Give me a run among the gum trees, despite my bung knees, a wine or two and so much to do. A powder stash out the back, fine groomers out the front, and big, gnarly airs. Just kidding. Gnarly airs are not for me – bung knees and all – so an old rocking chair works just fine.
John Williamson wrote the classic, “Home Among the Gum Trees”, on which the above words are based, but he perhaps could have written an alpine version; an ode to the extraordinary beauty of Australia’s alpine playgrounds.
While our mountains might not be as high as the neck-craning peaks of Colorado or Switzerland, the runs might not be as long as those in Europe or Canada, and our snow depth a mere trifle compared to the meteoric dumps found in Hokkaido, Japan, don’t be fooled; the skiing and snowboarding in Australia has a lot going for it.
Most of our skiable terrain is below the tree line, which helps with visibility and is far prettier than bald peaks. You won’t be woken up by the ‘kaboom’ of avalanche bombing before breakfast because the avalanche danger here is nowhere near as bad as it is in other countries.
A ski holiday in Australia won’t see you dressed in so many layers you feel like the Michelin man (or woman) because the temperature is something ridiculous like -24ºC. You can have a longer ski day in Australia than you can in, say, Canada, or New Zealand, where it is still dark when Australians are ready to get going. And the obvious one is, well, we live here so it is easier for us to get there and to organise snow weekends with friends or longer holidays with family.
So what are you waiting for. The ski season is mere months away, with lifts turning from the June long weekend. And if Mother Nature doesn’t play nice early in the season, our snowmaking systems are so high tech, you will always have something to ski on.
Park it in Kosciuszko
This gem of a national park is where you’ll find the big daddies of skiing and snowboarding in New South Wales – Perisher and Thredbo. The highway from Sydney to Cooma – and the McDonalds at Goulburn! – and on to Jindabyne, is extra busy on winter weekends, with ski-clad cars on the road to the Holy Grail at their chosen resort. Perisher and Thredbo both have die-hard fans and both are world-class.
Perisher made world news a few years back when it was purchased by Vail Resorts, adding to their stable of big name resorts like Vail, Park City, Heavenly and as of this year, Whistler. Those who purchase an Epic Australia Pass can get real bang for their buck with unlimited access to Perisher this season and skip over to the Northern Hemisphere in our summer for access to the dreamy slopes of the heavy hitters in the Vail stable.
Perisher is the biggest resort in the Southern Hemisphere with four separate mountains all linked. You can wear out your legs skiing from Perisher to Blue Cow, across to Guthega and pop into Smiggin Holes on the way back – leave time for a hot chocolate at the Avalunch Café with delicious mounds of marshmallows. This choice of terrain means there is always somewhere good to ski out of the wind, in trees, out of the trees or with some terrain park action.
There are some great ski-in, ski-out options like the Perisher Valley Hotel, the Sundeck or one of the lodges like Corroboree, or you can choose to stay in Jindabyne and drive up every day, or drive to Bullock Flat and catch the Skitube to Perisher. The train is also how you get to Perisher if you are staying on-snow.
Thredbo turns 60 in 2017 and is definitely getting better with age. Thredbo has the highest lifted point in Australia, with the top of Karel’s T-bar located at a lofty 2,037 metres. Even non-skiers can grab a slice of the view by heading up the Kosciuszko Express chairlift and having lunch at the Eagles Nest restaurant. The view over the village is magical but you might be too busy exploring the runs around Antons and Sponars, around The Meadows or ticking off the big five longest runs in Australia to really look at it.
And don’t think because you haven’t skied before that it is too late. Thredbo’s Friday Flat beginner area is super safe and before long you will be heading up the chairlifts to play in friendly runs around the Cruiser chair.
Thredbo has a stack of accommodation including hotels like The Denman and the River Inn, apartments from studios to five bedrooms and lodges that are great for everyone. While there is some ski-in, ski-out accommodation, most is dotted up the hill up in the village or down in Woodridge near Friday Flat and there is a fabulous shuttle service which picks up and drops off at regular intervals and along regular routes.
Victorian High Country
Albury is the gateway to Falls Creek and Mount Hotham, and the drive to both resorts is ridiculously scenic on the easily arranged transfers. Mount Hotham sits on top of a ridge, with the Great Alpine Road winding its way along the top until the village comes into view, with the hub of the resort – Hotham Central – front and centre.
The skiing and snowboarding is just as eye popping with Orchard one of the great areas to explore with its runs through the trees. There are some great places to eat on the mountain with Snake Gully Hut strategically located at the bottom of the Heavenly Valley chair, the Bird is the go-to place for breakfast or lunch – it has the absolute best smashed avocado – and Yama Kitchen & Bar is the place for a special meal one night.
A great thing to do is the Brown Brothers Sparkling Sunset tour, where you are driven up to the summit in a grooming machine – yes it is heated – then sit down with a Corona or a Brown Brothers wine along with gourmet nibbles and takein the views over the Bogong High Plains, Mt Feathertop, Mt Stirling, Mt Buller, and on a clear day even Mt Kosciuszko. Don’t forget the camera for this one – it is spectacular.
Dinner Plain is a great option as a base. This quaint village is 15 minutes’ drive from Hotham but has more than 400 mountain homes and chalets lovingly crafted in stone and wood in what is surely the most beautiful alpine village in the country.
Dinner Plain even has an incredible Onsen and Spa, its own brewery, laser tag, the fun Snow Park with a little slope for children just starting out and some tube runs, with downhill skiers and boarders able to jump on the hourly shuttle bus to Hotham if they feel the need for speed. There are plenty of cross country skiing trails as well as mapped-out snowshoe trails, dog sled tours and just the tranquillity that comes with simply being in this pure environment.
Falls Creek is the most European of all our resorts with its village at the base of the slopes providing a plethora of ski-in, ski-out accommodation, most accessed by snowcats on gorgeous little trails zig zagging up from the village. We could easily ski to and from our accommodation at the warm and welcoming Trackers Lodge with the Gully Chair a short slide away. Trendsetters or style meisters might opt for the QT Falls Creek or Huski Apartments – with its four-bedroom, four-bathroom penthouse something to behold and its own private spa on the balcony. Not to be outdone, Elk is opening some brand new four-bedroom apartments, which if anywhere near as good as the Elk Restaurant helmed by local culinary genius Barry Iddles, will be popular.
Go exploring the various playgrounds around the Summit chair, Ruined Castle or International, to name a few of my favourites, then ski down to the village for lunch, a drink or a deliciously wicked snonut, or all of the above, before heading back into the clouds on the Falls Express lift and an afternoon on repeat.
Advanced skiers and boarders can even head out in the backcountry to seek out powder stashes on a tour with former champ and Australian legend Steve Lee. Or if you just want to chill, book a massage at SpaQ or even sign up for Snoga – snow yoga – at Trackers Lodge. Yes, there is such a thing.
Closer to Melbourne, Mount Buller has 22 lifts and all the bells and whistles. Bourke Street is the hub of the resort – a snowy ski and snowboard highway lined by accommodation – some, like ABOM, with slopeside bars and restaurants. This winter, the new, high-tech 24-hour Snow Farm will ensure this busy area always has a good cover.
The food scene at Buller is excellent with great places like Kopflers and the Tirol Cafe on the mountain so you don’t have to take too much time away from exploring your favourite places – whether it be around the Summit, Boggy Creek, Grimus, or one of the many runs on the southern side.
No matter where you choose to ski or snowboard in this great southern land, the experience will be fantastic. You will be with friends, or family, breathing in that fresh alpine air and taking in that unforgettable mountain scenery as you slide, glide, ride or jump through pristine snowflakes sent from the heavens. What could be better than that? •
Photography by various establishments.
For Perisher and Thredbo, drive from Sydney or fly into Cooma on Regional Express Airlines then arrange a transfer. rex.com.au
For Hotham and Falls, fly into Albury from Sydney with Qantas, Virgin Australia or Regional Express, or from Brisbane, JetGo flies direct.
You must carry chains in your vehicle if you are driving to the ski resort, unless you have a 4WD. You will also need to pay the entry fee into Kosciuszko National Park – it’s best to buy an annual pass.
Where to stay
Perisher: Corroboree Lodge is ski-in, ski-out and feels like you are staying with family. corroboreeskilodge.com.au
Thredbo: Lantern Apartments have a great view over the resort. lanternapartments.com.au
Falls Creek: Trackers Lodge is well located and the degustation menu each night is fantastic. trackers.com.au
Hotham: Sambuca Apartments are excellent with incredible views. mthotham.com.au
Dinner Plain: Drive right up to the door of your own private chalet or be spoiled at Cloud 9 B&B. visitdinnerplain.com.au
Buller: Mt Buller Chalet Hotel is brilliantly located and the Birdcage is the place for apres drinks. mtbuller.com.au