Turn right. Jump left. Turn left. Jump right. I'm speeding down on the backside of Tasmania's second highest mountain, Legges Tor, and a kangaroo is jumping on the snow in front of me. She must be equally surprised by the largest snow fall in the decade as we were.
Amazing experience. We also skied next to wild horses, opossums, and other animals. And all the nature in Australia is amazing. Take the wonderfully colourful trees, for instance.
My summer was spent mostly at work, in meetings that collided with the usual vacation times in our family. So after a little bit of joint vacation the kids went back to school, my wife went to work, and took off with my friend Tero for an adventure in Australia. Besides skiing and nature, I also wanted to do some climbing. The easiest of the Seven Summits was on our grasp, but turned out to be the start of the Seven Toilets tour.
Yet, our trip almost failed before it started, with broken aircraft and typhoons trying to keep us away. First, our flight was delayed to the next day due to a technical fault. Then we landed in Singapore just in time for the typhoon to move in. As we got to our hastily arranged hotel, the "Level 3" typhoon warning in the reception was replaced by the "Level 8" warning. Level 8 means no one moves around in the city, so now we were stuck, with no way to get back to the airport. And then there was no food at the hotel. At all.
Things looked dark. But in the morning the typhoon was back to Level 3, we got to the airport and headed to Australia. But by now our arrival in Melbourne had shifted from morning to late evening. With an 8 hours drive to the ski areas, we decided to drive through the night. While taking on conference calls and working on my computer. We kept on driving... until the fuel gauge started approaching 'empty'. No problem, just stop at the next fuel station. Except that the next fuel stations were all closed. Now we were really stuck - no fuel, no food, not even a bathroom. We slept for a moment in the car in a tiny rural village, waiting for the gas station to open in the morning. At 6 am we got the fuel, got the breakfast, and continued towards Mount Kosciouzko national park.
The best skiing in Australia is in the Mount Kosciouszko national park area. The highest mountains are here, as are the two premier ski resorts: Thredbo and Perisher. The exclusive Charlotte Pass resort is also in the area, though reachable only by snowcat transport.
I personally found Thredbo the most exciting place to ski at, given the closeness of Kosciouszko. Kosciouszko is highest mountain in Australia and one of the seven summits. Somehow the mountain seemed wilder and rougher than elsewhere. But Perisher is much larger, and has a lot of terrain for exploration.
Thredbo can be reached directly from the Alpine Way, the highway running from Khancoban to Jindabyne, the largest city in the area. The Thredbo village itself is also relatively large. Perisher can be reached by either road from Jindabyne or from the Alpine Way using the Skitube, an underground train from the highway to the ski area base and onwards to the top of the ski area.
Here are some of ski slopes with the Thredbo village and Alpine Way behind:
Here are some pictures from touring the backcountry terrain above Thredbo:
Bushwalking is a popular activity in Australia. We ended up doing a lot of bushskiing on our trip as well. Any entry to areas where trees grow was bound to have plenty of vegetation. And the trees in Australia are just wonderful - so many colours and forms.
Here I am skiing an off-piste through the woods near the Friday Flats area at Thredbo:
Seven Summits... I Mean Seven Toilets
Some years ago, I trekked to Mount Kosciouszko during the summer. The path involves taking the chairlift and then walking along a metal walkway. That was an easy walk, even if it took several hours. The most exciting part of the trek was arriving at the top at the same time someone else who was really after the seven summits. He organised a big photo shoot with flags. Luckily the photo shoot was done before the class of school girls arrived to disturb the image of a major climbing achievement :-)
But in the winter reaching Kosciouszko is a different matter. First off, not many people seem to be doing it. The ski patrol people that we talked to had not done it, for instance, and we did not find easily available guide services to take us there. Secondly, weather and visibility can be an issue. Skinning slowly upwards, we ended up running out of time, light, and visibility. There were no clear skies during the day, and eventually we reached a point where we were just following the GPS track for the walking path, essentially blind to anything in the environment. Occasionally we were able to see the metal walkway, but mostly we barely saw the tips of our skis. We reached the toilet facility 100 meters from the summit. I would probably have been crazy enough to continue to the summit in total whiteout conditions with just the GPS guiding us. But it was also getting late and Tero's feet were developing blisters. We turned back. But hey, we did reach the highest toilets in Australia! I wonder where the highest toilets are in other continents. Might be worth a tour...
The metal platform:
Putting on the skins:
A GPS skier:
Rare piece of blue sky:
Blister first aid near the toilets:
Dead Horse Gap
But the trek to Mount Kosciouszko is boring compared to other off-piste tours in the area. Lower down the trees help with visibility and make for a very beautiful scenery:
The Karels T-bar lift takes skiers to the highest lifted point in Australia (2037 m). If you continue to the skier's right from this point you can reach a vast forested area that eventually leads down to Dead Horse Gap, a 1580 meter mountain pass on the Alpine Way. Route finding on this area is very difficult, however, and there are multiple ways to get lost or descend into the wrong valley. Again, we used GPS and freely available OpenStreetMap maps that contained walking paths as well as roads. It was easy to follow the walking path track on the GPS.
Along the way, the tree cover becomes dense:
The trouble with this off-piste route is that you end up in a different place than you started from. Thredbo village is 5-6 kilometers from the Dead Horse Gap, and we did not look forward to walking back. Fortunately we were able to hitch a ride from some of the other skiers who had followed the same route. There are usually also many tourists stopping in the area, so hitching a ride should be easy.
Dead Horse Gap has gotten its name from the wild horses that live in the national park and who sometimes during hard winters get trapped in the area and die. We saw some of the horses on our back to Thredbo:
The trees were the eye-catching feature also in Perisher:
Most skiers coming to Perisher use the Skitube to reach the area. The underground train system is complete with three stations. There are even city-like Donut shops at main station.
Most visitors in the area stay either at Thredbo, Jindabyne, or to a smaller extent in Perisher. We stayed at Altitude 1260, a hotel sitting on top of mountain ridge between Thredbo and Jindabyne. The environment and views were wonderful, complete with kangaroos jumping around the woods surrounding the hotel.
After-ski takes place either in Jindabyne or Thredbo. I found the Thredbo scene more interesting. Smirnoff Dome sits near the valley terminal (see the map), and is reportedly popular after the lifts have closed. When I checked it out at 9pm it was deserted, however. A colourful scene, however:
But the bars that I found interesting and active even later in the night were Apres Bar and Keller Bar. Both have live music and crowds. All the bars are in the valley terminal area - but parking on this area is impossible. We collected one parking ticket for parking in the area. If you are not staying in Thredbo, the only place for parking is near the Friday Flats area.
On the mountain, the bullwheel restaurant and cafe at the top of the Kosciouszko Express Chairlift is the place to go.
This "city" with 1900 residents is the central point in the area, and has most accommodation. It has all the essential services, like gas stations selling gas, chains and renting snowboards:
There are two shops in Jindabyne that I want to recommend. The first one is the pharmacy, which sells medicine, Legos, GoPro batteries, and has very friendly staff! The other shop is Wilderness Sports, who sells all the specialist ski gear that you might need. I got spare parts for my skins, for instance, when the wind on Mount Kosciouszko had blown away the plastic separator.
For restaurants, I can recommend three:
- Mario's mineshaft, a cozy italian restaurant serving mostly pizzas. Has a fireplace.
- McEvoy's, a upscale Australian restaurant but the only one with free WiFi!
- Beach Burrito for the mexican food.
Actually, Australia is known for its traffic signs!
To Be Continued
In an upcoming article I'll talk more about skiing in Victoria and Tasmania. Oh, and by the way, to be exact, the kangaroos are actually red-necked wallabies in Tasmania.
Australia, land of bush walking... err bush skiing:
The GPS skier checking his instruments:
Kangaroos on the Alpine Way in the Mt. Kosciouzsko national park.
Wheels? It does not have wheels! Check out the "Swagman Chalet" transport at Perisher:
Skitube sign in the Perisher ski area:
Mud season at Thredbo:
Kid transport at Thredbo:
Australia's "highest lifted point" is at Thredbo - a few meters higher than the highest point in Perisher:
Rock garden, perhaps the most interesting black run in Perisher:
Photos and videos (c) 2013 Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen