Before I launch into a grand account of our ski trip, I thought I’d better introduce my overseas guests to what we Australians call (please pause and wait for the drum roll)…
No doubt, it comes as no surprise that we get very little snow in Australia and snowing itself is a rare, very exciting and even memorable event. Indeed, each and every snowflake is precious… so very, very precious!!
Most of our snow, at least on the Australian mainland, is concentrated in the Snowy Mountains, which are part of the Great Dividing Range on Australia’s East coast south of Canberra. As most of our snow falls in this region, it is colloquially known as “The Snow”. You see, there isn’t much snow anywhere else apart from the odd freak dump and that usually isn’t skiable. It’s only good for snow fights and bragging rights. Yes, snow is so rare in Australia that being able to say you’ve touched or even seen real snow is something for kids to show off about.
This lack of snow also explains our comparatively poor performances at the Winter Olympics. Although we first competed in 1936, we didn’t receive our first medal until 1998. As a nation of sporting champions, that speaks volumes. We simply don’t have sufficient access to snow to participate en masse, let alone compete.
The Snowies culminate in Australia’s tallest mountain, Mt Kosciusko, which is something of a national embarrassment as far as tallest mountains are concerned. Looking more like a pancake than a jagged mountain peak, Mt Kosciusko clocks in at 2,228 metres above sea level. Obviously, this makes “Kozzy” little more than a pimple on the side of Mt Everest, which stands at a towering 8,848 m.
Yet, despite being so vertically challenged, some bright spark has decided to re-brand the Snowies as “The Australian Alps”. As a marketing person myself with considerable imaginative flair, I can appreciate a bit of hyperbole. However, when it comes to describing the Snowies as “alps”, somebody seriously needs to get their eyesight checked. Although our alps do have snow in winter, they’re nothing more than big hills. Actually, dressing our Snowies up as “alps” reminds me of a pre-pubescent teen strutting around in an F-cup bra with sport’s socks shoved down their front. For better or worse (depending on how steep you actually like your mountains), it’s going to take a lot more than a pair of football socks to turn the “Australian Alps” into anything like the kind of mountains Heidi calls home. No, that would take serious earth-moving equipment and even more dirt than you’d find in a British tabloid.
Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I’m more than happy with our Snowies. As the saying goes, more than a handful is a waste and I certainly found even our relatively gentle ski slopes Everest enough. They are what they are. We don’t need to call them Alps just to attract tourists. After all, not every skier wants to fly before they can crawl!
While there are a number of different ski resorts to choose from in both New South Wales, Victoria and also Tasmania, we ski at Perisher resort, which has a huge mass of lifts and trails sprawling in between Guthega, Blue Cow, Smiggins and Perisher itself. Most of the time, I stuck to the Magic Carpet although I skied at Blue Cow about 12 years ago and absolutely loved it. I have also skied down Perisher’s Front and Happy Valleys. I have never skied in Thredbo but understand it has steeper slopes and hence doesn’t have quite so many young kids or rank beginners on the slopes. While I met a few people who flitted between Thredbo and Perisher, we find in easier to plant ourselves at Perisher. We save money buying 5 day lift passes in advance online and we get ourselves lockers for absolutely everything so we’re not lugging stuff to and from the car every day and can juggle things like cameras, snacks and walking shoes while we’re out on the slopes.
Geoff who is obviously a much better and more experienced skier than me, loves Perisher because there is so much variety and you can ski around the resort trying different runs and says there is so much to explore. There are also 47 lifts, which makes a huge difference in being able to access a real variety of different runs. I imagine that this would be very desirable to more advanced skiers who don’t share my love affair with the magic carpet down below and actually venture out.
What the Australian ski fields might lack in altitude, we more than compensate for in beauty and unique character. You see, our snowfields are home to the snow gum, a very tenacious yet beautiful tree which somehow manages to thrive in very adverse conditions and is so different to the firs you might experience overseas. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t take in much of the scenery while I was out skiing. I was too focused on my instructor’s skis and was deliberately not looking down. I didn’t want to freak myself out!
I don’t know if this is unique to our ski fields and we were also lucky with the weather but even in the very depths of winter, we can have deep azure blue skies and glorious warm sunshine. It is hard to believe but it was so hot and balmy we could have been at the beach. That is, as long as we had our ski gear on. Of course, it cooled down significantly after sunset but by day we had some truly glorious weather!!
If you are looking for skiing kangaroos, I haven’t come across any as yet but I have definitely seen critter prints in the snow which might suggest they head out after dark. There are certainly plenty of kangaroos around the ski fields. Where we usually stay in Jindabyne, there are resident mobs of kangaroos which we’ve hand fed before heading out for a day’s skiing. They’re a real treat.
Yet, although seriously outnumbered by just about every other sport in existence, Australia too has its mad, completely obsessed skiers. However, in Australia this obsession with skiing itself is almost superseded by a fixation with the snow reports and how many centimetres and hopefully metres have fallen. This is a very serious business and every skier tries to time their ski trip at precisely the right moment to experience optimum conditions. However, there seems to be no pattern from season to season. It’s all pot luck. This feels like a serious gamble when you have to fork out big money for accommodation months in advance and there are enough short seasons where you could easily blow your dough. Yet, these wrangles with the weather are no different to booking a summer beach holiday where there’s the usual threat of rain.
While I have been talking about skiing, I must admit that there is another creature on the slopes and I’m not talking about all the cows, giraffes and other onesies lolling about.
No. I’m talking about snowboarders or “boarders”. As a skier and a beginner skier at that, I’m unable to elaborate much about them except to say that I’ve spotted boarders parked under trees and even grazing in the middle of “ski” runs. There are significant “hostilities” between skiers and boarders on the slopes, which I haven’t bought into. I am too busy focusing on my own skis and checking up and down the slope for hazards to get into anything peripheral.
My main gripe is with the behaviour of doting parents on the magic carpet. The magic carpet is Perisher’s beginner ski run and you take the carpet up the top which is easier for beginners to manage than the t-bar or chair lift. The magic carpet is an area for all beginners, not just kids and certainly is not a reserved area for parents photographing their absolutely gorgeously cute beyond all measure little cherub with their state-of-the-art camera phones. I’m sure even royal photographers are less intrusive and don’t feel they have an ordained right to knock down learner skiers in their quest for the perfect shot. After ski school finishes, these parents gather at the bottom of the slope and I mean on the slope watching their little darlings and blocking other skiers from having a run. I was actually having a lesson during all this chaos and had three runs ruined by thoughtless parents and when you are paying potentially more than $3.00 a minute, you are understandably annoyed especially as some of these parents haven’t even paid for lift passes.
Last year, we even saw a father photographing his 1 year old toddler in the middle of the magic carpet. This was really dangerous because even beginners can pick up a bit of speed but we can really struggle to stop and have trouble controlling direction. When you see a small child in your path, your natural instincts tell you to stay away. Not to hit it. For an adult to run over a child feels really, really bad even on the snowfields and even when the child’s very own parents have put them at risk. Yet, so many parents don’t seem to share my concern about the inherent risks. For some reason they become so one-eyed about their child, that they can’t see anything else. As I said, that can be very dangerous on the ski fields and even more so in the beginner’s area. Remember this is where the rank beginners are learning and while we might be able to ski down the hill, there are no guarantees we are going to stop. Skiing is a risky and dangerous sport and as much as I love photography, you do need to question whether a shot is worth the risk. Such tunnel vision has no place on a ski slope.
There are also other activities peculiar to the “mountain”. While many might associate skiing with inhaling all that beautiful fresh mountain air and increasingly your physical fitness, smoking is an activity in its own right. I seriously struggled to breathe at times with the clouds of cigarette smoke looming in outdoor areas. Some smokers were courteous, but one bloke was pointing his cigarette away from his mates and practically stuck it in my mouth. I was young once myself and had the odd cigarette but these days I feel we all have a right to clean air.
In keeping with this healthy snowstyle, you also seem to be able to fill up on beer as early as 10.30AM which is otherwise known as “beer o’clock”. These early starts aren’t just restricted to beer drinkers either. An older guy well into his 60s or 70s sat opposite me and pulled out a hip flask of whiskey around a similar time much to his wife’s horror. If you are a wife or perhaps it’s even your own father who stubbornly refuses to tow the line, but I’m you’ll appreciate just how difficult it can be to manage a naughty husband!
While I might be sounding like some holier than thou prude, I wasn’t much better. Beer and cigarettes weren’t my thing but I had my own poison. No matter what, I always made it up to mid-station before 10.30AM for my budget $2.50 Hot Chocolate with its luscious swirl of thick, whipped cream and two molten marshmallows. It might not give you lung cancer but it could certainly block a few arteries. So you see, I’m not such a health freak after all!
With hedonism of all kinds alive and well halfway up the mountain, who has any energy left for the après-ski?
Sounds like a hot shower or even a long soak in the tub is in order along with an early night.
Oops! That’s right. It’s only 10.30AM and I haven’t even got started yet!