It will be a three day festival, held from Friday to Sunday, September 4 – 6.
Due to the huge level of support from the Hotham community and businesses and attendees, we will keep the festival at Hotham.
We will keep the basic format – lots of tours and workshops, speaker’s program, outdoor bar, AST 1 avalanche training, and an extended trip after the festival. Spreading the festival over three days will allow us to fit more in.
There is still time to provide feedback. Check the online form here. We’re getting some really great feedback on how to make it a better event, so please take a few minutes to let us know your thoughts.
The 2019 Victorian backcountry festival is done and dusted. This year the BC Fest moved to Mt Hotham, and it was wonderful to see the Hotham – and broader BC community – embrace the new location. Hotham is the perfect spot because of the amazing terrain, ease of access and strong backcountry community, both on the mountain and down valley in Bright and Harrietville. Close to 400 people registered. We had 31 tours, skillshares and workshops, an extended speaker’s program, a Protect Our Winters info and film night and a ski-in outdoor bar at Village Lookout in the Christmas Hills.
The first thing I need to do is thank everyone who backed or got involved in the festival. Of course, there are too many names, but here’s a start:
Resort management and lift company were fantastic in their support. Special thanks to Adam Galvin and Jason Nightingale from resort management and snow groomer Greg O’Donohue. The venues were so supportive – big thanks especially to Sooty, Darren and everyone at The General, Marty at The SnowBird, and Mark at Blizzard Brewery. And the people who pitched in to help, especially Buff Farnell, Kelly van den Berg, who brought in so many skilled tour leaders, and Merrin Jokic, who MC’d an epic afternoon of speakers. Rupert from Bright Brewery, Mel and Luka from Crepe Collective and Steve Belli did the food and drinks at our outdoor bar. The bar itself was a work of art, a product of much digging by my partner Natalie, Dave, Peter, and my brother Mitch, Kyle, Simon and his crew. The speaker’s program was huge and people made a real effort to be there. Thanks to Josh from POW and Stephen Curtain for his film making workshop. Dave, Pieta and Luka from Alpine Access ran avalanche courses as the training partner for the festival. Big thanks to Peter Campbell and all the Bush Search and Rescue crew, Jason Ball from Vic Police SAR, and Rolf Schonfeld for his endless commitment to snow and avalanche safety. A deep bow to head of ski patrol Bill Barker who provided impeccable advice on conditions and inspiring presentations at The Genny. Simon Murray dug snow pits and did most of our graphic design. Chris Hocking and Drew Jolowicz provided amazing sidecountry images. David Flanders was our rego desk guy and podcast interviewer extraordinaire.
Of course, the tour leaders, who brought incredible skills and knowledge and donated their time and insights and were all amazing. And you – the backcountry community, who showed up and pitched in. It really was a fantastic and inspiring weekend.
In my post festival delirium I know there are many more people to thank.
From resounding feedback, it’s clear that the festival has come home to Hotham. We need to check dates and lock in venues but we’re hoping it will happen over the weekend of September 5 and 6, 2020.
As was the case last year, we worked hard to ensure a diversity of voices in the speaker’s program. Melissa Clarke provided a phenomenal level of knowledge about touring the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains and the joys and pitfalls of touring with pulks (sleds). Ash Peplow Ball spoke compellingly of the need for the snow sports community to get organised to protect winter. Bill Barker shared his knowledge of Hotham avalanche hotspots. Tim Macartney-Snape shared more than 40 years worth of incredible images of climbing and skiing big peaks around the world. Bev Lawrence and Georgina Boardman updated us on the plight of the Mountain Pygmy Possum and efforts to protect remnant communities. Hotham legend Buff Farnell shared some of his favourite images of skiing Hotham over many decades, many of them from acclaimed photographers Andrew Barnes and Karl Gray. Climate striker and skier Naimh Smith-O’Connor finished off the POW night with a powerful message. Ted Suurkivi, Mark Frost, Mia Walker, Kelly van den Berg, Lisse Dunser, Simon Murray and Josh Fletcher also spoke.
We tried to offer a range of beginner and intermediate courses, covering everything from snow shoeing to ski mountaineering. There was self rescue and first aid, navigation and snow camping. After a warm and sunny week, Saturday morning saw the return of winter and considerable avalanche risk, so many tours ended up going ‘south side’ into places like Women’s Downhill rather than onto the higher peaks. Amine from LetsSplit led another successful splitboard outing and with better conditions on the Sunday, there were trips out to the Workshop Chutes, Dargo Bowl, Eagle Ridge and Mt Loch. Daniel Sherwin and Kyle Boys are leading the three day trip out to Feathertop which starts this morning.We also had a strong presence from a number of outdoor brands. The North Face put up their expedition dome, Wilderness Sports made the journey from Jindabyne, and Everest Sports and Snow Sports and Travel and Mammut were also on board, offering a wide range of demo gear and products. Patagonia provided prizes for the POW event, and Blue Dinosaur offered heaps of energy bars. Thanks also to the businesses who offered inkind support through providing venues.
There were glitches and things that could have been done better. Thankyou to everyone for their good humour and generosity of spirit throughout the festival.
We all love snow
After a huge weekend, I’m starting the final packup and enjoying this fresh snow. There will be an online feedback poll circulated to people who registered this week and I would also welcome your direct feedback via email. It’s clear that we are onto something with these festivals and it now needs to grow beyond being a one man show. The remarkable growth in the festival in just two years and keen interest shows that there is a deep interest in the backcountry. I hope that we can set up an organising team for the 2020 festival soon.
By definition, skiing and riding in the backcountry is something we tend to do in small groups. It was wonderful to see and meet some many great people, share a beer around a fire on a gorgeous mountain top, and see the energy and enthusiasm as people came back in from their tours. We’re a diverse bunch and have the shared love of mountains, deep snow and winter and it was great to have had the chance to help bring a good chunk of the BC community together to enjoy some turns, have good conversations, and some wonderful time out in our wild and beautiful mountains.See you next year. Cam
Lets Split is a volunteer based initiative, designed to expand and strengthen the Australian Splitboard community. They say ‘We are a group of experienced SplitBoarders, who invite others to join us touring in the backcountry – hoping that the important skills needed for safe backcountry travel can pass into the younger generation of riders who are perhaps less experienced than us’.
Here is a report from Lets Split founder Amine Yasmine on their recent trip to Guthega in the Snowy Mountains.
The Alps have a remarkable variety of conditions in the backcountry at present and it would be wise to carefully scope slopes before committing.
In the Hotham area there are significant patches of water ice which have formed over the snow and large areas of ice sheets. In wind affected and exposed locations, the sastrugi can be have and very difficult to ski. But depending on aspect, there are also sun affected slopes that offer forgiving conditions on northerly and north west facing slopes. However, there was a significant sized wet slide of snow at Mt Buller today (Aug 31) and potential for wet slides in other areas that have become loaded with wet and heavy snow. On some slopes in the north east of the state, runs start nicely but have continuous sheet ice on lower sections. This has been reported on popular sidecountry runs like Women’s Downhill at Mt Higginbotham.
The take home message is that there is a wild variety of conditions and some of these are very dangerous. Please be very cautious in your backcountry travels and take particular care to scope slopes for ice before committing.
The tragic death of Dave Blair on Mt Bogong this week underscores the dangerous conditions. It is understood that Dave hit ice and crashed into trees in the Eskdale Spur area. A recent major rescue at Mt Hotham was required after an experienced rider took a long slide on ice and hit a tree in avalanche gully.
“A short period of border-line precipitation during the early evening followed by the cooling in the early hours will mean most aspects and elevations will now have a solid melt freeze surface and will pose a very significant sliding hazard. Solar aspects will soften for good spring turns once the day warms but be very cautions of south facing slopes that will stay hard all day. There may still be patches of dry snow at the very top but this will most likely turn to bullet proof ice mid slope. Take care out there”.
If you’ve done an AST1 avalanche course in the past and want to brush up on your avalanche skills before the Spring touring season or getting into the backcountry overseas – Alpine Access Australia is offering an AST1 Refresher. It will happen the day before the Victorian backcountry festival starts.
It consists of a day in the backcountry, with a hands-on approach covering
multiple burial companion rescue,
terrain and route selection,
snowpack analysis, weather and safe backcountry choices.
Rolf Schönfeld is a local from north east Victoria with a passion for backcountry safety. This winter he has set up an avalanche beacon search station close to the summit of Mt Hotham. It is located on the Great Alpine Road near the parking spot for The Cross, between Diamantina hut and the Loch carpark. If you’re traveling past and spot Rolf’s red land cruiser, drop by and brush up on your beacon search skills.
He is also offering avalanche beacon training as part of the Victorian backcountry festival, which will happen at Mt Hotham over the weekend of September 7 and 8 (check here for full details).
There is a crowd fund campaign to establish a permanent Avalanche Training Centre (ATC) at Hotham, which would be a permanent version of the system for training transceiver and probe search that Rolf sets up at The Cross. To find out more about this project to GoFundATC, check here.
With significant recent avalanche activity, a crusty layer in many places, and a consolidating snow pack it is still wise to display caution in the backcountry.
Mountain Sports Collective notes that in north east Victoria, there is a ‘moderate wind slab hazard on aspects lee to the west. Hazard increasing with continued windloading over the next 48hrs’.
And on the Main Range in NSW, MSC says: ‘Ongoing persistent weak layer in the snowpack prevails across the range above 1800m with a moderate hazard rating associated. Whilst deep and increasingly unlikely to trigger the consequence is staggering by local standards.’
Mountain Sports Collective (MSC) is reporting a large avalanche on the Etheridge Ridge in the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains and other avalanche activity in the area, including Leatherbarrell Creek. A person was caught in the main slide and partially buried, but was uninjured. This highlights the need to be very mindful of conditions in the backcountry at present.