The Gnarliest Runs in Oz, Part 2: Victoria
Although lower in altitude, the Victorian Alps seem to have been carved deeper and more abruptly. Mount Hotham claims probably Australia’s only real in-bounds, double-black diamond terrain, in the Mary’s Slide area. They had to go and call it the EXTREME ZONE though, which is hilarious.
Mary’s Slide is named after Mary Wallace, apparently an Australian skiing champion three years running in the 30’s. She skied the run in 1938 with some friends and, as legend has it, slid most of the way on her arse. The friends later admitted this was a piss-take – Mary never fell.
Plus, Hotham has all that rad front country around the resort and off the Great Alpine Road. Liam recommended Little Hotham – “You just pull over the side of the road, put your skis on, and go. Like your own private Mary’s Slide. The climb out is awful though”
That mountain in the background looks the business, though, what’s that? Well we’ll get there but first we better cover the Mount Buller Chutes.
These are ‘technically’ out of bounds because they’re not patrolled, but also never technically ‘closed’ because that would imply they get opened at some point when it’s safe to ski them, and it’s never really safe to ski them. Punters get warned off with signs like this:
From right to left we have Fanny’s Finish (inbounds, moguls and return trail visible), named after another pre-war skier Nathaniel Strauss, whose name got shortened to ‘Thanny’, and then ‘Fanny’. Apparently he fell during a downhill race, and slid across the line on his arse (this becoming a theme here). Hence, “Fanny’s Finish”. Classic.
Then there’s Chute 1, Chute 2, Chute 3, and the big wide line on the left is Main Street. The ridge leading off to the left is the west ridge, aka Moonlight Ridge. Here’s some footage of skiing in the area.
I can’t help but feel some of the Chute’s deadly reputation comes from being within site of the ski lifts. Buller locals are secretive about beta, probably from hard experience.
But the majesty of Buller doesn’t stop at the Chutes on the south face. On the other side, there’s this:
The line on the north face is called Frenchman’s, supposedly after a slightly cocky French skier dropped off the back and came out “in a black zip-up bag”. The reality is slightly less dramatic – yes, a group of skiers including a Frenchman did have do get rescued, but apparently they all survived.
The West Face is even more crazy. Most of the terrain at the top funnels into a narrow gully the Waterfall, a 20 m cliff above icy rocks best used as an ice climb.
But the thing with Mount Buller is…the snow ain’t as consistent as you’d like in an ideal world.
So what about the highest mountain in Victoria? Mount Bogong?
As well as being the highest mountain in the state of Victoria, Mount Bogong also boasts one of the longest approaches, the nicest hut (Cleve Cole hut), and the best skiing guide. The skier’s map in Cleve Cole describes couloirs with names like Cable Layer, Hesitation, Boggarama, Ice Magic, Bermuda, and Death Cookie, alongside the main southside gullys of Cairn Gully and Tombstone Gully.
But the most legendary place on Bogong is on the north face, where extremely filthy chutes and terrain await if you can get them with enough snow…but it’s hard enough to find photos, let alone trip reports.
But for the true test of gnar, the final score has to be the body count. And looming out beyond Hotham Heights, Mount Feathertop definitely eclipses Bogong.
Actually, I’m not sure if Mount Buller has killed more people than Mount Feathertop. But in 2011 Graeme Nelson lost an edge on the west face (pictured) and slid to his death. And he wasn’t some newbie, but a veteran of the mountain, a guy who others went to for advice on conditions, and who was known to dual-wield Whippets.
“I have got used to someone dying on Feathertop every couple of years and I tended to assume they were novices who didn’t know what they were doing. It comes as quite a shock when it is someone I knew slightly and whose knowledge and experience I respected.”
Here’s a classic trip report where Graeme & co skied the gully north of Avalanche Gully that joins it lower down.
Mount Howitt and the Crosscut Saw
We’re not quite done yet…further the south and east, deep in the national park lies this area, with very marginal snow, and plenty of speculation about some tasty lines.
How remote? This remote.
The main attraction here is a chute called Hell’s Window.
But, it has been skied.
There’s more terrain. Plus, the ‘Crosscut Saw’ is up there with ‘Treble Cone’ as far as badass names for mountains go.
You may need a 4WD with a winch and chainsaw to get close to some of these in the right conditions. Sadly, with global warming gnawing away at the Australian ski season more and more every year, some of these places may never be skied again, or at all.
We’re nearly done. But, some people are prepared to take on even more heinous approaches (multiple days of legendary mud, freezing rain, and appalling vegetation, leading deep into true wilderness…) for even more marginal conditions. Welcome to Part 3, Tasmania.