Mattie and Jon took the opportunity to get out to the Snowies and take on the challenge of a backcountry splitboarding trip from Guthega Dam.
- Close to the car park, but feels like you’re out there
- You’re in the Snowy Mountains
- Earning your turns
All in a Day
Winter 2020 got off to a pretty rocky start. Travel restrictions, lockdowns and very little snowfall had winter frothers like myself wondering whether the ol’ shred sled was going to get an outing at all this year.
Luckily for those of us in ACT/NSW, we’ve still been allowed up to the Snowies; following the first decent snowfall of the season, Jon and I hightailed it from Canberra for an easy day of backcountry splitboarding.
With only one day at our disposal, we set off at the crack of sparrow, grabbed a coffee from Rhythm, and were parked up in Guthega by 8.00am. Sitting in the car park, we brewed up another coffo and some porridge, while we eyed our target for the day, Gills Knob.
The route we’d planned, crossing the Guthega Dam Wall, traversing along the pondage, before ascending and descending through the gum trees to Gills Knob summit, was one I’d done before. It’d been my first ever splitboarding trip, so not only did I feel confident leading Jon out on his first splitboard, I knew we had plenty of time to make the summit and back in a day.
The great thing about this route is that you never actually travel that far from the car park, so you’re only about an hour away from the car at any time.
All prepped and ready to go, we boarded down the short slope from the car park to Guthega Dam. The heat of the sun was already taking the chill out of the air and melting the ice from the snow.
After traversing for about 1km, we’d well and truly warmed up and were ready to remove some layers before starting the climb. We had a rough route to the summit in mind, but we let the slope and the trees lead us a little to the left and right as we went.
About half way up, and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful morning, we emerged from the treeline and had the summit in our sight.
Up, Up, or Up, Down
The route to the summit was a stunning mix of clean, untouched snow, and wide open ground with the occasional clump of boulders and trees. We decided to skirt to the left of the summit, taking the gentler route to the top. As soon as we started skinning, we began to get the sense that the snow’s appearance was a little deceptive.
It looked pristine and fresh, but each step was met with the crunch of an icy top layer. While not a problem for skinning up the hill, we began to anticipate that our runs down again might not be quite as glorious as we’d imagined. Still, we began to ascend the mountain.
As often happens near any mountain summit, the weather began to turn. Icy winds had us pulling on our jackets and donning gloves and face masks. This weather change, combined with the increasingly icy snow, helped us make the decision not to push for the ultimate summit.
It was an easy decision really. It’s always tempting to climb to the top of any mountain, but we decided that the pay off probably wouldn’t be worth it this time. Besides, neither Jon and I were bringing any ego to this trip, we were just out here to capture some good vibes and take it easy.
Fresh (Crunchy) Tracks
Putting our boards back together again, and packing away poles and skins, we prepared to drop in on our first descents of the day. In front of us was an open slope, leading down to the trees, waiting quietly for us to lay down some fresh tracks.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about our descent to the treeline, because it wasn’t great. We left some fresh tracks in the snow. Our runs were enjoyable. But they certainly weren’t the best we’ve ever had. Sometimes the best thing about splitboarding in the Aussie backcountry, isn’t the downhill. And that’s completely ok.
After a lunchtime burrito break, we decided to hike up for a second run. Yeah the snow was a bit crappy, but an average run on the snowboard is better than no run at all. Second time around, knowing what to expect, we carved out a few better turns, and ate shit a couple of times too. Can’t have been too bad because we headed halfway up for a third crack.
So the descents weren’t amazing, but y’know what? Any descents on a day in the backcountry are such a small portion of the outing, that it actually doesn’t matter.
Our day was all about experiencing the beauty of being out there. About getting into the mountains and out of the resorts. And this easy backcountry splitboarding trip delivered more than enough good times and good vibes to be totally worth the hike.
The day ended with a cruisy return traverse back the way we’d come. We arrived at the car well before sundown, ready to pack up and hit the road homeward. Stoked on a day well spent, we finished our mountainous microadventure with a Mexican dinner in Jindy. I recommend the nachos.
- Splitboard with skins (snow shoes, or skis and skins would do the job too)
- Warm and waterproof layers
- Lunch and snacks
- Avalanche beacons (one per person)
- Avalanche probes
- First aid kit
- Emergency bivvy
Make sure you know how to use your avalanche gear. We highly recommend attending a safety course before heading into the backcountry. You should always complete a trip intentions form before heading out.
How To Get There
Guthega Dam is about 30 minutes driving from Jindabyne. Head up the mountain towards Perisher and then take the right hand turn off, well signposted towards Guthega. There’s ample parking at the base of the chairlifts.
- Ski touring
Distance Covered / Elevation Gained / Time Taken
5km(ish) / 450m / 1 day