.

”It’s better than being at the mercy of nature all the time,” Elliss says.

But nature will have its way, at least according to climate scientists.

The CSIRO predicts that compared with 1990 levels, there will be 60 per cent less snow on the slopes by 2020, under a high emissions scenario, which is what we’re tracking towards.

”Resorts, national parks and local government researchers have all moved on from ‘Is it happening?’ to ‘How do we deal with it?’,” says Catherine Pickering, a climate scientist and associate professor at Griffith University.

When asked about Thredbo resort’s contingency plans for climate change, the communications manager, Susie Diver, says that snow, just like rainfall, ”goes up and down”.

”You have to make sure you have different infrastructure in place to smooth out those ebbs and flows.”

Richard Phillips, a spokesman for Perisher Blue, says he doesn’t think snow levels will fall off dramatically in the next decade.

”We are making sure we maximise the customer’s experience in the short term,” he says.

Elliss says the business operators and resort personnel in the area err on the conservative side when it comes to climate change thinking.

”I think they would like to believe the sceptics, but it’s pretty bloody obvious to me,” he says. ”It’s real. You can be in denial about it all you want.”

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