Why 48 Hours At Falls Creek Is What You Need This Winter
Learn to stop worrying and love the cold.
Like a fumbling baby deer, I launched myself through the gates and attempted to “pizza stop” at the blue line. I aligned my body and sat, saying a silent ‘hallelujah’ when my skis alighted from the ground and I appeared to still be in them. Sitting there on the ski lift by myself, swiftly moving up that hill, the most amazing thing happened; complete and utter silence. A silence so profound and present that I couldn’t help but notice it. There’s a certain peacefulness to the mountains that you just can’t find anywhere else. No crashing waves, no nearby highways, no surround sounds of the city – just the giant sleeping hills beneath you.
On the surface, a trip to the snow always seems like so much effort (plus ski hire, lift passes and accommodation don’t come cheap), but a little investment goes a long way in rekindling your love for the winter. And with winter just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to get excited about the chilly conditions ahead and start planning your trip to the snow.
Here’s how we spent 48 hours at Falls Creek Alpine Ski Resort in Victoria’s High Country.
To The Snow We Go
As a snow destination, Falls Creek is sometimes overlooked due to its distance from Australia’s capital cities. Mount Buller is closer to Melbourne, so it’s the most popular spot for Victorians, and the New South Wales ski fields might seem to make more sense for Sydney-siders. But Falls Creek is incredibly picturesque and the journey there takes you past to some wonderful pit stops in Victoria’s high country.
If arriving from interstate, your best bet is to fly with Qantas to Albury. It’s then a two-hour drive in a hire car through the sleepy townships that dot the winding road, as well as a journey over Mount Bogong – Victoria’s highest mountain. We drove from Melbourne, and the four-and-a-half hour trip was helped along by episodes of the Stuff You Should Know podcast and stops at foodie mecca Milawa (where you can pick up some of the renowned namesake cheese), the charming town of Bright, the Myrtleford Butter Factory and the lookout over the aptly-named Mount Beauty.
Alternatively you can say “to hell with it” and chopper in like a boss. Forest Air Helicopters provide Heli-Link and Heli-Shuttle transfer services to Falls Creek from Albury Airport or nearby at the base of Mount Beauty so you can take in the scenic alpine views and hit the powder in no time. It’s not cheap, but it’s efficient.
Forget Olympic athletes. The true sense of physical endurance is strapping snow boots on in your hotel room then lumbering your way up, down and across various landscapes before you finally reach the white stuff. It’s like putting two rigid casts around your ankles that double the size of your feet, then being expected to manoeuvre yourself in a dignified manner without swiftly meeting the ground and taking the nearest cluster of tourists down with you.
Luckily, our hotel the QT Falls Creek was located directly beside the main ski lift, allowing for immediate access to the slopes. In fact, it’s the only ski-in ski-out resort in the southern hemisphere, and trust me – considering the difficulties of life in ski boots – you want this.
Split over two wings, the QT Falls Creek is less of a lodge and more of a world-class ski resort. With one, two and three bedroom apartments, it’s ideal for couples, families, and groups of friends (rooms start at $199/night in the off season and $850/night in the ski season). Our single room was very good. Below floor heating kept the cold at bay and our long narrow apartment had an open plan layout between the bathroom, living area, bedroom and fully-contained kitchen.
There’s a convenient ski gear hire shop on the ground level and a recreation area with an indoor heated pool, a sauna and an icy outdoor plunge pool to remind your nerve endings that you’re still alive.
The in-house restaurant Bazaar transcends the typical hotel fare with some of the best food in town. It references an international market and offers a brimming buffet of flavours each night – think slow-braised stews, dumplings, roasted vegetables, fresh salads, cheese platters, dainty desserts, a variety of carbs (rice, polenta, potatoes) and cuts of meat that you can order and have prepared while you watch. The breakfast buffet is on par too, with a barista on hand making coffee to order, rows of fresh juices and granolas, and go-to staples like toast, eggs, bacon and mushrooms. Fill your plate, pick your favourites and never feel ashamed to go back for seconds.
While the QT Falls Creek has a lot to offer, the star of the show is really on the balcony. Each room has an outdoor area, and each outdoor area is fitted out with your own personal hot tub. I repeat – your own personal hot tub. The number one item on any reasonable traveller’s winter wishlist should be a hot tub. Retreat to its soothing waters in the late afternoon – just be careful not to drop your phone in as you’re Instagramming your #hotdogsorlegs in front of the vibrant hues of those alpine sunsets.
Hitting The Slopes
We were cursed with beautiful weather. The days were 7°C on average and perfectly sunny. Australia’s notoriously fickle snow conditions meant that all of the ski-able snow was man-made (the wonders of modern science never fail to astound). Of the 92 runs that zig-zag over the mountains at Falls Creek, only three were open at the time. Luckily, one of these was their longest beginner’s run, the Wombat’s Ramble which gently slopes down 2.2 kilometres of mountain terrain.
The varied run starts at a lookout over the Rocky Valley Lake, carries you comfortably over a few flatter jaunts, then finishes with some downhill slopes that should have first-timers feeling confident enough once they learn the basics of stopping and turning.
Falls Creek is very friendly for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders – in fact, most runs are tailored to this type of visitor. Lift passes are necessary and sell for around $119 per day, with multi-day passes adding extra value. It had been 10 years since I’d strapped on skis, and I was relieved to join a two-hour-long beginners class ($68 per lesson) to supplement my skill deficiency. Lessons are offered for all skill levels, but if you’ve never skied or snowboarded before, or its been a fair while between runs, then the beginning is certainly a good place to start.
You’ll be amazed at how much you improve after just one day as your bravado builds. And sure, there may be a moment or two where you are wobbly and uncertain – perhaps even a moment where your downhill coast turns into a startling tumble (mine was quite spectacular if the concerned nearby strangers were anything to go by) – but trust me, falling over isn’t the end of the world. Just get back up, steady that composure and ski away, trusting that no one has recognised you through your ski goggles and helmet.
A full day of attempting to be athletic will take its toll. Dragging my overextended calf and glut muscles up the stairs, I retired to my room, absolutely exhausted but without a worry in the world. Know why? You guessed it – the hot tub.
But I Don’t Ski
Don’t ski? Don’t worry. Falls Creek and has earned its badge as an all-season alpine resort and you’ll never be short of things to do. In summer, it acts as a base for exploring the surrounding nature parks. When the ice and snow clear you can fish at the lake, hike some peaceful trails or mountain bike down the same slopes that are used for skiing.
If you’re less active and more ‘relaxive’, Spa Q feels like a world away from the busy slopes. Here, in a tucked away corner of the QT Falls Creek, you can lose hours just luxuriating. I was brushed, exfoliated, massaged, wrapped and soaked during my après-ski treatment and came out feeling as though I hadn’t even lifted a finger, let alone rattled most of the muscles in my body by careening down a mountain all day.
If you’re scared to ski or have bad knees, give tobogganing a go – it’s like skiing with the comfort of staying seated, and it’s just as fun (if not more). You sit on a curved disc, grip the attached string for dear life, inch forward at the top of the hill and slide down it with a mix of uninhibited glee and terror. Steering involves digging your feet into the snow and using your shoes to slow your pace. In our group, some women were wearing high heeled boots, and they still gave it a go with the abandon you’d expect from a child. But the snow does that to people. It is so fun. In fact, it’s amazing how fun it is. Who knows – after just 48 hours, winter might be your new favourite season?
(The writer was a guest of QT Falls Creek. All body copy photos by Patrick O’Neill and Taryn Stenvei. Lead image: @hockster111 / Instagram)