Finding the LineFinding the Line

Posted

July 14, 2017

6 min read
Words: Nat Segal
Photos: Teddy Laycock / Nat Segal

Freeride skier Nat Segal gives us the scoop on the best backcountry skiing spots in Australia.

Backcountry skiing has become quite trendy these days. While the ‘noughties' fostered the rise of freestyle skiing, terrain parks and baggy clothes, I would argue that the ‘teenies’ have ushered in shell jackets, wicking base layers and walk mode. Nowadays it’s cool to earn your turns, get in touch with nature and hike your lines by human power alone.

I would complain about the over use of social media hashtags associated with the growth of backcountry skiing and snowboarding but anything that encourages people to exercise and appreciate the outdoors is hard to protest against. It can only be good for you health. Doctors should start prescribing their patients to #getoutside.

camp on Mount Townsend
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  1. Setting up camp on Mount Townsend, the blustery weather called for high walls and lots of tent time.

Nowadays it’s cool to earn your turns, get in touch with nature and hike your lines by human power alone.”

When I first picked up ski touring, the equipment was either light and flimsy or heavy and inefficient. However, the introduction of ‘pin binding’, a lightweight, yet tough alpine touring ski binding that allows you to switch between downhill skiing and hiking with relative ease has revolutionised backcountry riding.

It may be unexpected but one community that has benefited from this dramatic leap forward is that of the Australian backcountry skiers. Previously, backcountry skiing in Australia was primarily nordic skiing — a.k.a chook — footing or telemark skiing. This is due to the undulating terrain that forms the Australian Alps, and makes alpine touring unsuitable.

Anna fighting through the dense scrub on the Eskdale Spur
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  1. Anna fighting through the dense scrub on the Eskdale Spur, a worthy challenge for any keen skier.

This new lightweight gear that skis like an alpine set-up and walks like a cross-country boot has opened up the backcountry. With a pair of touring skis, a tent, sleeping bag and camp stove so much can be accessed and skied in the Australian mountains that before was just a landscape on the horizon.

Over the last two springs my sister, Anna Segal and I, began our own exploits into the Australian backcountry as part of a documentary film we are producing, Finding The Line. Despite growing up skiing in Australia, it took until we were well into our skiing careers before either of us ventured out beyond the lift access of the ski resorts. This is what we found...

early start
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  1. Cooking breakfast under the stars before hiking up to Mt Twynam for sunrise. Photo: Bjarne Salén
Main Range
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  1. Still smiling after 4 nights camping out and a particularly heavy toilet bag strapped to my backpack. Photo: Nat Segal

“With a pair of touring skis, a tent, sleeping bag and camp stove so much can be accessed and skied in the Australian mountains that before was just a landscape on the horizon.”

Main Range - Mount Kosciusko (2228m) and Mount Townsend (2209m), NSW.

Most easily accessed from Thredbo Resort’s lift system, Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak, can be hiked in a short day. From the summit, you can ski to a range of easy to advanced ski terrain. On our trip to this area we continued to Mount Townsend, which was once considered Australia’s highest mountain. Camped out close to the summit, we spent a week battling the elements, finally scoring a day of corn snow on our last day of the trip.

Main Range - Mount Twynham (2196m) and Watsons Crag (2022m), NSW.

The Main Range can also be accessed from the north via Guthega. We departed before the sun rose and made it to the famous suspension bridge just below Illawong lodge for an early morning crossing. Pounds Creek Flats offers a choice of good camping zones in the tree line, providing shelter from the wind and quick access to the summit of Mount Twynham. From the summit of Mount Twynham there is a range of beautiful descents including the south face of Watson's Crags, which boasts some of the steepest lines in the Australian mountains. We spent four days chasing sunrises, sunsets and clouds. As so much of the skiing in the Australian Alps is above tree line, one of our main aims was to avoid being caught in a white out.

Watsons_Ridge
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  1. Nat Segal above the clouds dropping into the north side of Watson’s Crags. Photo: Teddy Laycock.
Michel_Hut
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  1. We're not sure which is tougher, the hike up to Michel Hut along Eskdale Spur, or the hike home? Either way, after two big days at Mount Bogong, we were glad to have a nice rest before heading back to the car.

Bogong High Plains - Mt Bogong (1986m), VIC.

Situated further south, over the Victorian state line, Mount Bogong offers a slightly different skiing experience to the Main Range. First things first, the principal access route from the valley floor to the tree line involves a challenging hike up, either via Staircase or Eskdale Spur. The best ski route is via Eskdale Spur. While the route involves two hours of steep, bush bashing with all your ski gear on your back, Michell Hut makes a perfect jumping-off point to attack the summit of Mount Bogong in a day or over several nights. Another option is to spend the first night in Michell Hut and then jump over the ridge to Cleve Cole Hut. During our stay we decided to camp on Rocking Stone Saddle to have the best chance to see the sunrise over the summit.

Despite new technology, backcountry skiing in Australia has its tough moments. You can’t always rely on the weather to be perfect or your backpack to be light. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the clouds will hang around the mountain all day. But if you are patient and persistent, skiing in the Australian wilderness is just as rewarding as any adventure you will find across the globe.

Check out more on the Finding the Line project & stay up to date with Nat’s adventures @nat_segal