MOUNTAINS OF FUN - SNOW SEASON
Mt Buller, Falls Creek, Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain have much in store for the snow season in the Victorian Alps.
One of the great drawcards to the North East, the snowfields have something for
NORTH East Victoria is home to some of the most dramatic and picturesque landscapes that Australia has to offer and among these vistas, the alpine ‘High Country’ is in a class of its own.
Comprising less than one percent of Australia’s total landmass, the alpine region, while truly unique to the ‘sunburnt land’, affords those who visit a host of activities to participate in, and none are more true to the word ‘alpine’ than in the winter months, when the key resorts of Mt Buller, Hotham and Falls Creek are blanketed by snow.
Whether a local or visitor to this beautiful part of Australia, each resort has something different to offer and here we take a look at each of the resorts and the towns that comprise North East Victoria’s ‘Alpine High Country’.
First cab off the rank and arguably one of the biggest of the three resorts is Mt Buller and the mountain can certainly lay claim to this title with the largest lift network in Victoria. A total of 22 lifts enable guests of all abilities to access close to 300 hectares of skiable terrain.
Ski runs are coded in colours from green, blue and black and Buller has a decent amount of runs in all categories, as well as protected areas where adult beginners and young children can learn the very foundations of either skiing or snowboarding.
Buller also has the ‘snow play’ visitors catered for with two toboggan parks, complete with their own snowmaking machines and other activities such as snow-shoeing and scenic chairlift rides to tempt those who don’t want to strap on skis or a board.
Probably one of the greatest attributes to this big mountain is Buller’s proximity to Melbourne and the fact the resort can easily be accessed as a ‘day trip’. Located around three hours from the Melbourne CBD, Buller is easy to access for those visitors keen on taking one of the many chartered tours that travel daily to the mountain in winter and close enough for the dedicated powder hounds to get to with short notice when the snow is on.
If one day isn’t enough, Buller has accommodation provisions of enviable proportions. From budget backpackers, lodges that are akin to quaint b&bs, self-contained apartments and resort style hotels, Buller has a bed, more often than not, located on a ‘ski in and ski out’ basis for all budgets and can host solo travellers, families, couples and school and social groups.
Only an hour away by self-drive car or local bus, the town of Mansfield, which is passed through on the way to Buller, has a huge array of accommodation options as well and is definitely worth a visit on the way to or from the mountain.
Mansfield is a great pit stop on the way to Buller and many people do this in order to purchase supplies for their alpine adventure. The beautiful little town has a couple of good supermarkets, lots of shops offering snow gear and apparel, such as the customary snow chains (a requirement for those self-driving up the mountain), which can be purchased or hired. Some may say prices are often somewhat cheaper off the mountain than on top. >>
Next on the alpine touring schedule is the mountain resort of Hotham, where steep terrain and black diamond ski runs rule the pistes.
Affectionately known as the mountain for the ‘serious skier’, a trip to Hotham will not see the less skilled with nothing to do.
Before arriving at the highest resort in Victoria, guests will travel through the picturesque town of Bright. As with all of the towns that flank the mountain resorts, natural beauty is un-deniable and Bright delivers in un-surpassed amounts. With historic roots laid in the gold rush times, Bright also boasts a huge array of ‘ foodie’ establishments to tempt the taste buds and also has the necessary pit stop necessities such as apparel and ski gear hire that make a trip to the snow easy.
The Alpine Village of Dinner Plain is located on the Great Alpine Road only 10km past Mt Hotham heading toward Omeo. This architecturally stunning village offers snow play activities, accommodation and sled dog tours. Beginner group lessons and private lessons are also available at Dinner Plain and novice skiers and snowboarders can master their technique before hitting the more challenging runs at Hotham.
Located under five hours drive time from Melbourne, Hotham is for those seeking the extra thrill of a mountain offering steep, downhill turns. Its official statistics confirm Hotham equally divides an 80 per cent split of skiable areas between intermediate and advanced terrain.
Hotham also boasts the greatest proportion of black runs in Australia and the area of ‘Heavenly Valley’ is renowned for providing skiers and riders with the stuff of steep powder dreams.
If a holiday overseas is out of the question and extreme skiing is your thing, then Hotham will test your skill set and the ‘Extreme Zone’ is the place to cut your skiing teeth. The runs in this area comprising ‘Gotcha Ridge’, the ‘Chute’, ‘Mary’s Slide’ and ‘Coles Bowl’ are steep, isolated, off-piste but are lift accessible.
Of course, for the more adventurous there are some ‘earn your turns’ lines that are accessible and for those who venture this way, the skiing is well worth the hike.
We finish our alpine touring on a ‘rocky mountain high’ with a look at Falls Creek resort which overlooks the impressive ‘Rocky Valley Lake’. The lake was purpose built for hydropower and is also utilised for snow making. The lake forms the backdrop for many images that accompany this family-friendly mountain resort.
Journeying to Falls Creek will see visitors travel through the little town of Mt Beauty. The town lives up to its name and a stop off is definitely warranted for either an hour or a day.
From Mt Beauty it’s an easy drive along the ‘Bogong High Plains Road’ to Falls Creek, which is designed for all abilities, accommodates families well and has an impressive 450 hectares of skiable terrain.
Beginners are well catered for with Australia’s longest ‘green’ run, ‘ Wombat’s Ramble’ and intermediate snow lovers have an impressive 60 per cent of terrain to access at Falls Creek.
Falls Creek is renowned as Australia’s premier crosscountry resort and each winter boasts 65 kilometres of groomed trails that are accessible for free. A lift pass is not required to access these trails, so cross-country skiing is an affordable way to enjoy the snow on a budget.
For more detailed information on all the alpine resorts and their gateway towns, be sure to log onto the official High Country tourism site at www.victoriashighcountry.com.au.
WITH the big resorts offering something for everyone, new additions are being added every year, from new lifts to increased snow-making facilities to new bars and restaurants as well as great deals on accommodation and lift tickets. For all the ‘ whats new’ in 2016, be sure to pick up a copy of the Australian Alpine News in mid June. This FREE magazine is available online and is also available from all ski and snow related shops across Australia as well as cafes, shops and tourism operators across North Eastern Victoria.
PHOTO: Andrew Railton