AUSTRALIAN ALPINE ADVENTURES
Discover the untapped potential of exploring the breathtaking Alpine backcountry where big climbs, big descents, big scenery and big views will leave you enjoying the most memorable ride of your life.
NNothing is more iconic than an Australian backdrop of golden beaches or suburban backyards littered with plastic cricket bats. Although as a mountain biker, you might have had different icons as a kid. Most of us had posters of towering ridgelines, the best riders plastered against its backdrop with the mountains seemingly spiralling into the picture itself - the image preserving a moment in time that only something in print can do. There was time to pause and appreciate the effort in how that image came about - and the interaction we had with the photo helped to inspire our next day’s adventure, ride or race. It is becoming difficult to capture a moment in time like we did previously. Social media, in all it’s wonderful glory, brings with it just as much evil. When was the last time you flicked back through Instagram to see a clip of your favourite rider defying what you thought were the common laws of physics? No longer can we peer back at the progression of the sport, where someone would make an order of magnitude leap into the future, perfect their craft in silence before releasing it to the world via VHS or print - leaving the rest of us picking our jaws up off the floor. Even now I am still able to recount blow-by-blow each scene, rider and location from all the early movies, having rinsed everyone one of them until the player broke. Now, social media ports it to us in live feeds, or short looping videos, interrupting our daily tasks. The epic locations where these videos and images were shot allowed us to escape for a moment the reality of our day-to-day life. At least, that’s what I would imagine most suburban bike fans would think - unless you won the dream lottery as a kid and had the chance to grow up in the Victorian Alps… like I did.
Home amongst the mountains
Rare for the southern hemisphere, and in particular Australia, winter takes hold of a large chunk of accessible riding here in Victoria. And we’re not talking your typical mud ride, but often two metres of hard packed snow. This land grab by Mother Nature is a good thing - in the age of overreaching entitlement, where everything must be within easy reach of your fingertips, it’s sometimes nice to have an enforced period of contemplation. It’s worth the time to sit down and realise just what is on offer in this special part of the world. Dedicated bike parks are springing up all over the place, but take a quick look beyond the buzz words of the marketing campaigns and you will find endless hours of backcountry riding that has remained largely hidden, and helped mould some of Australia’s and indeed the world’s best and brightest riders. Iconic townships of Mount Beauty, Bright and Falls Creek all feature so close together they can be accessed in one day for any over-excited individual keen to escape the confines of city life. Falls Creek is where most of the untouched and still unknown riding really exists. Differing from the purpose-built trails of Mount Buller, the backcountry of Falls Creek is something akin to the posters we had on the wall as children. The backcountry is about as accessible as it is unknown to the wider cycling community. The development of the hydro scheme in the early 1960s laid all the ground work for the trails, which have naturally been settling back into the environment ever since - with only hints as
to its origin. Completely open to all mountain bikers, old two up tracks (side by singletrack) cover the vast majority of the high plains, interlinking dozens of aqueducts, access roads and cattlemen’s huts, allowing you to spend anything from one to eight hours in the saddle.
Company for adventure
Joining up for a group ride out here is one of the best ways to reconnect with that young kid who used to stare up at the poster on the wall. The initial part of most Falls Creek rides begin somewhat mellow; you are already starting near the top of a peak, and the immediate hills in the vicinity are more rolling than steep. The more adventurous you become, the more rewarding the trip, which is not to forget the mix of purpose built trails looping out and around the village from the crew at World Trail – which are often the perfect finish to a big day out on the bike. The ace that Falls Creek holds up its sleeve is the ride from Falls down to the iconic town of Mount Beauty. Sure, Mount Buller has its bespoke Epic trail, and I hold nothing against it as it is a fantastic piece of trail, but you sometimes get the feeling that the track is trying too hard to impress you. Almost as if it’s calling out: “Love me, love me!” Whereas the ride from Falls, with its 750m of climbing and 1800m of descending, feels more like a natural fit with its mixture of high speed, above-the-treeline descents more reminiscent of the European Alps than Australian, yet much more accessible than the 45 hour commute to France. The views stretch out down the corridor of the Kiewa valley, overlooking the peak of the Big Hill mountain bike park where you can stop in on the cattlemen’s huts while riding the same piece of trails they used to muster cattle back in the day, finishing up with the option to
WITH ITS 750M OF CLIMBING AND 1800M OF DESCENDING FALLS CREEK FEELS MORE LIKE A NATURAL FIT WITH ITS MIXTURE OF HIGH SPEED ABOVE-THE-TREELINE DESCENTS MORE REMINISCENT OF THE EUROPEAN ALPS THAN AUSTRALIAN.
ride the famous Big Hill DH track from the late 90s all the way into Mount Beauty. This trail is still challenging by today’s standards, but dwarfed by the ride that finishes at its start point. Back then it used to be a measure of fitness and courage over an eight-minute descent, now it’s more of a legacy to show how far the sport has really come.
In the valleys
The two townships of Mount Beauty and Bright, based at the bottom of Falls Creek and only separated by a 30-minute car trip, have long been the destination of seasoned racers, covering the full spectrum of cycling from DH to XC and everything in-between. It’s interesting to watch the development these two communities are going through - similar in their ability to build trails on private land, but unique in the routes they are choosing to follow. There is financial investment going into the Bright mountain bike park, with large man-made tracks not really seen in Australia until now. Yes, the general admissions to the local hospital have seen a sharp increase, but so too has the renewed passion for cycling in the area. With the buzz surrounding the Hero trail becoming more mainstream, further development has seen a secondary trail, Down DJ, built for those not as confident on the larger jumps of the Hero trail. One can’t help but wonder if there might have been fewer broken collarbones of enthusiastic first timers had Down DJ been unveiled before the Hero. Outside the two machine built trails are a plethora of inviting natural singletrack, host to the National Championships for three years. And Bright will again host the Downhill National Championships for 2018, with tracks across the board getting a facelift in light of the renewed interest. Mount Beauty, on the other hand, has so far resisted any attempt at machine built trails. In a sense it’s a purist’s wet dream, with race tracks from the 1990s all the way through to the present day. It’s the mountain biker’s version of the Monaco Grand Prix for Formula 1 fanatics. It’s not meant for everyone, but a huge sense of satisfaction comes from knowing you’ve conquered the trails. Some of the tracks are still technically demanding on a new long travel 29er which, in comparison to a late 90s mountain bike with its V-brakes and what looked like a dirty sock for suspension, should be a breeze. But it’s not. There are a surprising number of trails on offer once you enter the park - you can’t ride for more than 500 metres without meeting another trail - but there are some true classics in there. As the park is maintained by the local non-for-profit club, the only interest is benefitting its members, and that of the local community. The positives by far outweigh the negatives in this scenario,