Ben Lomond is to Tasmania what Whistler is to Canada – their biggest and most developed ski resort. What makes a ‘ski area’ into a ‘ski resort’ anyway? The basics of ski in/ski out accommodation, aprés action and (relatively) modern lifts are a good start. So just as Whistler is Canada’s #1 ski resort, Ben Lomond is certainly Tassie’s #1. Their only one in fact. No wonder locals turn out in force when it’s good. Mainlanders should put it on the bucket list too reports Shaun Mittwollen.
It is set to get slammed with over half a metre of snow this week, so it’s also the ideal opener to our Ski Tasmania special series.
Ben Lomond is Tasmania’s finest example of a ski resort, yet perhaps one of the most underground in the country. Endemic to yesteryear, The Ben as it’s locally known, is frequented by styles of the 80’s and 90’s almost in the same manner as a Japanese bubble era resort, but different.
Retaining a ski culture and community atmosphere that is often overshadowed by the fast-paced action and technology of mainland resorts Ben Lomond is small by all standards. But unlike Tasmania’s even smaller Mt Mawson club ski area near Hobart, Ben offers week long lift services over about 100m vertical combined with fun skiing, accommodation and a great pub.
Surrounded by grassy rolling plains the Ben Lomond plateau is a prominent landmark of the Tasmanian northeast rising up well over a kilometre from the countryside. Apexing at precisely 1572m, the summit Legge’s Tor is the second highest peak on the island and conveniently accessed via the summit t-bar of Ben Lomond Alpine Resort. Driving up takes an hour from the nearest major city of Launceston, and the road up is half the fun, winding through subalpine bushland before reaching the towering escarpement edge.
Here the gravel road steeply switchbacks up a wide gully, the notorious Jacob’s Ladder, flanked by huge dolerite cliffs and rarely skied couloirs. It’s Australia’s answer to Kiwi access roads, and if you don’t feel like driving and likely fitting chains, grab the shuttle from the gate instead.
Upon arrival it really feels like you’ve stepped back to a time long gone, an array of unpainted old-school timber buildings and lodges clustered on a windswept slope, the mountain extends behind crossed by t-bars and Pomas. The main slope up to the summit is immediately obvious as it offers the greatest vertical and steepness. Lookers left and the pistes graduate slightly, cut by huge flat topped boulders bending around a horizon line over the back towards a steeper ridge, which descends off into the backcountry.
Like many of the mainland resorts, Ben Lomond gets most of its snow from the North West as winter lows spin Antarctic moisture through the Bass Straight. Good years see the base stretch to over a metre, enough to cover the rocky terrain. Leaner years and the pistes are much more undulating thanks to thick brush that undercuts the slopes, but still easily skiable.
The winter of 2017 was just about as good as it gets in Tassie, with consistent big falls depositing a deep base and even making for a few powder days.
Last August we were fortunate enough to experience Ben Lomond in classic form. Full bluebird, good snow and even the Tasman Sea visible off to the East.
Starting the day our first choice were the summit t-bar pistes. With a grand view back towards the village here the steeper gradient allows some fast carving, ungroomed but completely smooth and with more than a few entertaining rock drops.
Further afield we ventured exploring the ridgeline off skiers right. We were told Giblin lift would be running for the first time in several years thanks to the excellent snow conditions and with that information the resort was buzzing with excitement.
Here the terrain is steepest at the top, offering numerous natural features and wind lips, softening towards the base as the slopes level out. From there the extensive backcountry is visible stretching far over to the plateau edge and out of view.
A day up at the Ben is not complete without a visit to the pub and this one must be one of the most classic in the entire country. Step inside and the walls are adorned with retro skis, photographs and maps. An intimate ambience is enhanced by the small space and log fire. Outside and a balcony overlooks the slopes, best enjoyed during sunny afternoons, with some afternoons even extending well into the night.
Progress/change in Australia’s ski resorts is frequently hampered by bureaucracy, and this is certainly the case at Ben Lomond. With a conglomerate of companies running the resort, compounded with National Park factors, improvements are slow but so easily tangible.
It’s well suited for snowmaking, with numerous cold clear nights. A start has been made. With more dramatic improvements in terms of a more consistent snow base there for the taking, it will certainly work towards advancing this venerable alpine resort into the future. The state government is investing in a carpark upgrade.
Years ago the government tourism office used to promote themselves proudly as “The Switzerland of the South”, but these days the official view is that promoting skiing & boarding in Tassie is not part of the “strategic plan” .. But as we will show you in this series of Tassie snow specials, Ben Lomond is just the start of what’s on offer down here.
Getting to Ben Lomond ski area
The closest airport is Launceston, around 80 minutes drive, or 3.5 hours from Hobart; if you don’t want to drive up Jacob’s Ladder grab the Ben Lomond Snow Sports ‘Shuffle Bus’ from the National Parks registration area at the base – you can’t hire chains at the mountain.