A First-Timer’s Guide To The Snow
Just remember that stopping is as easy as "pizza skis".
If you’re in your 20s and have never been around snow, you’re not alone. But if the opportunity to pay Australia’s slopes arises, take it, because there’s a lot to learn beyond what Mr Plow taught you.
Chances are, those of us who grew up in Australia’s metropolitan areas have quite a weird relationship with snow and the cultural rituals that come with it. Here, the white stuff doesn’t bookend our year, nor is it synonymous with Christmas (despite the many carols and weird Northern European traditions our sunburnt country subscribes to).
Even so, I had to push down a raised brow while atop the mighty Mount Hotham. In Victoria’s romantic Alpine region, Hotham sits at the “legit” end of peaks that dot the state’s high country. It’s less The Man from Snowy River and more ‘90s Princess Di in a fluro ski jacket; you go there to carve the mountain.
While Hotham has its own airport (meaning you travel up in a private plane if you want to do it true Di-style), a more affordable way is to hire a car from Melbourne and drive there. Hotham also has a number of accommodation options and, if you’ve got the extra dosh, you can totally splash out on a place with a bath to soothe your muscles after a long day.
But before you head straight for a black run, there are a few things to keep in mind.
#1 The Drive Is Colder And Longer Than You Think
At first, the Melbourne-to-Hotham drive doesn’t seem too menacing, but given the amount of cute alpine towns (like Bright) and comically quaint road stops along the way (like Glenrowan), a cool four-and-a-half hour drive can easily stretch out to a five-and-a-bit hours of winter whimsy.
A rental should be on your radar if you’re unsure if you’ll have to ditch the heater in order to get up the mountain in your car. Jucy Rentals do a Ski 4 Free deal, which gives you one free adult day lift pass to the ski field for each day the vehicle is hired. As the cost of heading to the snow is often a perceived barrier for first-timers, it’s a huge win for your hip pocket. (They’re also cool with drivers on their Green Ps.)
#2 Snow Chains Are Non-Negotiable
If you’re travelling up from Melbourne and start to wonder why all the road signs are talking about snow chains, it’s because Mt Hotham and the Victorian Government are looking out for you. Snow chains stop your vehicle from sliding off the road and into the icy abyss, so they’re kind of necessary.
There are multiple places from which you can hire said chains (and have someone to explain how to fit them to your car) and prices vary depending on your car’s drive-type. Attaching them is quite easy – think of them as mesh tops that don’t get caught on septum piercings. By the time you hit Harrietville, you’ll most definitely understand that you need them.
#3 It’s Different To Winter In The City
Your “on-trend” woollen winter garments won’t function the same way in the moutains. Don’t repeat my mistake and invest in wool gloves and a beanie only to have someone remind you that you need to be waterproof (and no, your rain jacket won’t cut it.
#4 Accept That You Won’t Look Cool
Much the same as how freshies to Australia’s surf appear to locals, first-timers to the snow will stick out like a sore thumb. Instead of a trusty wetsuit, you’ve got to get used to layers upon layers upon layers. Snow boots will make you walk like Bambi on ice, while the combo of jumpers, thermals, snow jackets and pants are the closest things you’ll ever get to being wrapped up in bubble wrap.
At least you’ll provide some comic value when you half-fall, half-bounce into the only place in Hotham where buy avo on toast, poutine and craft beer in the same meal.
#5 Trust In Yourself
Most Hotham ski lessons begin around its “summit trainer” – a stretch of flat ice backing onto the bottom of the mountain that’s usually teeming with group lessons full of first-timers on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It’s a glorious sight, best seen on a clear day, watching yourself and others fall over and/or into other people.
Lessons run for about two hours, and vary from one-on-ones to group sessions and – depending on your skill level – come with with lift passes for beginners or the more advanced. In either case, opt for group lessons, because you want people to laugh with (or a group of bodies to crash into).
Then you’re on your own. You’ve got this, right? You can be one of those cool humans gliding effortlessly down the glistening snow. It’s all a matter of keeping your knees soft, right?
If only it was that easy. Actually, it sort of is.
Your head can be one of the biggest barriers to picking up the skills you need to ski. The fear of making an arse of yourself is usually the main culprit stopping you from heading up the ski lift. The thing is, it’s not that big of a deal – just don’t expect to pull sick moves straight away (like when I tried to stop and slide at the same time, causing me to fall out of my skis as the people around me had to dodge my hurtling body).
Be cool, but not too cool. Just have fun with it and remember that stopping is as easy as “pizza skis”.
How To Get There
(Lead image: Alain Wong. All other images: author’s own)