The Snowy Mountains, known informally as "The Snowies", are the highest Australian mountain range and contain the Australian mainland's highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, which reaches 2,228 metres AHD, approximately 7310 feet. The range contains the five highest peaks on the Australian mainland, all above 2100 metres (6890 feet). They are located in southern New South Wales and are part of the larger Australian Alps and the Great Dividing Range. This is mainland Australia's only true Alpine region with large natural snowfalls every winter. Snow normally falls the most during June, July and early August. Most of the snow has melted by late spring.
The Tasmanian highlands are the other Alpine region in Australia. It is host to the Mountain Plum-pine, a low-lying type of conifer suspected of being the World's oldest living organism. It is one of the centres of the Australian ski industry during the winter months. The Alpine Way and the Snowy Mountains Highway are the major roads through the Snowy Mountains.
The discovery of gold at Kiandra (elevation 1,400 m or 4,600 ft), in 1859, briefly enticed a population of thousands above the snowline and saw the introduction of recreational skiing to the Snowy Mountains around 1861. The Kiandra Goldrush was short-lived, but the township remained a service centre for recreational and survival skiing for over a century. Australia's first T-Bar was installed at Kiandra in 1957, but the ski facilities were finally shifted up the hill to Selwyn Snowfields in 1978. Steeper slopes and more reliable snows lie further to the south and in the 20th Century, the focus of recreational skiing in New South Wales shifted southward, to the Mount Kosciuszko region.
The higher regions of the park experience an alpine climate which is unusual on mainland Australia. However, only the peaks of the main range are subject to consistent heavy winter snow. The climate station at Charlotte Pass recorded Australia's lowest temperature of -23.0°C on 28 June 1994.
Part of the mountains known as Main Range contains mainland Australia's five glacial lakes. The largest of these lakes is Blue Lake, one of the headwaters of the Snowy River. The other four glacial lakes are Lake Albina, Lake Cootapatamba, Club Lake and Headley Tarn. During the last ice age, which peaked about 20,000 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch, the highest peaks of the main range near Mount Kosciuszko experienced a climate which favoured the formation of glaciers, evidence of which can still be seen today. Cirques moraines, tarn lakes, roche moutonnées and other glacial features can all be seen in the area. Lake Cootapatamba, which was formed by an ice spilling from Mount Kosciuszko's southern flank, is the highest lake on the Australian mainland. Lake Albina, Club Lake, Blue Lake, and Hedley Tarn also have glacial origins.
The Snowy Mountains cover a variety of climatic regions which support several distinct ecosystems. The alpine area above the tree line, is one of the most fragile and covers the smallest area. This area is a patchwork of alpine heaths, herbfields, feldmarks, bogs and fens. The windswept feldmark ecotope is endemic to the alpine region, and covers a mere 300,000 m². It is most vulnerable to the wandering footsteps of unmindful tourists.
Many rare or threatened plant and animal species occur within the Snowy Mountains. The Kosciuszko National Park is home to one of Australia's most threatened species the Corroboree frog. The endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum and the more common Dusky Antechinus are located in the high country of the park. By 2008, wild horse numbers in the National Park had reached 1,700 with that figure growing by 300 each year, resulting in park authorities coordinating their culling and relocation.
The high country is dominated by alpine woodlands, characterised by the Snow Gum. Montane and wet sclerophyll forest also occur across the ranges, supporting large stands of Alpine Ash and Mountain Gum. In the southern Byadbo wilderness area, dry sclerophyll and wattle forests predominate. Amongst the many different native trees in the park, the large Chinese Elm has become naturalised. The bushfires in 2003 damaged tree cover in the region. Fires are a natural feature of the park ecosystem, but it will take some time for the region to return to its pre 2003 condition.
- Evation: 2,228 m (7,310 ft)