Tim Macartney-Snape at 64: Steeper is Better!

For Part 2 of our interview series from the Western Faces* we caught up with the guru himself, Tim Macartney-Snape.

Most famous for his climbing exploits, Tim is also a long term back country skier who has been skiing the Main Range for well over 40 years.

Reaching middle age (hey, the 60s are new 40s we say!) is not slowing him down. Try skinning up a slope behind him and see how you go; we have in Japan, where he guides in the Tokachi Mountains. Most people half his age can’t keep up.

Now, after decades on tele gear, he made the switch to lightweight AT rig and is on a mission to go steeper and longer at 64.

Tim Macartney-Snape drops into a steep Western Faces line at Watson's Crags
Tim drops in © Mark Clinton / North Face

SA: You seem to be the guru/father figure for the project – did that just happen or was it part of Lachlan’s plan inviting you to participate? Obviously you have a huge well of experience in the specific ski terrain and expedition stuff generally?

It happened by stealth! Sarah Hunt the marketing manager rang me to pick my brains about getting their NZ ski athletes to sample some Aussie BC. Then she suggested that maybe I could help with the logistics, next thing I know I’m the de facto guide..

Not that I minded.

Have sled, will head out; Tim leading the way towards Illawong bridge © Mark Clinton / The North Face

SA: How was it skiing with seriously talented young guns a third your age, who have all grown up doing crazy stuff as normal? You looked like you were more than holding your own skiing, and we’ll bet you surprised them on the skin/hike outs?

It was an incredible opportunity to ski with World class skiers. Hopefully some of it rubbed off, though I don’t think I’ll ever be going as fast and straight as Hank!

Tim Macartney-Snape at 63 foloowing 22 year old FWT star Hank Bilous in a steep Western Faces ski line
Following a 22yo Top 10 FWT skier like Hank Bilous is not too shabby at all! © Mark Clinton / The North Face

SA: In your 40 Years on the Main Range feature you recount how back on your very first Western Faces ski trip, “I got lots of bruises, left a few craters.” You easily score Best Stack in the film, so not much seems to have changed. With your experience, the quality of AT gear now, and the extra incentive of skiing with top young talent, do you find yourself skiiing steeper and more technical lines these days than you used to?

Much steeper stuff and of course more avalanche prone stuff, so I’m finding that though I’m not at all scared of skiing steep stuff I am nervous and more aware of avi risk.

Lunch on the haul out day © Mark Clinton / The North Face

SA: Have you got a favourite line or zone on the Western Faces?

Anywhere that’s consistently steep and long – I think Watsons Crags on the north and south aspects has the biggest steep lines with the most spectacular architecture.

The view to Watson’s Crags, the holy grail of Aussie (mainland) backcountry steeps © Mark Clinton / The North Face

SA: COVID-19 induced resort shutdowns are giving the backcountry ski boom even more legs. How much busier have you noticed it getting out there?

It’s definitely much busier – but thats the trend of the past few years, more young people getting out on skis and increasingly, boards – split mainly.

SA: Back on your early missions you had the benefit of Albina Hut offering a convenient and safe base, telling the story of following pole lines back there in a white out. Do you think maybe there should be a revisit to huts and refuge policies? Huts are of course a key part of the alpine environment in many countries, from staffed rifugios to basic shelters, and benefits from safety to helping the waste problem.

I think for alpine huts to be considered in KNP there would have to be a massive cultural shift in NPWS philosophy and thinking. Given the small area and the potential popularity, I don’t think it’s now a workable scenario – you would have a long waiting list for the few huts that would be built!

I’ve long thought that the concept of the Main Range being a wilderness area is a false one.

From most summits you can see roads. For that reason I think that idea should be abandoned.

I think there should be a sub-alpine circuit walking track – in the snowgum/alpine ash forest zone with heli-serviced huts along the way, with spur tracks visiting the main high points above.

This would be immensely popular in summer and could be open for ski tourers in winter.

It would act as a fire break from which to burn back from and be part of a wider network of trails that would be part of an integral forest fuel management system. What happened in Victoria, where large areas have lost the Alpine Ashe’s ability to regenerate after successive fires (the result of inadequate fuel management), will in time happen in NSW and that would be tragic.

Haviing a sub-alpine trail to hike in from could open up access to more lines like these © Mark Clinton / The North Face

Were you/are you still planning to guide in Hokkaido again if and when things open up?

Why the hell not!

Tim Macartney-Snape skiing powder in the Tokachi Moiuntains, Hokkaido
Tim on the charge in the Tokachi Mountains, central Hokkaido © Owain Price

Tim has been guiding in Hokkaido for many years with Backcountry Ski Japancheck their website for details. The Tokachi mountains in central Hokkaido offer some of the World’s best and most consistent back country powder snow. Just get as fit as you can for skiing with Tim is our tip.

For more on the Western Faces from Tim check his feature here

For the young gun’s view check our I/V with Hank Bilous here

And of course, watch the Western Faces by The North Face film by Lachlan Humphreys and Rob Norman produced by Clean Line Productions And Knack Studios here: