Near Mt McKay, heading to Pretty Valley, Bogong High Plains, VIC

If you’re an Australian skier or boarder, and unless you’ve been living under a log these past few months, you will know that ski legend Steve Lee has been running commercial backcountry ski tours out of Falls Creek resort this winter.

This is great. Getting people out of resorts and into the backcountry is to be supported and encouraged.

What is less great is the emphasis on the use of snowmobiles to get people out there. His tours are geared towards ‘strong’ intermediate skiers and boarders. So if people are fit enough to ski/ board hard terrain, then surely they are fit enough to get on some skis to actually get out there.

In my opinion, this ‘cheap grace’ approach to getting backcountry is a sad development in Victoria. Certainly, the tours are confined to the alpine resort area (even though this is ecologically part of the Bogong High Plains). However, they come with a high annoyance cost to people who are out there under their own steam. It is not clear what ecological assessment, if any, has been made of the tours – for instance, is there an impact on endangered species or vegetation? There is also a bigger picture here: there is the fact that these tours could be a precedent for future snowmobile based developments elsewhere in the alps.

Anyone who has skied backcountry in North America will know the many problems that come with rampant and often uncontrolled snowmobile use. While here in Australia recreational use of snowmobiles is supposedly controlled or banned (for instance in national parks), how often is this actually enforced? As one example, there is growing use within the Alpine national park in the area between Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham and around Dinner Plain village with apparently no intervention from land managers.

Snowmobiles are essential tools in resort management and search and rescue operations. However, the blanket endorsement of commercial use of snowmobiles in the backcountry in almost all Falls Creek promotional materials this winter shows that resorts ‘commitment’ to the environment as being shallow at best and probably a form of green wash.

We should be very cautious about the further introduction of a potentially destructive development in our alpine areas, which appears to have jumped all the approvals ‘hoops’ simply because the proponent of the development is an alpine ‘personality’.
Falls Creek Resort says that it is deeply concerned about good environmental management:
“We are extremely proud of Falls Creek’s reputation as an industry leader in the field of sustainable alpine tourism and development. Our environmental programs reduce our impact on the local environment and acknowledge the importance of maintaining a healthy world beyond our boundary”.

Further information on their approach to the environment is here.

If you have an opinion about the expansion of snowmobiles into the backcountry you may wish to let the resort management know about them.