So what’s Baw Baw doing in the travel bible? Because every journey begins with a single step, and there’s no better, or more affordable, place to start your, or your family/friends ski & snowboard journey, as Dave Windsor discovered: after getting 7yo daughter Porshia going here last august by xmas they were skiing across frontiers in the alps..
Baw Baw’s a bargain beginner boot camp perfectly positioned for punters looking to introduce their family and friends to snow sports. I found this out with my then 6 year old, Porshia, who’d already had a couple of lessons and ski days under her belt, and my 11 year old newbie niece Samara.
First up, location: Baw Baw’s a breeze to get to, just 2½ hours from Melbourne and even closer for Gippslanders like me. Depending on your origin, the drive traverses the lush rolling pastures of Neerim district; the heavily wooded rain forest beyond the Latrobe River or the newly constructed unsealed South Face Road for those coming from Moe, Morwell & beyond. From the burbs, the journey tours timber, ag & farming country past towns like Robin Hood, Rokeby & Neerim Junction (if coming via the Monash/Princes Fwy); Yarra Junction, Powelltown & Gentle Annie (if coming from Lilydale/Healseville/Warburton), with a final and quite windy ascent up the Baw Baw Tourist Road commencing at Noojee then past Icy Creek & Tanjil Bren. Scenic splendour aside, if nothing else, the names of towns are an interesting talking point with the kids.
Conveniently chains can be booked and picked up on the way at Baw Baw Sports & Outdoor in Neerim South, with gear for hire too, or even at the car park entrance – say g’day to Adam if you pop in. Convenience continues as you enter the resort with on mountain hire at Baw Baw Ski Hire, proudly operated by the same family for over 40 years. Trudi & Craig and their international crew of seasonal back packers are friendly, patient and geared Samara up quick as a flash.
Both the village and slopes are nice and protected in amongst the snow covered gums. Even at the summit, looking out to the Latrobe Valley, Westernport Bay and the Strzelecki Ranges, it doesn’t get too blowy.
Make no mistake, Baw Baw isn’t much chop if you’re a black runner, powder fiend, speed freak looking for steeps or the big mountain experience. Which, with beginners in mind, is fantastic. The lack of heroes makes it heaps safer for the little ones to find their feet and build confidence. The atmosphere is fun and light – as evidenced by the bus loads of grinning day trippers content with snow play or going for a ski in their jeans & parka. The attitude of staff, from liftie to waitress to instructor is genuine, helpful and happy.
Porshia and Samara jumped into ski school each in a class of 3 – 4 kids. The facilities are modest, yet undaunting for both them and me. A short magic carpet and dedicated beginner area, Tank Hill, served by a 250 metre platter lift is ample area for them to learn and me to watch, take snaps and vids. The instructors were great, especially with Samara – who’d never skied, let alone been in a resort. After 3 hours she was perfecting her pizza on the gentle shallow slopes.
Meanwhile, Porshia was taught how to master the Poma and T-Bar and was starting to link her turns, though she most enjoyed the snow ball fight at the end of the lesson.
It’s funny how us adults complain about surface lifts, yet kids can ride them all day long with aplomb. As Samara pointed out, “The Poma thingy was a lot easier than I expected. I liked it because you can practice your balance on it”, while Porshia, not to be outdone, declared that “The elevator between your legs was easy once you got used to it. It was cool how high it went up to the mountain so that I could ski all the steep parts and go really fast.” That’s the beauty of skiing, steep is relative to experience and ability.
Because Baw Baw is relatively small there’s little chance that you’ll lose your kids, or that they’ll be out of sight for too long. When the first lesson was over I was able to let Porshia loose on Hut Run happily doing blue laps by herself and progressively picking up pace on each one while I gave Samara some one-on-one attention. We even had a couple of cracks at the short yet punchy black run, La Descente.
Cruising home after day one within 5 minutes from the carpark they’d both crashed – ahh the serenity.
Another day, another cruise up the hill, and again glorious conditions greeted us. Full of confidence, the girls were chomping at the bit to get amongst it and we wasted no time clipping in and skiing out. We hooked up with my mates Andy & Kate from Buln Buln who were honing their board skills. For them Baw Baw’s not only super close, cheap and cheery but pretty forgiving and uncomplicated. It’s impossible to get into trouble or do much damage.
“It’s like a training ground that gives me confidence on their little runs before taking on the bigger runs at other places”, observes Kate.
“I like it. It’s not intimidating at all and you’ve got it to yourself most of the time,” says Andy, “it’s so close to home that it’s like skiing in your own backyard. The drive up’s beautiful and even if the conditions aren’t that great you still have a good time. And you can stop at the Toolie on the way home for an awesome parma.”
The Toolshed Bar & Bistro in Noojee is a must do on any return trip from Baw Baw, arguably the best bar meal going around anywhere, an interior clad with relics from the past and a castle sized fire place.
As a treat for the girls I reserved a 15 minute Howling Husky Sled Dog Tour that took us around some of Baw Baw’s extensive cross country terrain. The surprise and delight on their faces as they were greeted by a team of gorgeous canines enthusiastically emerging from the snowgums filled me with dread – how am I ever going to top this one? After ten minutes of getting to know the dogs, taking happy snaps and a quick intro by Jake, we piled into the lambs skin cocooned Alaskan sled and off we mushed. Jake drove, dogs barked, up down, round bends, fast straights, laughing girls, tight turns, great views, left right, last dash, and back safe. Most of the Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are rescue or rehome dogs, saved from the pound or families that can no longer care for them.
Convincing the girls to get back onto skis, rather than patting and cuddling the dogs, was a bit of a challenge, so I went with the flow and kicked back with a coffee at the Skiosk adjacent to Howling Husky’s base. After a picnic lunch we ventured over to the Maltese Cross T-bar and fizzed down Champagne’s wide, groomed, blue decline and practiced traversing and linking turns. We weaved our way between the trees down Slam Dunk and laid up at the Frosti Frog Toboggan Park.
As the weekend drew to a close, Porshia and I opted for a hot chocolate and wedges on the sun deck at Kelly’s Cafe, while Samara skilfully scooted solo around Baw Baw burning her boundless energy brimming with satisfaction at her success. Pretty cool for 2nd day.