Looking to find the answer to these questions and experience something new for himself, Mattie headed up to the Snowy Mountains to join a 25-strong group of Explorers for A Weekend of Backcountry, hosted by WAE in partnership with Arc’teryx.
Carving fresh lines through untouched snow is a dream that’s common among skiers and snowboarders the world over. And judging by the crowds at Australian resorts all season long, every man and his dog wants a snowy slice of the action.
Much of my winter resort time is spent skiing among the trees or gazing wistfully beyond the boundaries at the endless possibilities the backcountry seems to hold, but like a kid on Christmas Eve, itching to tear the wrapping paper off that new bike under the tree, Christmas morning still hadn’t arrived on my backcountry dream.
When the opportunity arose to head out into the backcountry with We Are Explorers and Arc’teryx I stopped waiting for Santa and jumped at the chance.
Snow Ready To Go
We met at Perisher skitube early on the Saturday and not even the cafes were open. The oversnow transport soon had our diverse group rumbling away from the building resort crowds towards the relative quiet and isolation of our base at Charlotte Pass. Everyone on board, from the Arc’teryx athletes to us backcountry virgins, was already dreaming of those first turns later that day.
Before hitting the snow, we met our expert guides for a run through of our essential backcountry safety gear. Most importantly, we were shown how to use our avalanche beacons, learning their functions and running several drills looking for avalanche victims (lost beacons) around the lodge. Beacons set to transmit, avalanche poles stashed and snow shovels tucked away in our packs, we prepped our splitboards and skis for the first ascent.
Time To Skin Up
We ‘split’ into groups of 8, packed our lunch and spent the rest of that first morning getting to grips with going up a mountain, instead of down it. We climbed up and out of the resort and were soon met with the vast open sights across to Mt Kosciuszko and beyond the snowy mountains.
Yes it was hard work, yes our skinning techniques needed finessing and hell yes, that first descent, with each of us carving our own lines through untouched snow, was just as good as we’d dreamt. After high-fives all round and a real sense of being out-there, living our best lives, it was time to ‘skin up’ again and search out the next descent.
This was to be the pattern for the next couple of days, time spent in a stunning location, with a great crew, getting solid tips and advice on backcountry safety, skills and equipment. On snow, most of our time involved winding our way up through the snow gums to one summit after another, getting way out beyond Charlotte Pass and onto the Main Range of Kosciuszko National Park.
When we weren’t on the snow, we were well-fed at our lodge, enjoying 3-course dinners that we all felt were hard earned after a day out the back. The Arc’teryx guys shared stories about the backcountry and their love of the sport and, while there were grand plans of watching ski movies, it never quite happened as the post-snow stoke was so high that everyone was happy kicking back and reliving events of the day, sharing beers and red wine in the comfort of the lodge.
Australia’s Best Kept Secret?
One of the main things holding me (and most people I spoke to over the weekend) back from heading into the backcountry previously was the sense of the unknown — not knowing what to expect or what was possible. This unknown expectation is enhanced by the fact that little is seen or heard of about the Australian backcountry, getting little film or magazine space in favour of more exotic overseas destinations.
Watch: My Wild Home
But just like your first overnight hike, east coast surf, or Kangaroo Valley canoe adventure, heading backcountry skiing is one of those activities where you just need someone to show you where to go, what you need and how to do it. The confidence that I gained from the weekend and the skills I learnt have left me not only dreaming of another backcountry trip, but have given me the skills needed to unlock more Australian snow than the resorts alone can provide.
So if you want to keep skiing in Australia right up until November, find someone who knows what they’re doing, book a tour and stop waiting for Christmas morning before checking out Australia’s epic backcountry skiing.
Remember — always try and ski with someone else, not just from a safety point of view but because it’s nearly impossible to land a decent solo high five.
All images by @ainraadik & @ben.savage
Special thanks to David Herring & his crew at Alpine Access for guidance through the backcountry
Make getting some backcountry steeze a breeze…