Best of Buller tree skiing. Or best of Australia?


OK, we know, this week is not showcasing the Best of Buller tree skiing or otherwise. But as we wait for the snow to get better, and COVID-19 to get back under control, we can reflect on better times past and hope for better ahead. The 2014 ‘Snowmaggedon’ season also started slow, then kicked in allowing Buller’s legendary lensman Andrew “Rails” Railton the chance to capture some incredible tree skiing shots that make most people go, “Wow, is that Australia? No way!”

Oh yes it is. Well, oh yes it was for the moment .. Here’s Rails’ take on that epic session.

Best of Buller tree skiing mountain ash forest
Snowmaker Jock Gunn takes a tele into the mountain ash, not a bad way to start the day after working all night!
© Andrew Railton Mt Buller

The 2014 season that delivered the goods from amazing tree skiing like this in Village run to incredible lines off The Summit and beyond.

That’s not on Buller. Or is it? Yeah, it is. Contrary to some people’s belief, Buller is not just about groomers and lattes. There are some really beautiful ski areas and runs that have a genuine back country feel. Landscapes that are unlike anything else that you will encounter skiing under the chairs. And Buller tree skiing.

In this case, it’s a lovely little run called Village, albeit a rarely seen or skied run. It’s on the north side of Buller, and due to obvious weather reasons, only occasionally gets sufficient fresh powder for it to really shine. But when it does it’s pure magic. 

As for getting photographs like you see here, it usually goes that special opportunities like this are really mostly only accessible to staff and/or permanent residents of ski resorts. And the occasional very lucky visitor who just happened to jag it that their one or two day visit that they’d been planning for months coincided with a weather event of this scale.

Personally, I’d been waiting about 5 years to get the chance to photograph down the old Village run, as it had been about 5 Years since Buller had received a dump of fresh powder overnight of this scale to open the area. Fortunately it also happened to align with an opening in my hectic winter schedule to find the time to organise a run down there first thing in the morning with a couple of good skiers. 

As for the weather, as always in my job, I’m keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. And getting shots like these takes some organisation, the day before at the very least, if not further out. And one of the hardest parts of my job is getting good skiers at short notice to come shooting with me. As the phrase goes, “No Friends on Powder day”. Well it applies tenfold for photographers. Who wants to hang out with a  photographer, who is constantly telling you to wait, hit that corner, stop, wait, drop in, stop, wait, when there are stashes of powder to be slashed. Especially in an Australian resort where conditions like these are few and far between? 

Skiing powder in the mighty mountain ash forest at Mt Buller
Watkin Mclennan on the charge in the big trees © Andrew Railton Mt Buller

So anyway, on the night before we snagged these magic photos, I was home in the lodge, after what had already been a pretty big couple of days photographing everything that moved and sending out as much material as we could to every media outlet we could find. The season had just started very suddenly with a big weather event, and apparently it wasn’t letting up just yet. As I was cooking and eating dinner in the lodge the snow started falling again. And it kept falling, solidly. Big soft flakes, and in just an hour or so the powder was starting to build up outside again.

Everyone in the lodge was all ready calling it. “Powder Day!”

So at about eight thirty I got on my mobile phone contacts list and started working through the alphabet. Calling most every good skier that I had a phone number for, that I thought might be on the mountain. Before long I got to the letter J, and up popped the name Jock Gunn. I’m my past experience Gunny was someone who’s always up for an adventure, and so i didn’t hesitate in calling him. As he answered the phone I could barely make out anything that he was saying because of the noise in the background. He was hard at work standing on top of a tower on Little Buller Spur, busy adjusting a snow-making gun, and getting dumped on from the natural snow that was still puking down. I asked him what he was doing in the morning, and his reply straight up was “Skiing with you!”

I hadn’t even asked him the question yet, but he was in. And he said he’d also wrangle Watkin McLennan to join us. Watkin is a coach with TBR (Team Buller Riders), and a pretty handy skier. You may have already seen him around town on some large advertising billboards for Mt Buller.

So we settled on meeting in Village Square at 7.00 am the next morning.

Well, what a morning it was. Fresh pow, a light fog and not another soul in sight. Jock had come straight from working an all nighter making snow. Watkin, fresh as a daisy, and myself just waking up. The three of us dropped in behind the toboggan slope and just went for it, initially following the home trail, and getting a few shots in the snow gums before dropping in down to the Alpine Ash filled slope of Village run. It was in this part of the run that we scored the amazing images.

It was all over pretty quickly, but as we boot packed back up under the Northside lift line to Mt Buller Tourist road, and then hiked back into the village as the first few car loads of day trippers started rolling up, we collectively knew then that we had shared something special. Buller tree skiing at its best.

Is it the best tree skiing in Australia when it’s on? Let us know on the socials ..

Powder skiing Mt Buller
Not J-land, A-land – Watkin Mclennan rooster tailing at Buller © Andrew Railton Mt Buller

Keep an eye on the cams – the snowmakers are working hard and some snow is coming later this week.