The Main Range rules! That bit of extra altitude – only 350m / 1000′ plus or so – over the ranges in Victoria (and elesewhere in NSW) makes the difference, consistently delivering more snow over a longer season. For first and last back country trips, this is Mission Central – often skiable from May to November, or even later some years.
Shaun Mittwollen made the most of late snow in 2019 with a big October mission, plus a December reprise to file this..
The Main Range has achieved a fair share of attention in recent years and for good reason. Easily accessible backcountry within striking distance for a large proportion of Australia’s population. Terrain that emulates NZ’s fantastic alpine skiing, or anywhere. All compounded by the burgeoning interest in entering the wild to escape the norm, the Western Faces of the Main Range are magnetic in their attraction.
Particularly the wide valley that stretches between Carruthers Peak in the south right the way round to Watsons Crags. Punctuated only by The Sentinel, a vicious pyramid that stands centre side connected to the high plains by a knife edge ridgeline.
Either end of this broad valley exists a dream for aspiring backcountry aficionados with availabilities of snaking couloirs, wide faces and rocky precipices that encapsulate the adventure which is backcountry skiing. For me in 2019, the Main Range was the icing on the cake. An epic winter finale (after a Crazy Cradle Lake Couloir Adventure in Tasmania and an assault on Feathertop, Victoria’s most spectacular peak).
Spring mission on the Main Range
It was early October. The resorts were closed, but there was still skiing to be had with a deep snow base above 1800m lingering against the thaw. Drew and I decided to make one last expedition for the season to the western faces hoping to ski some steep lines on Watsons Crags in soft spring corn.
Setting out from Guthega surrounded by local wildlife, including a slather of Alpine Copperhead snakes basking in the midday sun, had us second-guessing a potential grassy camp up on the range.
But after the climb over Mt Twynam dulled our memories, the alternative of cold wet snow suddenly seemed a lot less appealing and so the tent was placed on soft, bone dry grass with a view worth thousands.
Making a habit of the sunset line, it was off to work jagging a classy little descent south of the Sentinel Ridgeline, again passing the kaleidoscopic dusk glow transition mid-descent.
The night was moonless and still, a full galaxy of stars leading the way back to camp and it was late before the usual chores of an alpine camp were complete. The next day we would head north to a doglegged descent on the far reaches of the Crags.
Winter fatigue had well and truly set in the next morning as we lazed on the grassy patch next to the tent, taking opportunities to defrost gear and ourselves in the warm solar rays.
A few day-trippers appearing over the ridge tops were the catalyst that spurred us into finally setting out.
At first, an untouched chute beaconed us over towards Carruthers Peak. “We’ll just do that and then head over to the Crags.”
So it was a plan, and we quickly scooted up the broad slope towards the peak, eager to stay in front of the day-trippers who had eyes on the same prize. We arrived and transitioned with the crew hot on our heels.
No time for photos, it was time to drop now! The chute was a long one, far longer than it looked from a distance. Perfect spring corn splayed either side off the skis with no lack of pace before an open runout across a defrosting creek. Water bottles filled with ice-cold alpine water fresh from the mountain aided the tropically warm climb back up into the reprieve of the wind.
We gradually made our way over to the Crags a few kilometres to the north. Our line existed on the far reaches of the range, under the third arrow on the classic online Crags photo.
Picking our way along the ridge amongst re-emerging shrubs, eroded rocky columns and open fields of late snow was an adventure in itself. Scrub stains littered our planks and boot buckles before we finally emerged atop a beautiful bowl that strangely had a single track down its snowfield. We weren’t the only ones with our eyes on this line!
Nevertheless, with so much open space out here on the western faces of the Main Range it wasn’t at all an issue. Usually one to drop in second place in the name of photography I pinched this one off Drew, gathering momentum across the crisp yet soft snow. The bowl rolled over down into the valley, cutting left and then back right again as a classic dog leg. Here the slope narrowed into a more chute-like orientation contouring an obvious drainage gully.
Looking ahead the snow had given way into the creek so I transitioned up onto a small bench ending what could well be the final line for the season. The smell of spring hung in the atmosphere. Fragrances of melting snow and emerging vegetation interluded with birds foraging for insects. It’s calm and peaceful for a few minutes until Drew arrives on the scene.
“That was the sickest line!” he exclaimed.
Haha, I couldn’t agree more. What a way to top off what has been the winter of winters here in the Australian backcountry.
Bring on 2020..
Summer ski on the Main Range
Except it stayed cold enough with a couple of dust ups into November, so I couldn’t resist sneaking back up there first week of December – skiing Australia in summer!
Compare the western faces in the December shot to a couple of months before and you can see it’s only for the diehards. But around Club Lake the chutes still held up so we got a few soft ‘fresh’ lines in.
Of course being last to lose snow because of that altitude means being first to get it and hold it too, so might see you up there in May, snow and social distancing permitting ..
Resources – more options, gear, tips
For a more in depth look at Main Range skiing check our 20th Anniversary Issue special from Tim Macartney-Snape reflecting on 40 years skiing out there – including with the son of Elyne Mitchell, who pretty much pioneered skiing out there from the 1930s riding up the backside of the range from Geehi on horseback from their property down on the river to the snowline! Tim skied there a lot with her son John, and his piece links together over 80 years of Main Range ski knowledge.
For back country gear – rent or purchase – Wilderness Sports in Nuggets Crossing are the local experts with 40 plus years experience on the terrain there. They also run guided trips from their Perisher shop in season – inside the National Parks building next to Skitube on the edge of the car park at Perisher.
What to pack? Check out Steve ‘Crazy’ Leeder’s packing guide on the link here – not good realising you need it when you’re several hours ski/hike/skin from anywhere!
More great terrain options:
For a great day or half day trip check out Twin Valleys from Thredbo or Charlotte Pass. In Victoria Mt Feathertop, Mt Bogong and Mt Stirling are three great options – the latter day trip distance from Melbourne.