It’s my final day at the snow and, if I am honest, I am fatigued from the past three days of skiing and staying up late working and writing a university paper. That whole burning the candle from both ends holds true even if you are lighting one end with fun. But fatigue doesn’t stop me from waking early to see the sun peek over the mountain, grabbing the skis and heading out for one last foray into the white stuff.
No sooner am I out on the trails than I start to relax into the stunning scenery.
And not just the big things like forests of snow gums or views from lookouts. It’s also the small things that make me feel so happy. There’s more birds out today than there were earlier in the week including a large flock of black cockatoos.
The only downside is that I have to carry the skis more than on previous days but that’s just part of being out in nature; seasons change.
I find myself able to ski some of the sections of trail that were too challenging for me on my first day and I spend time in the Pudding Bowl skiing down increasingly larger and steeper slopes. The cross country skis don’t snow plough, turn or bite into the snow as well as the downhill skis that I hired the first day but I am starting to get used to them. I decide to “go to the snow again” but next time to book a cross country tour or series of lessons so that I can more confidently tackle the trails.
A thick fog rolls up the mountain as I make my way towards the resort village. By the time I return to the carpark to change and wait for my bus home there is a white out. In the safety of the carpark the white out is pretty and reminds me that this is an alpine environment where anything can happen.
I am glad I decided to come to the snow. It’s been a fantastic and memorable experience. Not only has the skiing been fun and the scenery amazing, but I have also come to realise that I don’t need to stick rigidly to a cycle touring itinerary. I can deviate from my trails, lock up the bike and try different things. It has given my future travels a new dimension that I didn’t anticipate when Ileft home. A dimension I ponder excitedly on the long three hour bus and train journey back to Melbourne.
I wake early and am on the cross country trails clipping my feet into my skis before the first downhill lift has even started turning. I have decided to test myself today by heading towards Mt Gwinean, some 12km (8 miles) return from the resort. Over half the trail will be an ungroomed black cross country run but I decide to take a calculated risk. Besides, if the trail is too challenging I can always walk as most of the snow is firm and icy so I won’t destry the trail.
I feel in tune with nature and aware of the season changing around me. Small shrubs poke through the snow. While it signals the end of the ski season, it is also a tangible reminder that the winter cold, like challenging periods in a person’s life, are impermanent. If you just go with the flow you too can poke your head out of the snow to bloom and grow in another joyful spring and summer.
Ice and snow form gorgeous shapes in the cold morning air. I am mesmerised for ages taking photos and generally admiring Mother Nature’s handiwork before continuing on my travels.
At Baragwanth Flat I turn off the groomed trails and head into Mt Baw Baw National Park. I feel excited about the upcoming adventure. I have long dreamed of heading away from the crowds in snow capped moutains and now the dream is becoming a reality. I still remember my first childhood trip to the snow when Dad took us up to the top of the chairlift and pointed out the snowcapped peaks to us. That was when I decided one day I was going to explore those peaks rather than being stuck going up and down the lifted runs with the crowds. And here I was, heading off to Mt St Gwinear to do exactly that.
While the trail is ungroomed and challenging, it is well signed and stunningly beautiful.
And stunningly beautiful.
The further I travel the more confident I become. While I walk most of the first section of the ungroomed trail, by the time I reach the summit of Mt St Phillick the snow is starting to soften and I am no longer as scared by the trees that stand closer to the trail than they did on the groomed trails. I still take it easy and only ski where I feel it is safe; walking some of the steeper downhills.
The last kilometer between Camp Saddle and Mt Gwinean is unskiable because the snow has pretty much melted on this section of the mountain. But the bursting of spring is stunning and something I’ve never witnessed before. The sun is shining and it’s warm. T-shirt skiing … something super cool.
On my way back to the resort I have some practice runs in each of the bowls and flats I pass. These are great opportunities to get comfortable going fast down small hills without the risk of running into trees. I try some gentle turns and get a better feel for the skis. It helps and I am able to ski back in sections of the trail I had to walk on the way out. By the time I return to the lodge I am pleasantly exhausted, having traveled more than 13km.
The ski lifts are not yet open when I set off on foot down the cross country ski trail for the first time. I am carrying a long pair of skis with free heel bindings. For the first 400m (1/4 mile) there is insufficient snow cover to ski. Truth be told, I am a little relieved because it means I will be in the privacy of the bush when I make my first attempt at what is, for me, a new sport: cross country skiing. I have no idea what to expect. Will I be able to stand up, stop, turn or navigate along the trails? Will there be enough snow out there given that the slopes are almost bare? I have lots of questions but will find the answers as the day goes on.
I clip in my feet and take some tentative “steps”. The snow is still icy here in the early morning on the shady side of the mountain. It’s not the ideal conditions for my first time but if I waited for conditions to be right I might never try anything new. I watched a few YouTube videos last night about cross country skiing and I try to put what I watched into action. The start of the trail is mostly uphill so I so the reverse snow plough and press my weight down on one foot then the other to force the skis to grip. It works and I am soon able to ski/walk uphill. On the flats I push forward with one leg and glide with the other. I am soon reasonably comfortable doing this.
I am taken by the beauty of the snow gums with their red, green, grey and gold bark that changes colour as it peels off. I’ve seen them in summer but their colours are amplified by the sparkling white snow. Being out here, listening to the drip of melting snow turning to water, the swish of new shrubs forcing their way through the thinning snow and the crack of trees I know I have found another sport to fall in love with like I love cycle touring, hiking and paddling.
I stop along the way to make a snowman. I just can’t help myself. I place him away from the groomed trails where he won’t get in anyone’s way. He’s not pretty but I find myself chuckling the whole time. It makes me feel like a kid again.
Things don’t always go to plan. I mean: this is my first time on cross country skis and it’s not like I have any real downhill experience either. There are downhills that are too steep for me to attempt, so I walk my way down them carrying my skis. There are sections of trail that are so icy that I fall off my skis even when I am standing still. And then there’s the point where the groomed trail and the markers go in different directions, resulting in my attempting to ski through a section where my left ski is on a lump at knee height while my right ski drops into an equally deep hole. The result is the photos above. I’m unhurt because I anticipated what was going to happen and was prepared, despite being unable to stop the stack.
It’s a tough workout, both physically and mentally. But the views and scenery make it magnificent. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and can’t believe that it was just a few days ago that I was out in the mallee.
I feel content and happy as I explore the mountain.
If I am honest, I was a little anxious about whether I would enjoy “going to the snow” as much as I thought I would. I really didn’t need to worry: I arrived at the snow today and had the most fantastic time.
I was nervous as I walked out of the ski hire sho. What if I couldn’t remember how to ski? What if I fell straight over as soon as I clipped in? Or worse, what if I lost control and crashed into a tree? But I pushed these anxieties aside and eventually clipped in. I felt oddly comfortable as I skied up to the T-bar lift for my first run on an easy green run. The T-bar was slower than I expected so that helped me get a feel for the way my skis moved over the snow.
The view from the top of the run took my breath away. The mountain is so high compared with the lands that stretched out before me.
While the snow was slushy and only three out of six lifts were operating, the ski fields of Mt Baw Baw are beautiful. The colour and shapes of the snow gums are more amazing against the white snow than I have ever seen them in the summer months. The patterns really stood out.
It was very quiet at the resort today and I never had to wait for lifts; often having whole lifts and runs to myself.
It’s pretty awesome to have uncrowded ski fields.
But the real treat came at the end of the day after I hung up my skis and went out for a sunset walk around the resort. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more visually captivating sunset.
It was a happy day.