HIGH FLY­ING AT FALLS

A week­end at the snow takes on a whole new turn when lux­ury lodg­ings are on of­fer

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION - SU­SAN BUGG

Blue­bird day. This hap­pysound­ing phrase de­scribes a near-per­fect day in the ski fields – when snow has fallen overnight, there’s not a cloud in the big blue sky, maybe a wisp, and lit­tle of the wind that makes a snow trip hard go­ing.

And it turns out to be my Cine­maS­cope vi­sion from Tow­ers chair­lift at Falls Creek, with full sen­sory ac­com­pa­ni­ment of warm sun on my face and the scent of snow gums in the air as skiers and board­ers nav­i­gate the slope be­low with vary­ing de­grees of com­pe­tency. The only thing missing is the Man from Snowy River sound­track.

Look­ing down, I envy the grace of some fig­ures, em­pathise with oth­ers who move with more cau­tion and less flu­id­ity, and feel grate­ful to have Falls Creek Snows­ports School in­struc­tor Jane sit­ting be­side me as my guide for the day. When a trip to the snow is a special oc­ca­sion, as it is for many, this is the way you’d want it to be.

And ideally, you’d be stay­ing some­where like As­tra Lodge. No, not some­where like it. You’d be stay­ing there. (We’re talk­ing about a dream “blue­bird” snow trip, re­mem­ber.)

As­tra opened 30 years ago and be­came one of THE places to sleep and have a good time in the Aus­tralian snow­fields, its then own­ers in­tent on com­ple­ment­ing a day in the snow with good food and wine and other lit­tle lux­u­ries de­liv­ered with alpine flair.

Un­der the stew­ard­ship of Syd­ney fi­nancier Seu­mas Dawes and his wife, Rosy Seaton, own­ers since 2014, that ethos hasn’t changed and in­deed the lodge was named Aus­tralia’s best bou­tique ski ho­tel at the 2016 World Ski Awards last Novem­ber. But when the 2017 ski sea­son opened in June, As­tra opened with the fi­nal im­pres­sive part of a three-stage re­de­vel­op­ment com­plete. An ex­ten­sion to one end of the lodge, it­self ren­o­vated and re­fur­bished ex­ten­sively over the past two years, now holds six new suites built above a spe­cial­ist boot and ski room that would be the envy of many an over­seas ski ho­tel. Then there’s the in­house kids’ play­room and li­brary.

THE AR­RIVAL

As­tra is the only lodge at Falls to of­fer guests a pri­vate trans­fer from and back to the cen­tral over­snow ter­mi­nal at the base of the vil­lage as part of their pack­age, us­ing its own Polaris ve­hi­cles. Pas­sen­gers in a front cabin and lug­gage and skis in the back, it’s like a twin cab ute but for the snow.

As­tra has two front doors. The main en­try leads into a cosy re­cep­tion area, its lo­cal stone-flagged floor and curved golden tim­ber stair­case lit by a cas­cad­ing chan­de­lier re­cy­cled from what looks like pieces of metal steamer bas­kets or strain­ers. It was made by for­mer Split Enz mu­si­cian turned artist Noel Crom­bie and his wife, Sally Mills.

The sec­ond door leads di­rectly into the heated boot room, lined with spa­cious lock­ers for skis, boots, hel­mets etc. Even the wettest glove dare not dry in this en­vi­ron­ment.

Each room or suite has a cor­re­spond­ing locker, which, like the ac­com­mo­da­tion, is opened with the con­ve­nient wiz­ardry of a sen­sor em­bed­ded into a wa­ter­proof rub­ber wrist bracelet.

If you ar­rive with­out the ap­pro­pri­ate gear or cloth­ing, ski hire is avail­able right next door at Sil­verSki Lodge.

THE ROOMS

Here’s a tip if you have booked one of As­tra’s six new stu­dios and find your­self in No. 305. Claim the right­hand side of the bed. That way, if you for­get to pull down a blind on one small win­dow, weather per­mit­ting you’ll wake up to a stun­ning view of Falls’ high­est lift, Sum­mit, ea­ger early ris­ers al­ready mak­ing tracks be­low.

The stu­dios each have a kitch­enette for those with en­ergy to self cater, or sim­ply make use of the Ne­spresso ma­chine or brew a cup of T2 tea. (The ket­tle is one of those fancy ones with ideal tem­per­a­ture set­tings for dif­fer­ent types of tea and there is real milk in the fridge.) Bath­rooms have gor­geous egg-shaped stone tubs and toi­letries from Tri­umph and Dis­as­ter, a hip Kiwi brand founded by for­mer in­ter­na­tional crick­eter Dion Nash.

The decor is sim­ple yet warm, with alpine touches such as deer print cush­ions, a mo­tif taken from an an­tique tro­phy mounted over the fire­place in the restau­rant be­low.

THE FOOD

Break­fast, eaten un­der the watch­ful eye of said an­i­mal which met its end in the Scot­tish Highlands in the 1920s, is in­cluded in the room rate. Make your own sour­dough toast, grab a pas­try or choose from a hot break­fast menu.

Evening fare is Italian flavoured and over­seen by act­ing ex­ec­u­tive chef Kate Dug­gan, de­liv­ered through a menu rich in pro­duce of the boun­ti­ful north­east pocket of Vic­to­ria that sur­rounds Falls Creek. Think Mi­lawa duck, roasted chest­nuts, Tolpud­dle goats curd. Pinot noir from Beech­worth, pros­ecco from the King Val­ley, Heath­cote reds and Ruther­glen for­ti­fied are on the wine list. Seu­mas Dawes has also drawn to­gether wines col­lected from ski re­gions around the world in a cel­lar where pri­vate din­ing is an op­tion.

DON’T MISS

You’ve heard of street art, but what about ski run art? Early this year, Mel­bourne-based Ja­panese artist Hiroy­asu Tsuri, aka TwoOne, worked magic on a wa­ter tank be­hind the vil­lage and turned brown con­crete into a stun­ning mu­ral of the re­gion’s fa­mous bo­gong moth. Falls Creek is a ski-in ski-out vil­lage and you can see the mu­ral, Big Fella, on the way home. It’s a short walk through snowgums for non-skiers. While in Falls on an artist-in-res­i­dence pro­gram, TwoOne also splashed a vibrant husky dog across a cafe wall in As­tra’s sis­ter prop­erty, Huski apart­ments. THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF AS­TRA LODGE

PIC­TURES: SUP­PLIED

Lit­tle lux­u­ries de­liv­ered with alpine flair saw As­tra Lodge (pic­tured above and be­low) named Aus­tralia’s best bou­tique ski ho­tel at the 2016 World Ski Awards last Novem­ber.

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