I love visiting Australia’s ski resorts during winter. It’s a fun, adventurous environment where people play hard on the slopes and then play harder in the bars and lodges that dot the landscape. It’s a place where you can use the terms “après”, “off piste” and “mogul” without sounding like a wanker. Where drinking mulled wine of an evening, if that’s what you’re into, is not frowned upon. Where a game of darts is mandatory. Where beer is bought more commonly by the jug than the glass.
It’s a thing of beauty.
But what happens during the Australian summer? The snow melts, and with it the hopes and dreams of ski bums everywhere as they all leave to either chase winter overseas or go back to their day jobs to save up for next season.
Here’s the secret; Australian alpine resorts actually make fantastic off season holiday destinations. While the snow and the crowds might not be there, the variety of activities remain, and are far more abundant and affordable.
Everyone knows that a visit to the snow requires you to sell off one of your kidneys on the black market or mortgage the house that you don’t own yet. But during summer, the lodges that still take guests are cheap, around $50 a night, and some of the more upmarket apartments go for only a fraction of their winter prices. That’s not to say you’ll have the pick of all the lodges; not all take summer guests. This means some research might need to be done, some emails sent and some Google searches made.
Mount Hotham, as an example, is host to a number of warm weather activities. Hiking is a perennially popular thing to do in the High Country, with plenty of walking tracks available. In particular, walking to Mount Feathertop is considered the piece-de-résistance. It’s one of those peaks that appear close enough to touch but far enough away to make you sweat large amounts of body fluid in a short amount of time. Similarly, visit Falls Creek and you are on the doorstep of the Bogong High Plains. A myriad of walking tracks and bush huts exist, waiting to be discovered. The Australian Walking Trail also passes through these areas for those of you that like a more long distance type of trek.
Mount Hotham also has a music festival during January that might be enough to peak your interest. With two stages and lasting from Friday night through to Sunday afternoon, it has a lot to offer. It’s the kind of music festival that throws up an eclectic blend of music from a rather diverse mix of musicians. Not all the bands are recognisable straight away but it’s the kind of music celebration that when you hear a band on the radio years later, you realise you actually saw them at Cool Summer Festival years before. Australian bands and singers like Tash Sultana are a classic example. Well before she made it big on the airwaves of Australian youth broadcaster Triple J, she killed it as a musician at Cool Summer Fest. The towns surrounding ski resorts also regularly hold festivals and events that are worth taking the time to visit.
Mountain biking is a hugely popular pastime in these hills. Some alpine villages such as Falls Creek and Mount Buller are known to operate a chairlift or shuttle service purely to accommodate warm weather, downhill fiends. Some even have trail maps. While hurtling downhill, slightly out of control, on tight tracks appeals to some, more conservative road cycling is also an option. The Peak to Peak Challenge, held in March, is a prime event where entrants ride a 235 kilometre loop, beginning and ending at Falls Creek via Mount Hotham, to be finished within a 13 hour time limit. Riding a road bike up a mountain road, wearing lycra, takes courage, if not for the physically demanding conditions then for the slightly revealing apparel. A constant grimace on your face is mandatory and unnegotiable.
Jokes aside, the views are second to none. Even simply driving up is a joy- except if you get car sick, in which case you will feel nauseous and probably vomit on your feet in the foot well of your car. There is no getting around the fact that windy roads are not to everyone’s liking and can be some people’s Kryptonite; like meat is to vegetarians or Steven Segal is to quality film making (NOTE: please be respectful to vegetarians. Not too fazed about Steven Segal). Four wheel driving is a common use of the area as well providing drivers stay to the tracks. A lot of roads can be limited and gated but there are still a large amount of tracks available.
Of course when you talk about mountain weather, you learn fairly quickly that it’s incredibly changeable, so don’t expect sunshine and roses every day. In fact, when visiting, it’s probably best to prepare for bitter cold, rain, fog, snow, sun, sand storm, gales, lightning and slight drizzle- sometimes all at once. That might sound ridiculous but it doesn’t take much for the weather to close in on you.
I have had the good fortune to visit a few of these places during the warmer months. It’s a strange sensation to walk/ride down a ski run or stand at the top of a disused chairlift, looking down a grassy, shrub filled slope. Where there is usually a thousand people, all rugged up, hurtling down the slopes on top of snow, there is now nothing but Australian bush.
Alpine ski resorts in Australia are increasingly becoming year round destinations. Resorts are recognising this and have sections of their websites dedicated to informing the public about all on offer. The allure of mountain views and country air mixed with a large variety of activities make them an attractive proposition whether it’s someone who wants to explore the national park, relax in the quiet of a ski lodge or try something a different.
It’s not a normal summer attraction but it should be.
Wayward Tip: sun protection is a must. The UV is so high in the Australian Alps that I once got sunburnt through my shirt. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s the reality for a very pasty Australian. Red heads beware.