“I love Mt Baw Baw. Can we go skiing today Daddy?” asked my optimistic 5-year old Jack in the middle of a sweltering December day. Clearly, the changing seasons isn’t his strong suit yet, but one thing’s for sure, heading to Baw Baw most weekends and through school holidays last winter has certainly put a flurry of Alpine love in his dear little heart.
Jack’s not entirely a novice, having previously skied & benefited from lessons at Baw Baw, Buller and Hutt. But last season was his first year of back to back white room weekends, with Dad on a mission to get him next level.
So, with best intentions, high hopes and a focused dedication, I grabbed a season pass for Jack, his big sister Porshia, myself and the Jeep. Which in 2019 will only cost $598 for the humans (early bird rates; 6 and under are free) and $450 for my wheels; plus chains of course, which I grabbed from Snow Monkey in Collingwood or you could hire en route at Baw Baw Sports & Outdoor in Neerim South. A small investment for a big season at the little mountain with a lot of love.
Baw Baw isn’t renowned for being a steep and deep playground, but Jack didn’t know that. It’s all kind of steep for him. And as long as there’s time for snow balls, hot chocolate and chippies it’s all good.
So, every weekend, about the same time as the kookaburra’s started laughing, our very own human alarm clock would jump into our bed with one question, “Are we skiing today?”
“Yes mate … go wake up your sister” I’d reply, regretting the night cap swirling behind my eyeballs. Summer tennis and autumn Auskick had us up early on weekends, and now it’s winter skiing. Spring couldn’t come soon enough!
Breaky, coffee, juice, a sandwich lunch (thanks mum), load the car, tune into the latest Deep House Cat podcast and off we go. Depending on traffic, snowfall, road kill and “daddy my stomach hurts”, Baw Baw’s only 40-50 minutes from my place in West Gippsland and only 2½ hours from the big smoke.
Hitting the road early avoids most day trippers, ensures a decent parking spot and the opportunity to fang through the 20+ switchbacks on the way. As luck would have it, we only had to fit chains on one particularly snowy Saturday, which I managed to handle myself, though the crew at resort entry can save your knuckles & patience for $20 if you prefer.
A family season at Baw Baw
Season opener on Queen’s Birthday Weekend in June had snow on the ground, thanks to the brand spanking new TechnoAlpin Snow Factory. Admittedly, it wasn’t all over the ground, but enough for us to have a bit of fun and kick off the season with a snow ball fight, tears, face painting, a sausage sizzle and some Grand Ridge Cinnamon Red Beers for me, whilst a few die-hard riders crushed the hundred or so metres open from mid Hut.
A weekend or 2 later and the snow started falling in earnest and Jack and I hit the magic carpets (they’ve got two) while Porshia found her fun off the Hut Run Platter and Summit T-Bar. That ignited the sibling rivalry as Jack defiantly declared “magic carpets are for little kids”.
Music to my ears, but maybe not to the first timer teenagers and adults crossing their skies whilst cheerfully trying to perfect their ‘pizzas’ (aka snow plow).
With the magic carpet behind us it was onto the T-bars and pomas, with Jack between my legs weekend after weekend. Yes, it was the only way to get him to the top of the hill. Yes, it worked. No, we never came underdone.
But I tell you, it sure tuckered me out. I don’t mind surface lifts – they’re quick’ish, out of the wind, you spend more time on snow and it’s all that Baw Baw offers. However, pushing 15 wriggling kilos on one of your thighs and pleading for him to keep his skis straight took a fair bit of the joy out of it. Like I said, we made it to the top unscathed every time and after a month or so and some Kit Kat bribery I eventually coaxed Jack to go solo.
First there was the Tank Hill “I can’t do it” Poma, then the Summit “no no no” T-Bar, and of course the good ol’ Painted Run “I’m going to fall” T-Bar. Fortunately, he survived, and I didn’t totally lose it, though I did come close on occasion.
My sanity prevailed, in no short part thanks to Baw Baw’s senior snow maker, founder of Pray4Snow Tall Hoodies company and all-round good guy Darren ‘Hacky’ Hack. Hacky’s worked at Baw Baw for the past 18 seasons and not only did he make beautiful snow and work the odd lift, he always found time to have a ski with the kids and I on his days off or lunch break. Hacky’s chillaxed aura certainly helped break the familial friction that was sometimes present. Plenty of shared stories, jokes and coffees made us feel welcome. While introductions to some of the brilliant Baw Baw crew made us feel like locals.
Feeling welcome and local is kind of easy at Baw Baw. It’s a peaceful, scenic, natural place. It’s not brash or grand. It’s a village, not a resort. And this is reflected in the people and vibe of Baw Baw. A wonderfully calm and chilled environ to take the kids, or a newbie, or friends on a budget.
The slopes are gentle and easy enough to spend the best part of the day doing top to bottom laps with Jack, building his confidence, imploring him to shed speed and turn turn turn. And when it dumped it was time for ‘follow-the-leader’ in the nicely spaced snow gums adjacent to Maltese Cross and Ridge Runs, which not only provided a technical challenge but also forced Jack to slow down and control his turns a little. Thankfully, like me, Jack loved the trees and once hooked he relentlessly queried “can we go in the forest please?”.
Howling Huskys at Baw Baw
The skiing aside Baw Baw offers a range of experiences that my kids really loved. The number one favourite of course is a ride with a team of Howling Huskys. I’m not sure who howled louder – the dogs, my kids or Rob the musher. Our powerful team consisted of Tiger, Indi, Rocket, Dante, Tundra, Wicket and Tatonka.
They’re strong, fast, loud and have plenty of stamina. Our one-hour tour to the summit took us away from the slopes, through tight trails amidst the snow gums and into deserted plateaus. They powerfully drive to the summit, with plenty of breathers along the way. Porshia and Jack each had a turn ‘steering’ the sled under Rob’s gentle guidance and once that bar was set every weekend that followed resulted in the same question, “can we go huskying again?”.
Howling Husky tours are available from sunrise through to moonlight when conditions are right.
Baw Baw activities
From paw power to Sherpa power, not of the Himalayan variety, but a nice big blue snowmobile that roars through the forest and is fun fun fun. Jack was in snow heaven for the 20 minute bash around the bush, up to Pudding Basin and down again. He even had the chance to drive. Forget the skiing dad, this is so much better! Alas, the bar was raised again and what followed was “can we drive the blue machine today?”.
We celebrated Christmas in July with a visit from Santa for our not so silly season in the snow; enjoyed Bollywood at Baw Baw, complete with Hindi tunes, splendid dancing, and colourful outfits; visited the Alpine Dingo Resource Centre with tame dingoes, education and a great photo op; and the kids loved the fantastic school holiday Kids Club which earned a massive tick of approval from both of them. So, while I had the chance to have a bit of a ski and a bit of a break, the kids were entertained from 1 ‘til 4, watching movies, doing arts & crafts, having snow ball fights, the odd pizza, Freddo frogs and playing table tennis – all for free! Huge shout out to Libby, Melissa and Amon for their awesomeness with the kids. “It’s a great opportunity to work with kids during the school holidays”, says Malvern school teacher Libby, “I’m loving it. And I get to have a ski in the morning”.
For 2019 there are regular weekend events such as Dog Sled Dash, Baw Baw Pride, Christmas in July and more.
Another benefit for families is the free kids club during school holidays.
Kids love meet and greets with resident alpine dingoes Rowdy and Warragul.
The Snow Factory effect at Baw Baw
But the big improvement in 2018 was the addition of a TechnoAlpin Snow Factory, “It’s the second one in Australia” Hacky tells me, “Buller were the first to get one and we acquired one in early April with the help of Victorian government funding. It’s really helped the mountain in the production of snow and topping up the load areas and keeping snow retention in the resort”.
The snow factory is designed to help mother nature and the 13 guns throughout the resort.
“We can make snow leading up to the season through any temperatures up to 15 degrees Celsius” Hacky says, “however, this is the best season we’ve had for at least 8 to 10 years. We had Maltese run open from mid-June, which rarely happens, and it was open right up until the end of August.”
Hats off to Hacky and the snow makers, they work long hard hours overnight in pretty cold and slippery conditions while we sleep.
“It takes a certain person to be a snow maker and you have to have a passion for it” he explains,“but as the sun comes up you see your work finished off and feel pretty proud of seeing everyone skiing on it and enjoying themselves”.
Tremendous reliable snow ensured fantastic skiing which resulted in Jack massively improving. He still needs to turn more, shed his speed and work on his technique, but he managed to conquer the lifts, trees, descend a couple of short punchy black runs and hit some boxes in the Tank Hill terrain park, while Porshia got decent air off the jumps. All up we had a great family season at Baw Baw that left Jack ready to conquer the world – next stop Italy!
howling huskys howlinghuskys.com.au