HIGH FLYING AT FALLS
A weekend at the snow takes on a whole new turn when luxury lodgings are on offer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.