BACK COUN­TRY

Where to go and how to play it safe

Alpine News - - Front Page - By Ben An­n­ear

Mt Buller & Mt Stir­ling Re­sort Man­age­ment

THE NUM­BER of Aussie skiers and board­ers ven­tur­ing into our alpine back­coun­try has been on the rise for the past 10 years, if not longer and I am a per­fect ex­am­ple of the kind of skier look­ing for more to ex­plore. Af­ter two years liv­ing in the Monashee’s of Bri­tish Columbia, Canada, I re­turned to Aus­tralia with a thirst for lines out­side of our tra­di­tional re­sort bound­aries.

Hav­ing now called Mt Buller home for the past ten sea­sons, I’ve been pretty im­pressed with the vol­ume of back­coun­try, side-coun­try or slack coun­try as some call it, that lies within reach for those pre­pared to, “earn their turns”.

How­ever, I’m al­ways go­ing to be a lit­tle se­cre­tive of these lo­ca­tions, as af­ter all, on a good day I’m go­ing to want to poach these spots my­self!

What fol­lows is a guide to what Mt Buller has on of­fer, be­yond the lift lines and hope­fully if you’re up to it and a pow­der day is on, you just may find some lines in the back coun­try.

*Be­yond the Sum­mit

Smack­ing you in the face even as you ap­proach Mt Buller is the stag­ger­ingly rugged West Ridge. Host­ing runs with names like French­man’s, Main Street, Chutes 1, 2 and 3 (or are there 4?) and Moon­light Ridge. All of this ter­rain will be show­cased dur­ing Mt Buller’s back­coun­try free ride event ‘Buller X’, which is the brain­child of Aussie big moun­tain and surf lens guru Tony Har­ring­ton.

There are many other steep and gnarly lines be­yond the Mt Buller sum­mit de­pend­ing on snow levels, and it’s a rel­a­tively short but steep skin back up to Howqua chair to cut an­other lap. How­ever, I kid you not, ter­rain out there is se­ri­ous and there are many me­mo­rial plaques as a cold and hard re­minder of those who have lost their lives ven­tur­ing into this ter­rain.

*Mt Corn Hill

Well it’s just Corn Hill, let’s be hon­est. Ris­ing be­tween the Mt Buller Vil­lage and Howqua Gap, Corn Hill is quite sim­ply a great place for an easy skin to gain some stun­ning vis­tas, ei­ther back to­wards the Mt Buller Vil­lage or across the Howqua River val­ley across to the ma­jes­tic Bluff, Mt Cob­bler and the Buf­falo Plateau. From here you will find some more mellow ter­rain, with runs off all faces in good con­di­tions.

*Mt Stir­ling

As Aus­tralia’s only fully pa­trolled back­coun­try play­ground, Mt Stir­ling is a very unique moun­tain for Aussie snow ad­ven­tur­ers. Best ac­cessed from Tele­phone Box Junc­tion (TBJ) but also a very easy skin from the Mt Buller vil­lage via Howqua Gap.

TBJ is well equipped as a kick­off point for an au­then­tic alpine back­coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence with Ski Pa­trol, ski shop and the Stir­ling Café lo­cated here. TBJ is even bet­ter on your re­turn when you can grab a cof­fee and brownie from the café and warm up around the open fire.

Mt Stir­ling is dot­ted with nu­mer­ous alpine huts, mak­ing over-night­ing a breeze, all stocked with cut fire­wood nonethe­less and even ser­viced by two web-cams (TBJ and Bluff Spur hut) giv­ing you in­stant im­ages of the cur­rent snow con­di­tions. There are kilo­me­tres of cross­coun­try (XC), snow­shoe­ing and alpine ac­cess trails, mak­ing for safe travel if head­ing to­wards the sum­mit and be­yond. It is what lies be­yond the sum­mit that is eas­ily the jewel in the crown, Stan­ley Bowl.

Lo­cated on the eastern flank of Mt Stir­ling, Stan­ley Bowl of­fers a true alpine bowl ex­pe­ri­ence, de­void of pesky Snowgum’s, which al­lows rid­ers the op­por­tu­nity to slay tracks well into the tree line be­low. Sim­ply ski (or board), skin, re­peat, it’s that good!

Dugout Bowl is an­other pop­u­lar run, again ac­cessed once you have gained the sum­mit, of­fer­ing great lengths of runs at a slightly gen­tler gra­di­ent than Stan­ley’s. Or for the truly ad­ven­tur­ous, con­tinue on­wards to­wards Clear Hills and spend a night at Craig’s Hut, made fa­mous in the movie ‘ The Man from Snowy River’.

Make sure you com­plete a trip in­ten­tion card if de­part­ing from TBJ, and al­ways check in with the head of Stir­ling Pa­trol, Dave “Dan­ger” McCoombe or one of his col­leagues to get an up­date on con­di­tions.

*Play it Safe

In clos­ing can I sim­ply say, “Know your abil­ity and the con­di­tions!”

En­sure you are well pre­pared and have the re­quired equip­ment and ex­pe­ri­ence to at­tempt any type of back­coun­try ad­ven­ture in our Aussie Alpine wilder­ness.

If you need to learn how to do this, well there are a num­ber of great out­fits here in Aus­tralia that can help:

Mt Buller’s own ‘Moun­tain Safe’, de­liver prac­ti­cal, small group ses­sions teach­ing skiers and board­ers the skills and aware­ness they need to stay safe in the moun­tains, in­clud­ing snow pack as­sess­ment, us­ing avalanche trans­ceivers, shovel and prob­ing skills and com­pan­ion res­cue. Head to www.moun­tain­safe.org for de­tails.

Jind­abyne based ‘Main range back­coun­try’ of­fer alpine-guided ser­vices for skiers and snow­board­ers, as well as of­fer­ing avalanche safety and back­coun­try skills train­ing. www.mrbc.com.au is where it’s at.

‘Sur­vive first aid’ have this year teamed up with Dave En­right from Ev­er­green Out­door Cen­tre in Hakuba, who I was lucky enough to have as my guide on a day’s back­coun­try in the Hakuba Val­ley in Ja­pan a few years back now. In 2017 ‘Sur­vive first aid’ will de­liver Avalanche AST1 and CRS cour­ses at Mt Hotham in late Au­gust. Sign up at www. sur­vive­firstaid.com.au

I wish you all a great snowy ad­ven­ture in Win­ter 2017, wher­ever it may be, and if I see you out amongst the slack coun­try sur­round­ing Mt Buller, I hope it’s at the bot­tom of the run, and that I got there first!

PHOTO: An­drew Rail­ton

◆ SE­CRET: Mt Buller has plenty of hid­den stashes and ex­cit­ing ter­rain to ex­plore.

PHOTO: An­drew Rail­ton

◆ AD­VEN­TURE: Mt Buller looks stun­ning un­der blue skies and has many off-piste runs and ar­eas avail­able for the ad­ven­tur­ous.

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