Krista and her family were holed up in a ski resort in Victoria’s High Country for the duration of lockdown. Empty ski lifts and uncrowded runs – sounds like a dream. But it wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.
Making Turns on a Lift-less Mountain
It’s 6.50pm on a Friday night (I think it’s Friday) and we have no milk for breakfast. Thank goodness the supermarket is still open regular hours – even in lockdown. Just like everywhere else, life in lockdown at a ski resort sees all the days blend into one. The only differentiator I have is the weather.
Was it a sunny day? Or a low-vis day? Did we get more snow? Other than that, I have no idea what day of the week it is. We don’t have the crowds of the weekends to punctuate the weeks.
Day three of lockdown and we wake to over a foot of fresh snow that had fallen through the night, creating a visible sense of relief and joy after a miserable week of rain. There are no lifts running so the only way up the hill is to walk.
The fresh snow sees many people using their two hours of exercise to hike up to the top of Summit and ski the suspiciously empty slope. Following under the line of motionless chairlifts are many people in touring gear skinning up, newbies boot packing with skis on their shoulders, and snowboarders following in a line like ants up the hill.
I hike up with my husband to celebrate the return of snow for the winter after a week of rain. At the saddle of the hill, there are a bunch of people also celebrating, but in a much less social-distancing kind of way, with music blaring and cans all round.
Moving on quickly, we go to the peak of Summit and pick a line down. It’s both familiar from past seasons, yet totally new in this lift-less world. Now out of the shelter of the trees, we’re battling low visibility and flat light. Our first turns in two years and we’re excited to head down. Packing away all the bits involved with going up on skins, we’re ready to go.
The first three turns are a shock to the body with backseat-driving from low visibility and heavy snow. The moisture level in the fresh white stuff was more than we’d realised, and it was hard going. Still, it was great to be moving fast again.
Life in a Locked Down Ski Resort
Being in a ski resort when people can’t come and go is strange. There are enough people around that you still have to fight for first tracks, but not enough to feel the buzz of a winter ski season. Some good snowfalls and then a day of sunshine lifts the mood, but it doesn’t last long.
The days tick on with the battle of homeschooling. We exercise outside on toboggans and cross country skis, and build igloos.
Passing people on the snowy streets, we can feel the mood switching to despair as business owners commiserate over the new case numbers released that day.
How many were there?
How many were infectious in the community?
The Prahran Market Place exposure site deflates people even more, with many business owners now saying they don’t think we’ll be allowed to open-up the resort again. Is this it for another season? Last year saw Falls Creek open for only four days before a state-wide lockdown.
Managing the uncertainty of lockdown is just as hard here as it was at home last year. No one knows when we’ll open-up again for guests. Or if we’ll open-up again at all.
As a kid I always dreamed of being stuck in the mountains so I could ski all winter and not have to go to school. I just never imagined it would take a global pandemic to make it a reality. And the lifts not turning was never part of the plan. But gee, you should check out my calves from all this uphill.
The medical centre still sees injuries; an excess of dislocated shoulders, puncture wounds grinding PVC pipes that crack, broken vertebrae, and fractured noses. The ski patrol and SES are on alert for backcountry incidents, one team comes in with seven skidoos and one patient.
Heading to Victoria’s backcountry? Make sure that you familiarise yourself with alpine safety measures.
The Mood Begins to Lift
Day 10 of Victoria’s lockdown 5.0 and we wake to another 30cm of fresh snow. The number of cases are fewer and it’s looking likely that restrictions will lift on the date suggested. The mood in the village is palpably higher again, with more people out and about, hiking and skating, grinning under their snowy goggles.
A top temperature of -4℃ sees the best day on the hill this season. The strong winds from the south create windblown pockets of goodness all around the place.
I steal away in the late afternoon for a solo hike to the peak. There aren’t many people around and the few that are happily share their favourite locations for today’s treasure spots. Their eyes twinkling from the stoke of the day.
Reaching the top of the hill it’s really blowy and I can barely see the lift tower 20 metres away. Itching to make my way back down through the silky powder snow, I remove the skins from my skis and pack them away. Clicking back into my pin bindings is proving difficult on one side. It seems jammed. Maybe it’s frozen up, but what good is a ski binding that can’t handle ice? After 15 minutes of frustration, I give up and stick my ski on my back.
Gliding down through the floaty powder feels magical, if not a little lopsided as I’m not conditioned to one-legged skiing. But the feeling is there. My grin is wide enough to freeze my teeth in the -5℃ conditions.
In Australia you’re more likely to die from a snake bite than get a legitimate, light and dry, puff-in-your-face, powder day – this is one of those days. The snow gums remain heavily laden with the white stuff, showing the beauty and transformational power of snow. This is why we’re here.
The next morning, we wake to soul-crushing dripping sounds, then a huge crash. Three-foot-deep snow shed has slid off the roof, completely blocking the door and windows. Overnight the temperature has increased and it’s now raining. The spell of the last few days has broken. We’re once again reminded that uncertainty consumes us.
In the village, we all know that opening up regional Victoria won’t help our local businesses – we need Melbourne open too. It’s a bit like skiing with damaged gear – you can feel how good it should be, but it’s still not quite right. It’s not enough to sustain us.