The snow conditions on the groomed slopes favoured by downhill skiers are unreliable in late September, and the crowds have gone. Out backcountry however, high on the Snowy Mountain ranges, the conditions are perfect for our group of ski-tourers and snow-shoers. Mt Kosciuscko, Australia’s highest mountain, is our destination for the day.
We’re staying in Thredbo, but we stop over in Jindabyne on the drive up from Sydney to collect our ski touring gear from Bruce at Wilderness Sports. He offers us good advice on which boots, ski’s and poles to get for our ski-touring ability and aims. We have enough time left in the day to test drive our new gear at Friday Flat before a late afternoon swim at the great Thredbo Leisure Centre.
In the morning, we meet our guide, Acacia from K7 Adventures, and take the Kosi Express chair lift up to Eagle’s Nest. On a previous adventure in 2013, Acacia had showed us how to walk in our ski-tourers using the free heel movement, and how to set the bindings to one of three different step heights – flat, medium and stiletto. Our boots also have two modes – one for ease of movement when snow walking, and another to lock them in to ski downhill.
To prevent ourselves sliding back as we climb directly up a hill, we apply sticky removable “skins” to the underside of our skis. The skins have the appearance of fake seal fur, and allow forward gliding but prevent backwards sliding when weighted. When skiing downhill, we remove the skins and lock the heels of our boots into the bindings. For ski-touring, you need to be able to ski at least at intermediate level, and have a good level of physical fitness, as you it is hard work climbing hills.
The snow cover up top is excellent, and the spring weather is mild. We’re not wearing padded ski gear, but we’re still layered up with thermals, fleece, goretex, beanies, goggles and gloves. Our backs backpacks contain lunch, water and safety gear. Acacia has more safety equipment, and it is comforting to have her navigating and alerting us to the unfamiliar hazards of the snow country.
Acaica gives us advice on how to climb efficiently, and how to listen for water under the snow when crossing frozen creeks. We’re far away from the crowds here, out in a wonderland beyond the bounds of the resort. We spot two para-skiers out enjoying the magic with us – cruising the snow fields among the rocks, trailing behind their parachutes under a wide blue sky
We ski down the Basin and use the T-Bars to gain some height initially. Then we head off across the countryside towards the Portal, a distinct rock feature, and beyond that to North Ramshead. We don’t follow the route of the summer walking track, instead taking a more interesting route that has us climbing higher and ski-ing down to the red Cootapatamba Hut before starting the steep climb up the Kosciuscko South Ridge.
From the Kosciuscko ridgeline, on a sparkling clear spring day, we’re treated to gorgeous 360 views of the Bogong High Plains and Mt Feathertop in Victoria, and Mt Jagungal and Mt Perisher in NSW. It’s chilly on top of Mt Kosciuscko, so we ski down to find a more sheltered spot to eat our lunch in the snow. We complete our 13km circuit via Signature Hill Steeps to Eagles Nest for a Hot Chocolate before catching the chair lift down.
On our second day, some of us get more ambitious and climb high for the long ski run down to Leatherbarrel Creek and a picnic amongst the snow gums, before starting the big climb out.
Next year, we plan to forsake the luxury of our Thredbo Lodge for a snow tent – we loved the K7 orange snow dome tent!