AUS­TRALIAN ALPINE AD­VEN­TURES

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS: CHRIS PANOZZO IM­AGES: MATT STAGGS

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,

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