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Falls Creek eyes ski season to recoup summer of landslide losses

Key points

  • A single lane of the main route to Falls Creek is expected to open by April 25. 
  • Work is continuing to clear the biggest landslide in Victoria for the past 40 years. 
  • Tourism operators are preparing for a full ski season after losing an entire summer. 

Falls Creek tourism operators are confident this year’s ski season will go ahead, but say it will take several years to recover from a landslide that left them stranded during the lucrative summer tourist season.

Businesses and residents have endured a nightmarish summer of isolation in the alpine resort since the slow-moving landslide – the largest in Victoria’s recent history – buried a large section of the Bogong High Plains Road in October.

The landslide at Falls Creek has been a calamity for businesses.Credit:Jason South

Major Road Projects Victoria expects to reopen one lane of the Bogong High Plains Road by April 25, although it is not yet clear whether both lanes will be operational in time for winter.

Falls Creek Alpine Resort chief operating officer Stuart Smythe said the tentative date for reopening the road had given businesses confidence the ski season would proceed.

“It’s certainly some light at the end of the landslip,” he said.

Smythe said the ski season could go ahead even with only one lane of the Bogong High Plains Road open, although it would increase travel times for visitors and employees who lived outside the resort.

Falls Creek chief operating officer Stuart Smythe says a full ski season will go ahead despite the landslide that’s closed the main route into the town. Credit:Jason South

“It will be a small inconvenience, but it’s manageable.”

The summer tourism season has become an increasingly important part of Falls Creek’s economy, but the disaster forced the cancellation of all events on the mountain over the past few months and the village was almost devoid of visitors.

Jerry Brazda, owner of Karelia Lodge and JB’s Restaurant and Bar, said having one lane open was better than nothing. But he said winter bookings at his lodge would be down on previous years after months of uncertainty about access to the alpine village.

He expected bookings would reach up to 70 per cent capacity for the winter, a considerable decrease on typical years when he’s booked out during the peak season.

Earth moving equipment clearing the landslide on the Bogong High Plains Road. Credit:Major Road Projects Victoria

“I have to be optimistic,” he said. “Otherwise, it will get me down.”

Access to the village is currently open via a southern access route, which takes about 6 ½ hours from Melbourne. It is closed during the ski season.

A local access road has also opened recently, but this can only be used by four-wheel drives.

The landslide was among a string of disasters at the village in the past four years, including the Black Summer fires and COVID-19 lockdowns, which starved the local economy of visitors.

Before the landslide struck, operators had hoped the summer would bring about a change in fortunes, with the resort’s managers expecting visitation to surpass 140,000.

Consultancy Urban Enterprise has forecast the closure of Bogong High Plains Road would result in losses of $33.9 million in direct expenditure at Falls Creek over the warmer months, and another $26.3 million in indirect spending.

Cooroona Alpine Lodge owner Lachlan Beckett said bookings had now reached about 60 per cent occupancy for the ski season, compared to just eight nights’ worth of bookings over summer. The lodge sleeps 50 people.

Beckett said he expected to break even this winter.

An isolated Falls Creek this summer.Credit:Jason South

“But that won’t cover the losses of summer,” he said. “It will take a couple of years to recoup the six-figure losses.”

Beckett said the landslide had dealt a heavy emotional blow to the village with the isolation severing social connections.

Major Road Projects Victoria program director Dipal Sorathia said the Bogong High Plains Road would open to one lane of traffic from April 25, subject to weather and ground conditions.

“This is the biggest landslip Victoria has seen in 40 years and our crews are working seven days a week on both sides of the landslip to manage these recovery works,” he said.

The authority confirmed more than 55,000 cubic metres of material – enough to fill 22 Olympic swimming pools – had been cleared so far.

A fleet of 30 trucks and earth-moving machines have been working to clear the landslide.

While efforts have focused on re-establishing road access to Falls Creek for winter, Major Road Projects Victoria said it was still working to determine a permanent solution for the Bogong High Plains Road to protect it from further landslides.

Falls Creek Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Logan said customer inquiries across the resort had increased since the tentative April reopening date had been established.

“There is a lot more confidence out in the public,” she said.

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