Where to go and how to play it safe
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.
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!
◆ SECRET: Mt Buller has plenty of hidden stashes and exciting terrain to explore.
◆ ADVENTURE: Mt Buller looks stunning under blue skies and has many off-piste runs and areas available for the adventurous.