Sun, Surf, And Summer Shredding
Words and photos by Sean Radich
Mason Aguirre at Perisher Blue. Photo: Adam Moran
The oldest, driest, flattest, lowest elevation, and most sparsely populated land on Earth is hardly what comes to mind when you consider summer snowboarding destinations. However, in the southeast corner of Australia you'll find a series of alpine mountain ranges with a potential snow coverage area larger than the Swiss Alps, and five major resorts providing a snowboarding adventure unlike anywhere else on the planet.
With the support of homegrown surf heavyweights, like Quiksilver, Billabong, and Rip Curl, snowboarding has progressed along the same lines as it has in the rest of the world. With riders like Torah Bright, Robbie Walker, Ryan Tiene, Clint Allan, Nick Gregory, and the irrepressible Dingo establishing an Aussie presence on the international scene, local resorts have been quick to provide outstanding freestyle facilities to make up for the lack of European or North American vertical and steeps.
WHERE TO RIDE
The Great Dividing Range, like the Rockies in North America, forms an ancient 2,200-mile-long geographical spine up the east coast of Australia, and where these mountains are highest in between Sydney and Melbourne, you'll find five resorts across two states. It's easiest to access all the resorts by renting a car, but you can also catch buses direct from the airports and downtown straight to the mountains. The snow season starts in June and extends until the start of October, with mid-July to the end of August providing true winter conditions.
Mt. Buller—Easy Access
With Mt. Buller only three hours north from downtown Melbourne by car, and the famous waves of Bells Beach and Torquay just over an hour further southwest of the city, the "Triple S" one-day pursuit of a surf, skate, and snowboard is a viable reality … as long as you pack your 4/3 wetsuit for those Antarctic winter ocean swells!
On weekends Buller can sometimes feel more like a suburb of Melbourne packed with weekend warriors, but this means that when day turns to night, some of the best partying can be found in the alpine village high atop Mt. Buller. You're guaranteed to find a solid core of local rippers destroying Buller's three parks and halfpipe. And if you manage to score Buller after a huge dump, hike over the back of the Summit ridge for some seriously Euro-steep chutes and cliff drops, or find your way down the hidden tree runs between stubby snow gums and towering alpine ash.
Distance from Melbourne: 160 miles (260 km)
Ticket cost: $94 (U.S. $82) for a peak-season day ticket
Best for: Day trips from Melbourne and weekend partying
Web site: mtbuller.com.au
Cheyne Southwell, Falls Creek. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Falls Creek—Jumps And Rails Galore
Victoria's largest resort is also home to arguably Australia's best terrain park and only true "ski-in, ski-out" village. What Falls lacks in vertical and steeps, it makes up for in laid-back attitude and a solid shred scene. Outback, behind the village, a high-speed quad chair accesses a three-by-three pack of jumps ranging from fifteen to 60 feet, as well as a huge array of rails and boxes, and a couple of chairs away there's a beginner park to keep the gapers (called "punters" by the locals) away.
When the weather rolls in, head for the chairs either side of the village for a few runs along the roads, down the stairs, and through the yards of Falls' lodges and hotels. You'll be able to find drops, stalls, picnic tables, narrow powder runs between buildings, creek gaps, rails, and quarterpipes. Just hit up a local and they'll be happy to show you the hidden gems of Falls' village.
Distance from Melbourne: 240 miles (390 km)
Ticket cost: $94 (U.S. $82)
Best for: Terrain park progression and village runs
Web site: fallscreek.com.au
Will Kendall, Mt. Hotham. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Mt. Hotham—Local Freeride Scene
Hotham has long reeled in the salty old surfers from around Australia's 21,000 miles of coastline who are attracted by the steep valleys and powdery tree runs that make the resort famous. The runs are short by Northern Hemisphere standards, but there are all types of chutes, cliffs, rocks, and slashes available inbounds, and some seriously awesome terrain accessible by a short walk or drive along the mountaintop Great Alpine Road. Hotham also provides a couple of intermediate terrain parks, but for the core local crew, it's all about natural hits and hidden jibs.
Distance from Melbourne: 250 miles (400 km)
Ticket cost: $94 (U.S. $82)
Best for: Pow days, tree runs, and backcountry
Web site: hotham.com.au
Perisher Blue us Australia’s answer to Mammoth. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Perisher Blue—Park And Pipe
Australia's largest resort is also the busiest and the only one to provide a legitimate, albeit a little short, world-class Superpipe. As you take laps of the pipe and competition slopestyle park on Perisher's Front Valley, you'll marvel at the sea of skiers and boarders around you, but with 49 lifts spread across what was once four interlinked separate resorts and 3,000-plus acres of terrain, the lift lines are amazingly mellow.
Perisher is where a young Torah Bright learned to ride the U-tube. Perisher has four terrain parks for all levels of rider with your standard quad expert jump lines of up to 60 feet in size and a huge Mammoth-sized wallride, but also an assortment of unusual hips and features matched to the undulating terrain of the sprawling resort. For steeper lines, some natural drops (and to also escape the punter Front Valley crowds), head to Mt. Blue Cow and the Guthega parts of the resort.
Distance from Sydney: 310 miles (500 km)
Ticket cost: $98 (U.S. $86)
Best for: Halfpipe and variety of park features
Web site: perisherblue.com.au
A stone's throw from Australia's highest peak, and one of the global Seven Summits of highest continental peaks to climb (but at only a paltry 7,310 feet in height!) Thredbo is the highest resort in the country. And with the village located way down in the valley, Thredbo also has the country's largest vertical, and the longest run on the Supertrail. So not only do you get the longest, and arguably best, freeriding runs in the country, but you also get easy backcountry access to Australia's highest peaks. On a pow day riders like Ryan Tiene would be nowhere else but carving deep roosters on Thredbo's fringes, or dropping the multitude of cliffs and natural drops littered across the resort.
But don't think Thredbo rests on its freeriding laurels—Charles Beckinsale has taken the skills he has learned from grooming Squaw Valley to fashion four of the most progressive and perfectly crafted terrain parks you can find.
Distance from Sydney: 310 miles (500 km)
Cost: $97 (U.S. $85)
Best for: Freeriding, backcountry, and terrain parks
Web site: thredbo.com.au
Wombat casualty. PHOTO: Sean Radich
In every town and suburb across the land you will find the "local pub," usually named a "hotel," but actually very rarely offering rooms to rent. The "local" is a focal point for the town and provides more than just hearty dinners and refreshingly cold beer, it's also where you can lay a bet on the "nags" (race horses), watch the "footy," and maybe catch a live band or a touring DJ. Here are some varying examples of what you can find beyond the pubs.
Some of the best pizzas around and filling Italian fare, and probably the best value restaurant at any of the actual snow resorts; on a weekend at Mt. Buller you have to get in early to secure a spot in one of the prize booths.
Village Square, Mt. Buller. (03) 5777-6494
Mt. Beauty Bakery
Every town has at least one unique little bakery, but this is one of the best in North East Victoria, serving a huge range of fresh baked cakes and buns, homemade toasted paninis, hot savory snacks, as well as good espresso coffee, local wines, and cold bottles of beer. On the way up to Falls Creek stop in for a meat pie or sausage roll made with locally grown beef.
Kiewa Cres and Hollands Street, Mt. Beauty. (03) 5754-4870
Located right in the middle of Jindy, this might be the best mexican-asian restaurant combo this side of the Pacific. During the big events you'll be hard pressed not to run into every visiting and local pro-snowboarder grabbing a quick bite before a night on the town.
2 Snowy River Avenue, Jindabyne. (02) 6457-1887
Jindabyne Bowling and Sports Club
The Jindy Bowls Club is not just for oldies, but is in fact a great place to grab the classic Aussie pub meal, a "parma with chips" (chicken parmigiana with fries), complete with all-you-can-eat salad bar. After dinner, wander into the spacious "Sports Bar" for a few games of pool.
Bay Street, Jindabyne. (02) 6456-2133
Keep your eyes peeled. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Aussies are famed for their love of beer, and their capacity to party. By day, the pubs in each town and alpine village are quiet lunch venues, but once the tables are cleared away they can turn into raging dancehalls.
The Kooroora Hotel
One of the great attractions of Mt. Buller, the "Hoo Har," as its nickname suggests, attracts all the visiting party boys and girls from Melbourne. The Kooroora is Dingo's favorite venue to party the night away, and if the heaving dance floor gets too much for you, head out the back for a game of pool or intimate chat by the log fire.
Village Square, Mt Buller. (03) 5777-6712
Falls Creek's top venue is not much more than a tri-level, dive-bar-esque local pub. But with ten-dollar pitchers on Monday nights, a great rock 'n' roll stage and sunken dance floor, The Man is the primo party venue in town.
20 Slalom Street, Falls Creek. (03) 5758-3362
Another all-time snow town party venue, Banjo's attracts all the steezy locals and pretty tourists on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you want something a little quieter, head to the cocktail bar downstairs before you attempt to barge your way to one of the two crowded bars upstairs.
1 Kosciuszko Road, Jindabyne. (02) 6456-2372
Hotel and liquor in close range. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Lake Jindabyne Hotel
A Jindy institution, The "LJ" is a great all-round venue. Tuesdays and Thursdays it has cheap chicken schnitzel dinners in the bistro, and it's one of the places where you can actually cook your own steak on the indoor grills. Once the tables are cleared away in the bistro, it's a great place to catch a live band or big name DJ.
21 Kosciuszko Road, Jindabyne. (02) 6456-2203
The closest thing you'll find to a legitimate nightclub in the snow towns, Zenbu attracts all the late-night partiers who want to kick-on after Banjo's closes.
Old Town Centre, Jindabyne.
There's a huge array of on-mountain accommodation available across Australia and you should be able to find a deal, but for a cheaper option, stay down the hill in the rural valley towns.
If you want to splash out and stay at one of the more unique on-mountain venues, Silverski is a great option. Right in the heart of Falls Creek's snowbound village all the pro-riders and industry-types stay here during Stylewars and dine and party in the intimate Japanese restaurant downstairs. Double/twin rooms start at $150 (U.S. $130).
1 Sitzmark Street, Falls Creek. (03) 5758-3375. silverskilodge.com.au
Mt. Beauty. PHOTO: Sean Radich
Mt. Beauty Holiday Centre
An example of an Aussie "caravan park" (similar to a trailer or RV park)—you can find at least one of these in every tourist town in the country. At the base of Falls Creek and half an hour by car or by thumb (hitchhiking), the Mt. Beauty Holiday Centre is one of the best, complete with Kiewa River frontage, barbecues, a communal hot tub, and TV/lounge room. Another option is to rent one of the motel-style cabins for five people starting from $100 a night. You can also find caravan parks in Harrietville and Bright at the base of Mt. Hotham, and Jindabyne—all with cabins to rent.
Kiewa Valley Highway, Tawonga South. (03) 5754-4396, holidaycentre.com.au
Snowy Mountain Backpackers
You may have to put up with a random snoring cross-country ski-hippie in your room, but then again, maybe you'll luck out with some Scandinavian backpackers. The Jindy hostel has nice, clean rooms at an affordable price and all the shared-kitchen, bathroom, lounge, and Internet facilities you expect from a quality backpackers. Low season dorm rooms are a bargain sleep, starting from $35 a night.
Hostelling International backpackers are also located in Mt. Buller and Thredbo's alpine villages.
7-8 Gippsland Street, Jindabyne. 1-800-333-468
The Station Resort
The bigger individual cabins sleep several, and the huge food hall serves breakfast and dinner to all. The Station is usually where all the Burton and visiting pro-riders stay during the Australian Open. In conjunction with Perisher Blue, The Station offers five nights accommodation and a five-day pass for U.S. $470. The Station is a short drive out of town, but if the pool tables or band on stage in the on-site pub isn't lively enough for you, catch the "Brain Bus" into Jindy.
8228 Snowy River Way, Jindabyne. 1-300-369-909, stationresort.com.au