Spring Skiing

Aaah spring. The resorts are empty, the sun is shining, and the warm greens and browns of summer emerge alongside the white snowdrifts of winter.

With the threat of blizzards, ice and wallowing deep snow decreasing by the day, skiers and boarders rush in to put the boot into the dying snowpack, and do all those lines they’re too scared to do in winter.

And with the October long weekend past, the Kosciuszko Road is opened to Charlotte Pass, and the extra couple of kilometres slog to the Snowy River from Guthega is eliminated.

The snowbank at the Charlotte Pass turning circle.
Still a bit of snow around huh.

So me, Liam and Willis piled into ‘Nemo’, Liam’s dodgy van, and drove down from Sydney. An AT skier, telemarker, and splitboarder walk into a bar… After spending the night in an inconspicuous parking lot in Jindabyne, we ground our way up to Charlotte Pass. Soon we were overlooking the Main Range, at the keen hour of…10:30 am.

I hate it when day trips turn into afternoon trips. Oh well, it’s spring, the sun doesn’t set until 6pm anyway so who cares?

We now faced the infamous Snowy River ford, part of the summer walking track. Liam apparently knows every stone by heart and flew across. Me and Willis plunged into the freezing snowmelt in bare feet, before sprinting up the steep snowbank on the far side, still in bare feet, and in much pain. Having dry socks and boots on the other side almost make it worth it.

I guess the Guthega approach does have its advantages…like bridges. The next day I brought old shoes to wear across the river, and cached them in a plastic bag on the far side. So, so much better.

Crossing the Snowy River
Downhill ski boots don’t work very well either.

With that over with, it was skins on and up the Carruthers Spur, a piece of topography cursed with an astoundingly demoralizing number of false summits. It was hard going in the boiling sun. But we made it to the top of Carruthers Peak, Australia’s eighth highest summit, in time for lunch.

Mount Townsend from Carruthers Peak

It was a pretty busy day out there, for midweek. One of the lodges at Charlotte Pass Village was still open and full up with a huge group of XC skiers (you can see their forest of skis in the pic below). Liam also saw a couple he knew from the Nordic Ski Club, and we met a guy who’d worked at Perisher for the season.

Mount Twynam from Carruthers Peak

The Sentinel and Watson’s Crags loomed, with Jagungal beckoning far to the north.

The Western Faces from Carruthers Peak

With lunch eaten and blisters taped, it was time for some skiing. Willis took the gentle option back down the way we came, while me and Liam peered down into the Club Lake cirque into a beautiful fall-line chute called the Widowmaker. Someone had beaten us to it since the last snowfall – it already had a few tracks. We tiptoed down the Carruthers headwall, before pausing at the entrance to the chute, and skiing down to the lake in good soft crud.

Looking up the Widowmaker
Liam in the guts of the thing.
Liam in front of the Club Lake cirque
Aw yeah, we just skied that.

We ran back down to the Snowy River and climbed up to the car park at the pass.

That night we cooked up kangaroo steaks, and watched the moon rise with snow-cooled beer in hand. Liam’s mate Mark, who worked at the Charlotte Pass resort as a mechanic, came up for a chat.

The next morning, we were fired up for a big day. With the snow right outside the door this time, we woofed down breakfast and were soon overlooking the Main Range at the keen hour of…10:00 AM. Seriously guys, this is terrible.

Anyway, in a little bit we were on the Carruthers Spur again, on a much windier and colder day. This time, however, we traversed off the spur to the right, towards Soil Conservation Creek. Due to the wind, we decided not to go for the Mount Twynam summit, and stopped for an early lunch at a pyramid-shaped rock overlooking the snowed-in creek. Soil Con Creek would make quite a good above-the-treeline campsite for the area, within the NPWS regulations. Crossing the creek, I skinned like a machine up the other side of the valley to the pass, to finally get a glimpse a very special place: Blue Lake.

The Blue Lake cirqueBlue Lake is by far the the largest of the the four glacial cirque lakes on mainland Australia, and has the most developed glacial features. Tucked away and hidden from view from the main lookouts, the cirque feels like its own little world. The scenery is big, unique, and awesome.

Liam on the lake ice
Liam carefully checks out the ice, while me and Willis helpfully film just in case.

It was time to do what I’d wanted to do for a long time: ski a Blue Lake chute. These things make the ‘double black diamond’ runs at Perisher look like toboggan slopes. Liam was hesitant, but I applied peer pressure, so it was helmets on and up we started. The Amphitheatre cornice was still gigantic and intimidating, with debris strewn down to the lake, and we weren’t prepared to deal with that. So the Amphitheatre chutes were out for now, despite having the best looking snow. Centre Gully was on the far side of the lake, and Liam had skied it before. Stag Gully is one of the steepest and narrowest insanely technical things I’ve ever seen – in summer it’s a technical rock climbing route!

This left the wider and slightly friendlier slope of Glissade Gully. The one the guy died in when the cornice collapsed in 2008.

That wasn’t happening today though. Willis confirmed via radio from the lake shore that there was no cornice. Although, it turned out you can scout it perfectly from the flat top of the rock buttress on skier’s right. The snow was good corn, a little soft at 2pm in the afternoon, but not soggy and rotten.

Me and Liam nervously looked over the edge. The exposure is fantastic. The lake looks a million miles below you.

Blue Lake from the top of Elephant Buttress

“I’m fucking scared” said Liam on the radio. I had a pretty full course of adrenalin running through my body as well, let me tell you. I stopped briefly while stripping the skins and locking down the bindings, to meditate a little and contemplate life.

At the very top of Glissade Gully, contemplating the drop
And slow down the hyperventilation
Dropping in
“He’s going” said Liam.

Around this point I started really enjoying myself.

Willis was waiting at the bottom.

Making turns in Glissade GullyThen it was Liam’s turn.

Liam at the top of Glissade Gully
He’s probably hating me just a little bit right here.

But he ripped it.

Liam tele carving

Glowing with success, we followed the lake around to the outlet, and made our way down Blue Lake Creek. We were slow, but it was a beautiful afternoon, we had plenty of time, and we made it in the end.

Looking back at Blue Lake from the creek mouth
Willis had a bitch of a time trying to traverse on the home-made splitboard (no inside edges!)
Blue Lake Creek
Blue Lake Creek

So all up the trip was quite successful, and didn’t we get some sweet pics! And now after a 30 degree day in Sydney I’m suffering skiing withdrawals…eeaurgh…Japan is becoming very tempting this summer.


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