Guthega The Last Great Aussie Ski Resort

Guthega the last great Aussie ski resort? What are the Snow Action crew smoking you are probably wondering?

Or what are they drinking, off the back of the utes in the car park?

Besides, isn’t Guthega just the far end of the jewel in Vail Resort’s Southern Hemisphere crown, Perisher?

Steve Crazy launching at Guthega © Owain Price

Well yes, it is. But really Vail should up the count from 37 resorts on the Epic Pass to 38, or 37 1/2 at least. Because Guthega retains a unique identity that’s a million miles and 7 decades removed from mega-resort life.

Skiing over for a look, a circuit or several, and the best views of the Main Range, are a great part of a Perisher day, especially if you drop in down the back way via Double Trouble if you are competent.

Or for beginners just take the aptly named Pleasant View Trail, which is an in-bounds “out back” ski experience that pretty much anyone can enjoy.

View of Guthega dam from the carpark
Guthega dam tames the mighty Snowy River © Owain Price

But exiting the Perisher traffic snake at the Guthega turn off and driving up is the way to really appreciate it.

The road dips down to the Island Bend turn off, home to one of the most beautiful camp sites anywhere. This has heaps of spots up higher if you have a 2WD, or right down the hill beside the already mighty Snowy River if you have a 4WD (with snow or rain this section gets ugly and the erosion rollers on the dirt road will knock the muffler of anything too low to the ground). Then you wind back up through wild forests, hitting a dirt section with potholes big enough to swallow a vespa (for any hipsters who scooter to the snow) and shake the shit out of anything else. So proceed with caution, the road is narrow and most bends are blind.

Soon mighty mountain vistas appear on the right, and tasty tree lines across the river, before you glimpse the dam and hit the car park.

Old school arrival © Owain Price

Guthega car park. Heaven.

Getting back here after a lapse of 30 years or more sure felt like coming home. Some of our family’s happiest learn-to-ski days in the 80s were here. Guthega was cheaper and quieter than the neighbours then. In the 90s we skied it a lot when Blue Cow took it over, getting lazy and using Skitube for access.

Driving up again was stepping back in time to a slower paced, low-tech World: muddy carpark full of muddy 4WDs (mostly utes), muddy steep slope up to a slow moving double chair. It just feels like old school skiing anywhere.

The way it used to be in Australia, and still is in so many places off the beaten track. Ohau in NZ, Antillanca in Chile are two that spring to mind, and countless local hills function the same way.

Blessed (or cursed) with a slower paced low-tech brain, I just love it.

Rocking up with SA’s star gear tester Steve Crazy Leeder, we had some ambitious plans for a serious day trip mission out to Blue Lake, which has been mint since the last dump.

Big air off the rock at the dam wall, Guthega Ski Resort
Once is never enough for Steve Crazy © Owain Price

But the clouds were rolling in hours ahead of schedule, and visibility was fading fast, so we switched to low-hanging fruit across the dam wall. But no less juicy for being low-hanging. Steve had been wanting to huck the rock across the dam for ages, and with the landing deep and soft it was time. Nothing stops Steve in sendy mood, and once is never enough.

A couple of laps later we hit the skin trail up to the Guthega Trig station, an easy almost all-weather goal that’s a great option anytime conditions make venturing further foolhardy.

Happy skinners from ANU ski club © Owain Price

The weather just got worse, so we hauled in early after a line down toward the river. A classic oops, went-too-far followed, so we had a stepping traverse back up to the dam crossing level before the short skin back up to the car park.

All up a pretty slow day. The cold sambos I had packed for the Blue Lake mission didn’t seem so appetising in the low cloud chill. But the smell of snags browning on a back-of-the-ute barbie had us salivating.

Beers and barbecue Guthega car ark
Cheers Guthega! © Steve Leeder

We got chatting to the crew doing the cooking and two-degrees-of-ski-separation soon kicked in. Turned out Rob the barbie-meister’s lady works for Blue Powder Tours, and had been on a classic Aizu trip with us in J-land a few seasons back.

After a sausage on bread and a Melbourne Bitter – as old school a brew as everything else at Guthega – we were feeling restored.

The weather just kept getting worse though, so we called it a day and went to check out Island Bend on the way down to Jindy.

Best snow all day was right by the dam © Owain Price

Steve rates Guthega highly too, it’s been one of his favourite start points over his 20 seasons dowunder. Here’s his perspective.

Old school charm or nostalgia, either way Guthega has it. 

A lodge that hasn’t been updated since what one can only imagine to be the 70’s, lifts to match (Freedom chair excepted) and a sense of community more like a country town than a ski resort, Guthega is my kinda place. 

In the morning you can see people who got there crazy early brewing a coffee and having breakfast on their tailgate, as well as groups meeting up to head out into the main range for an epic adventure. 

As soon as the Main Range starts to set up and the weather comes good, Guthega is the best starting point to get out to the bigger stuff in the back country. But there is also some really fun and really good stuff close to the carpark.

Some of my favourite resort days have been some spring corn topped off with drinks at the Guthega Inn. And most of my best back country adventures have all started sorting gear in the car park and heading out over the dam wall.

The history around the Guthega Dam is still on display, like the original flying fox to get gear and yourself across the river to start your hike to Illawong, as well as some of the lift poles of the long forgotten T-bar line on the western side of the dam.

Guthega is the gateway to all of this © Owain Price

This is living!