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

SUPER EXTREME.

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:

Danger: Extremely steep slopes beyond this point. A fall may result in DEATH

Ski Patrollers have died skiing the Chutes.

Mount Buller South Face

It sure impressed Warren Miller and Glen Plake.

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.

Fools in Chute 2

I mean look at these guys. Stopped in the middle of Chute 2, together, on early morning sheet ice. Beacons? Whippets? Hah!

Chutes viewed from the resort

Chutes closeup

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.

Frenchman's

Another view of the Frenchman’s area. From an ancient magazine article.

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.

Buller West Face

The red line is apparently unnamed.

But the thing with Mount Buller is…the snow ain’t as consistent as you’d like in an ideal world.

Hilarious photoshop

The photoshop on the front of the official Thredbo website was only slightly worse.

Buller's Wetter

They were just asking for it with that slogan.

So what about the highest mountain in Victoria? Mount Bogong?

Mount Bogong

Yes, it has the goods.

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.

Snowshoeing above Cairn Gully

A landscape to inspire.

Some guy skiing Hesitation

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.

Mount Feathertop

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.

Mount Feathertop

It even looks angrier. The huge line slightly left of center is the infamous Avalanch Gully. The sunny bowl on the right is Hellfire Gully.

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.

712

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.

Aerial Panorama of the Howitt High Plains

VSG again. Excellent work.

How remote? This remote.

The main attraction here is a chute called Hell’s Window.

Hell's Window

“It needs a lot of snow to be skied”. You don’t say.

But, it has been skied.

Dropping in to Hell's Window

At least by these guys, and possibly the late Nick Reeves?

There’s more terrain. Plus, the ‘Crosscut Saw’ is up there with ‘Treble Cone’ as far as badass names for mountains go.

ccs1

"Always easy from the comfort of a coffee at the pc with photographs. Bet it is about 2 times as difficult, 3 times as dangerous and 4 times as scary when on the spot...Don't trigger a small slab in that top avalanche start zone, don't hit any ice, take a rope, good luck, send me an e-card from the choke"

“Always easy from the comfort of a coffee at the pc with photographs. Bet it is about 2 times as difficult, 3 times as dangerous and 4 times as scary when on the spot…Don’t trigger a small slab in that top avalanche start zone, don’t hit any ice, take a rope, good luck, send me an e-card from the choke”

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.

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