Australia isn’t known for its powdery snow, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there! It takes dedication and hours on the slopes to find Aussie pow, but luckily the locals are keen to spread the stoke, here’s where to look.
At the time of writing, July 6, 10.30am, it’s just started snowing here in Thredbo and the forecast is for 20-30cms by tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow could be one of those epic days with a max temp of -4, strong WNW winds and a heap of pow turns if you know where to look.
It gets epic in Australia. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. But skiing pow at home isn’t that easy either. There’s an art to it – it takes timing, mountain knowledge, strategy, and a whole lot of gratitude. This sort of thing takes a lifetime to develop, and only a few people at each resort have actually figured it out.
In a recent issue, Chillfactor Magazine asked a few locals where they go to ski powder on those epic Australian pow days. The scenario put to them is similar to what we’ll see in the mountains over the next 36 hours.
It’s early August, a massive cold front has just crossed South Australia, dropping snow in the Adelaide Hills. The resorts are already off to a good start, but this is the big one. The storm of the season. It’s going to come in warm and wild from the northwest, then freshen to the west/southwest when it really starts to bite, dropping half a metre of fresh cold snow across all the resorts. What is your pow day game plan?
If the weather has approached from the north, the wind has usually swept the snow to the Southside, exaggerating the depth on the southern aspect of Buller. To start, I head directly away from the ABOM chairlift along Breathtaker Road and head into the Chamois Bowl. You can find fresh tracks all day with a lot of steep terrain and I find that this area is almost always overlooked. It isn’t easy skiing, with creeks and narrow gullies to navigate through, but great skiing is a given.
From here on, I head along the southern side of the mountain, through to Wood Run Bowl, Federation Bowl and onto Wombat Bowl. There will be fewer fresh tracks but there’s always something to ski – the areas others have missed. After tracking around the southern side, the sight of an Apricot Mogul at Koflers is a great reward. From there it’s hard to look past the Summit. The terrain is the best on this part of the mountain and will be less tracked because of the hike up the ridge. I keep this as my treat at the end of the day.
But if the wind were to blow in the opposite direction, depositing snow onto the Northern aspect, my typical day would be turned upside down. I’ll leave it to you to figure that out!
Thredbo is all about storm skiing, because aside from having the longest vertical, Thredbo is actually really sheltered. Even if the top lifts are closed due to wind – including the Kozi Express – there are still awesome stashes to be found on the lower mountain. There are openings down there where the snow, blowing off the top, comes down to settle. The trees under Snowgums Chair are the place to be on days like this. That’s where I head first. Then, if you traverse high from the top of Snowgums Chair to just below the Bluff you shred down the Cannonball area towards the old Ramshead Chair. That’s where I head next.
After that, if Antons and/or the Cruiser Chair are open, it’s Michael’s Mistake area. There’s plenty of fun terrain in there if you feel like boosting a couple of rocks. Or you can head straight over from the top of Antons to try and get first slash on the Waimea wind drift above Cruiser before hitting the Powder Bowl/Boundary Rider area below the Cruiser. Then of course there’s Stanleys, but it’s out of bounds, so I won’t tell you to go in there.
When the weather clears and all the lifts are open, everyone wants to hit the Bluff. I think that’s OK if it’s not busy, but on most days you have to fight for it and you’ll pretty much only get one fresh line. I prefer to go straight over and hit the Golf Course Bowl area before everyone gets there. The place is rad. It’s quite a big area with a couple of different aspects, so there are always nice pow stashes for most of the day with many cool lines, with some open and others tight in the trees. There are also some nice pillow lines to be found too.
On the rare occasion we get that super harsh cold wind coming from the south west, you really want to stay clear of this area. Sure lower Golf is sheltered but the top gets ripped up. So head over towards Michael’s Mistake, Gunbarrel trees, Powderbowl or Boundary Rider.
Big wet flakes are piling up as I cross the bridge on the way to Bruno’s for my morning coffees. No major rush as it’s still quite wet, so I boot up and head straight to Centre Valley. A couple of hot laps through Chubbies then over to Eyre T-Bar for a couple before the crowds hit. As the wind swings southwest, I can feel it getting cooler, flakes are getting drier and the snow is getting faster. Game on! I shoot across to North Perisher for a few runs as it’s blowing hard and filling in nicely. I lap the T-bar there for a while then think about heading to the Ridge at Blue Cow. Actually nah, I have a few more at North P, keep going wider. It’s epic.
I bomb down Devil’s Playground, whistling and yewing the whole way. Finally get on to the Ridge chair and I lap Rock Gardens, Yarrandoo and secret tree lines till my feet are numb. I then SCHUSS back to the Terminal Chair, skate over the top to drop down the wide side of Brumby and onto Pleasant Valley. Wondering what Chubbies would be like, I skate the high line back to Perisher, making it to the top of Chubbies. 20cm of virgin pow and Chubbies is mine! Drop it, scream a few yews and head in to Aldo’s for a pizza and beer(s). Day of the season, again!
Every powder day starts at Swindlers at 7am for a coffee. From there I head into the wind, up the Great Alpine Road to the top of Heavenly Valley. It’s cold and there’s barely any visibility down into the guts of The Canyon but the snow makes a crisp crunch underfoot. I click in at the dam and skate across to the unload station, excited to see the empty chair still rattling around the bull wheel.
The plan pays off. I hammer a few GS turns down Hollywood, float it off Elephant Rock and then we chuck up group “high fives” as we roll into the Heavenly chair line to find ourselves among the first in line, only a few groups behind the patrollers. Before we know it we’re out the gate, and then traverse high over to Gotcha Ridge. Down Gotcha face, over the ridge and straight through the double cliff band areas of Lindsays, no time for hesitation because everyone else isn’t far behind. We sprint along the cat track at the bottom back to the chair, as if we’re national cross-country skiers in training, and do it all again.
By 11am the legs are burnt and the coffee buzz has worn off in the group. But not before a couple of fast fall line laps over the rope and into Hackers horror, bouncing all the way. The cat track makes an almost perfect kicker over the edge. Into Hot Doggies for a towies special and time to discuss the afternoon…
OK, so it’s on. I’m up early, walking to The Bowl at 7.45ish. Eagle Chair normally turns first. Most people head to the Ys but I prefer straight under the chair. There is a rope, but I figure if you can jump over it, it’s fair game. It’s only a dozen turns but the pitch is good and you can get a little air off the rock in the middle. Hopefully by now Summit chair is turning so I’ll wait for that or pump one more under Eagle chair.
When Summit opens, again it’s direct fall line, straight under the chairlift. Then I’ll head across to the Rock Garden, head slightly right off Chapel Rock and straight off Cabbage Patch. Next run I’ll stay a little higher and put a track into the Rocket Launcher.
By now International Poma should be cranking so you can hit the Rocket Launcher and continue down to the village and under Gully to the bottom of the resort. Up Inter and traverse out to Valley of the Moon and take your pick of the Maze runs back to the Poma. A few more laps on Inter and my mind turns to cappuccinos and eggs and bacon. Pull in to The Brew House, then half-an-hour later, back on the lift. By now it’s semi-tracked with pockets of goodness. I like to do a full mountain tour and sniff out every little rock that has a soft landing. At this stage my 40-year-old body is cursing my 19-year-old powder-day brain and I retreat for a nap.
Feature photo: Thomas Waddell revelling in the August pow last year. Photo courtesy of Thredbo