Mount Wheatley Perisher’s ‘backcountry’ secret stash

Mount Wheatley is Perisher’s snow-so-close ‘backcountry’ secret stash.

I can’t believe I had never skied it, having looked at it for more than 30 years while skiing Mt Perisher right opposite. How could something so close offer so much? Steve Crazy Leeder, who takes telemark and AT skiers out there guiding and teaching for Wilderness Sports, gave me an introduction to Wheatley. Now I can’t wait to get back – it was so good 10 days after a storm, how good will it be during or just after the next one?

Popping off a boulder on Mount Wheatley, Perisher
So many big boulders to hurl yourself off .. Steve Crazy Leeder found his fair share © Owain Price

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with joining the throng heading out to the Main Range. It’s exploding in popularity this COVID-cursed season. But if you want some fresh lines, crazy kickers, and no people, there’s no need to make such a big trek to get at it.

Mount Wheatley is literally just behind Perisher’s scattered village, opposite Mt Perisher and almost as high, topping out at just over 1900m. Some of the further flung lodges are pretty much on the lower slopes in fact.

Just take a short 100m or so walk along the road from Perisher carpark or Skitube past the oversnow transport pick up, then hang a left where the snowshoe/hiking trail heads out.

Put the skins on here and in 20 minutes or so you will be topping out at the summit of Mount Wheatley, with great views back over the resort and the village. The hair shirt purists might argue that it’s not backcountry, but actually it is, albeit on the slacker country side access wise.

But just like going much further afield, you will likely have the slopes and terrain garden to yourself. We could hear the odd snowshoe tour doing the track in the valley below, but no one else was out skiing it.

Ten days after the last storm blew out there were still plenty of fresh snow pockets for Steve and I to enjoy.

Skier leaping off boulder Mount Wheatley Perisher
The fun starts on the lower slopes © Owain Price

Steve regularly runs telemark and AT tours and lessons onto the lower slopes for Wilderness Sports, who have an in-season store and XC/tele ski school in the National Parks building at Perisher, as well as their Nuggets Crossing main store (AT and backcountry gear hire is only available from the Nuggets store, so gear up there if you need to – they have an extensive range and decades of experience).

“Mount Wheatley is one of the most under rated backcountry zones in Australia” he says. “Twenty – thirty minutes from your car and you can be on top of a slope that has terrain for back country beginners as well as something for the much more advanced that want to hurl themselves of all sorts of big rocks.”

The hurling department starts with Steve. He just can’t resist getting seriously sendy off the biggest boulders he can find.

Skier jumps of big boulder Mount Wheatley, Perisher
Getting bigger © Owain Price

Mt Wheatley offers endless pop off spots, from some small enough for me to think about having a shot to seriously large air ones.

In between are pockets of the sweetest snow at a nice gradient down a 200m or so vertical before if flattens out near the creek. The easterly and southeasterly aspects hold the snow nicely, picking up plenty of windblown from the prevailing winter westerlies too.

But the stunted trees run to the summit, so there’s no big cornice line or any avi dangers. Anytime the weather forecast is bad and it would be stupid to go further out into exposed areas you can be confident even if it socks in totally you can safely exit Wheatley – just ski down and work left along the valley picking up the pole line if need be. You will soon come back to civilisation past some lodges and/or drop out on the main road with a short skate back to Skitube and the carpark.

Powder skiing Mount Wheatley, Perisher
Ten days after the last storm we found this © Owain Price

Skiing Mount Wheatley at Perisher just works. Anybody who has an accommodation booking for Jindabyne or Perisher and can’t get lift passes this season should try it as an alternative – if you’ve never ever been back or side country skiing or riding check in with the friendly crew at Wilderness Sports and get a lesson and/or guiding. They rent tele, AT and splitboard set ups (only tele from the Perisher shop – AT & splitboards etc from Nuggets Crossing).

Alternatively if you’re an Epic Pass holder there’s no reason not to do a session on Mt Wheatley then scoot back over to the lifts when you want. This is especially true on weekends – head straight to Wheatley first. Let the morning queues sort themselves out and people spread around, then head back over when that has settled down. Be warned though, you may find you are having so much fun you won’t even bother to do that.

Skinning up Mount Wheatley, Perisher
It’s a short scoot back up between laps © Owain Price

Mount Wheatley is not big vert wise, so the runs are pretty short. But that also means the skin/hike back up is shorter too. So you can get lots of laps in. Set up a base camp to dump your packs and gear and you can lap and session features as much as you want. You can keep working around the aspects to find fresh lines all day.

I seriously can’t believe I have looked at it for over 30 years and never bothered to ski it before. It’s definitely going to be a go to for the future.

If your partner, friends or family don’t share your enthusiasm they can either go resort skiing or take a snowshoe tour while you enjoy Wheatley.

More info/guided trips contact Wilderness Sports

Next in our ‘Short Back and Sides’ series check out The Paralyser

If you ski like Steve Leeder Wheatley is like having a private terrain park © Owain Price