With ski resorts announcing their plans for the season (and resorts having considerable control over access to many backcountry skiing and riding access points) we now have a sense of what winter will look like.
The key message is that if you’re planning to access backcountry via a resort you need to organise entry before you go. But there are many options outside resort areas.
This update covers NSW and Victoria. This is a quick (and partial) overview. You’re welcome to send updates for inclusion: firstname.lastname@example.org
Before heading out
Check the Mountain Sports Collective Backcountry Conditions report.
Backcountry access – Snowy Mountains
Everyone entering Kosciuszko National Park is expected to have a lift ticket or have filled out an online Trip Intentions Form or TIF. One form per adult – so tour guides need to get their clients to submit forms. There will not be limitations on numbers of people in the backcountry but all users are expected to have filled out a form. Once you have a TIF you can engage in ‘on-snow back country activities’, which include back country snow shoeing, cross country skiing, skiing and snowboarding.
Remember that you need a Parks Pass to be in the Snowy Mountains national park.
Overnight parking will not be allowed at Dead Horse Gap or Cascade this winter. Day use only for this winter. This will be enforced.
All traditional backcountry access points will be open.
Tourism NSW will be encouraging all backcountry users to go with a commercial tour operator
Camping in the drive in campgrounds needs to be pre-booked (we understand there is a $6 per booking for the previously free zones like Island Bend)
Cross Country trails at Perisher will be groomed.
Be aware that parking will be tight in most places so aim to get out early if possible.
As usual, all public huts are for emergency use only – they are also considered COVID-19 hotspots so people are encouraged not to congregate in them. The toilet being constructed at Seamans Hut is not open.
The ski resort’s lift operations are closed until the opening of the ski season. The ski season open dates are:
- Thredbo: Monday 22 June 2020
- Perisher: Wednesday 24 June 2020
- Charlotte Pass: Friday 26 June 2020
- Selwyn Snow Resort: Closed for 2020 due to bush fire damage
And check the NSW National Park and Wildlife Service ‘alerts’ page before heading into the mountains.
Backcountry access – Victoria
Mt Hotham (access to The Razorback from Diamantina hut, all Hotham sidecountry, the Twins, Mt Loch):
Please be aware that starting Friday 5 June, the number of visitors in the resort will be managed through the Resort Entry permit system and resort management is advising everyone that you must buy online and buy ahead of your visit or you will not be permitted to enter the resort. This would include people parking along the Great Alpine Road (eg at the Wangaratta ski club park or Diamantina hut)
Falls Creek. You need to pre purchase parking. Check Falls Creek website for details.
Mt Stirling. Anyone visiting Mt Buller and Mt Stirling from the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend will be required to pre-purchase a resort entry pass online and carry wheel chains. You can now camp overnight. Info here.
Baw Baw. You need to pre purchase car entry if planning to go backcountry. Info here.
Buffalo. Entry is free but be aware that if a car park is full, no more people can visit that site. Do not join vehicle queues or park illegally. Info here.
Lake Mountain. You need to pre purchase road access. Details here.
Non resort backcountry – Victoria
There are, of course, many snow covered areas outside the resorts in Victoria. Many of these involve a longer drive on dirt roads or long walk in. Be aware that roads with the Alpine National Park that give summer access may be closed or have trees across them.
Check road closures if heading into the mountains on dirt roads.
Be aware that all huts in key backcountry areas, eg Michelle and Cleve Cole at Bogong, and Federation at Feathertop, etc will be open but for emergency use only. They are considered to be COVID-19 hotspots.
Be COVID-19 safe
From the DHHS website.
Keep at least 1.5 metres between yourself and other people at all times.
Gathering sizes in outdoor areas is limited to 20 people.
Multiple groups of people should not gather close by each other (eg around huts).
Where possible, driving with passengers outside your household should be avoided.
Here are a few ideas.
Obviously, to travel into remote areas you need to be skilled in backcountry winter travel and camping, have appropriate communications equipment, and an awareness of problems that may exist on access tracks. You cannot assume that help would arrive quickly and be prepared for all conditions.
Are you a beginner backcountry skier or rider? I would strongly suggest you don’t go out onto Feathertop summit or Bogong. Go initially to places that are largely below tree line – eg, Mt Stirling, Buffalo National Park, JB Plain and Paw Paw Plain (between Hotham and Dinner Plain on the Great Alpine Road).
For more experienced people:
The Bluff and Mt Cobbler. These are the two key entry points to the Mt Howitt area. The access to The Bluff area, via the Howqua River can be tricky because the road crosses the south side of Rocky Ridge and can be icy. You need several days to be able to enjoy these areas. Check here for a guide to the area. But it is truly splendid terrain.
A weekend trip is to ski up to Bluff hut via the road and then explore The Bluff summit area or Mt Lovick, which has some great slopes on the south side.
Mt Wills. Accessed via the Omeo Highway between Mitta Mitta and Glen Valley. Below tree line so safer in storm conditions. It’s about a 4 km uphill ski to get to the summit area, which has a limited number of short runs.
Mt Bogong. There are various approaches, all involving long walks and significant elevation gain. The summit area can be dangerous and is very exposed. Only suitable for experienced teams.
Mt Feathertop. Via the long walk up the Bungalow spur trail up from Harrietville to Federation hut and then the summit. This approach is all below treeline until Federation hut so more suitable for intermediate skiers and riders than the Razorback approach (and please note that to access via Diamantina would require a pre purchased road pass from Hotham resort).
Mt Murray, accessed via dirt roads from the Buckland Valley.
Get a good map and check out some of the other snow gum peaks in the Eastern Alps: Mt Pinnibar, Mt Gibbo. You will have some adventures out there. Be prepared for long walk ins and potentially muddy roads.
Mount St Gwinear on the east side of Baw Baw Plateau. Details here. This area is suitable for beginners, and is more touring terrain than downhill slopes.
The remote area north of Licola in Gippsland has a variety of ski tours ranging from short, easy excursions around Lost Plain through to trips lasting over a week extending as far as Mt Howitt, The Bluff and Mt Cobbler. Info here.
Check here for the WikiSki backcountry guide. It covers the ACT, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.