What’s winter without a decent road trip? As I wrote earlier this year, I reckon the ultimate Australian winter snow road trip is the journey between the Snowy Mountains and the Victorian Alps via the Alpine Way.
There are lots of ways to cross the Alps or link up different mountains. But the Alpine Way has a special appeal I think, as it brings you under the western face of the Snowy Mountains, surely the most impressive alpine views on mainland Australia.
My daughter Mia and I recently did our annual pilgrimage to the Splitfest (splitboarding festival, which is organised by Adam West), then came back via a meander through the VIC alps, including Falls Creek, an avalanche course at Harrietville and world telemark day at Mount Hotham.
Splitfest is a big gathering of backcountry enthusiasts. It starts with a get together in Jindabyne, then camping at Island Bend in the Kosciusko National Park, and a day trip out from the Guthega resort up onto Guthega Trig (and beyond, for those who are keen). For many people it’s their first time on splitboards and Adam runs us through the basics. More experienced groups head off on their own missions. Then you re-group at night around a fire for yarning and a couple of drinks.
When it was time to leave, it was bucketing snow in Jindabyne. Made me think of being in a mountain town in North America. Then onto Dead Horse Gap, via a crazy traffic jam on the Thredbo road. The sun affected base was hidden under 15 cm of fantastic dry powder.
Then, over the gap, and into the headwaters of the Murray. Such fantastic country: the remote valley of the Tom Groggin station, winding through snow covered hills, to my all time favourite doss spot on a road trip: the picnic shelter in the camp ground at Swampy Plains/ Geehi River. Above the river, running clear with fresh snow melt, the western flanks of the Snowies rise, a dazzling belt of white sitting over eucalypt forest.
The Upper Murray area of Victoria feels like a remote foreign nation, surrounded by gorgeous hills.
Then it was a day skiing resort at Falls Creek with my friends Ern and Peter. It’s like Falls Creek’s mellow, open groomers were designed for telemark skiing …
On to Harrietville to stay with my friend John, and do a 2 day avalanche course, run by Main Range Backcountry. MRBC have been offering lots of level 1 courses this winter, and course teachers Adam West and Dave Herring share their deep knowledge of all things snow. We held a showing of the backcountry film festival as a fund raiser for the recently launched Mountain Sports Collective and the community hall at Harrietville, then had a fantastic day out on Eagle Ridge, digging snow pits and practising victim recovery techniques.
On to camp at JB Plain, and the impromptu comradery of evenings spent hanging out in a mountain hut.
Saturday was world telemark day. This is an annual gathering for tele enthusiasts. We had our best showing yet, with one group opting to ski in the resort, a group from Melbourne Nordic heading out and a separate group doing turns on the eastern faces of Mt Loch. The stalwarts in my group were Andrew, Marg and Karl, who had all made the journey over the mountains from Jindabyne, my brother Mitch, and Chris, who was out from WA.
One last day of skiing resort at Hotham with my friend Alison, working the groomers. The air said ‘Spring’ but the snow said ‘Winter’. There was a definite end of winter vibe on the mountain.
That night I bumped into local bus driving legend Trace, who said the road was likely to be closed the next day under the weight of the snow that was expected with the massive front that was sliding in from the Southern Ocean. I bailed a half day early, work was piling up and it was time to get back.
After a good chunk of time above snowline, the headwater valleys of the Ovens were dazzling. So much green, so much life, so much spring intensity. The world was just that bit prettier after time in the more elemental snow country.