The Gnarliest Runs in Oz, Part 1: NSW

One thing is certain – when I say that the slope is over thirty degrees – that’s steep! And when a thousand feet of that slope is dropping below you with maybe rocks and ice down there you don’t ponder too long about the prospect of falling.

– Alan Andrews

When you get down to it, Australia is the flattest driest continent on Earth. By definition, the skiing here is the worst in the world. The only place you might come close to arguing is worse is Africa – and I hear the Atlas Mountains in Morocco are pretty big. So it’s easy to write the place off as a land of sunburnt sweeping plains. Or, if you’re a skier, patchy cover, ice and crud, short shallow runs and snowmaking.

Australian resorts are world leaders in snowmaking! World leaders!

Even the highest mountain, good old Kosciuszko, is a hill with a road to the top. Just look at the Wikipedia picture. Awww. The very first time I ever went XC skiing, we made it to the top! Snowboarders were drinking beer up there! Fun for the whole family!

The enthusiastic might even bother to look over at the ‘Main Range’, hoping to see a craggier peak. But nope, Mount Townsend and Northcote and Lee all look pretty tame over there. Maybe a cool little bowel kinda hidden below Carruthers Peak.

But then one day you’ll bother to climb the second highest peak, Mount Townsend, and have a look from the top of there and

Western faces from Mount Townsend

So begins our investigation into the gnarliest lines in Oz.

Carruthers Peak

Remember that little bowl just visible from the summit of Kosciuszko?

Club Lake cirque
Oh, that’s cute.

Turns out there’s some great runs there, proper chutes and everything! The one right in the middle is ruler-straight fall-line bliss, and even has a cool name: either the Widowmaker or the Elevator depending on who you talk to. Both are descriptive and I can’t really make up my mind.

Skier in the Club Lake chutes.
But still looks more like fun than death.

Don’t worry, we haven’t looked at the north face yet.

Carruthers Peak North Face
…More like it

This was marked up by someone on the backcountry forum (Probably VSG, that guy loves his Photoshop). The blue line, from Andrews’ description, is probably called Eric’s Funnel, after Eric Eisinger, a ski instructor at the Charlotte Pass Chalet. The red line is Middle Gully. The green line is unnamed as far as I can tell.

But what’s that opposite this face? An actual PD+ ski mountaineering objective?

The Sentinel

Sentinel North Face side view
Even the prolific Alan Andrews didn’t want to touch this north face.

The most obvious line on this gem of a peak is the south face, also known as The Fridge Run because people tend to stick pictures of it on their fridge for training motivation.

Sentinel South Face from the side
The Fridge Run, showing the pitch. The Avalanche Alley area is in the background.

There’s a bloody excellent video of a guy snowboarding this thing on youtube.

The South Face/Fridge Run was actually first skied in 1951! Richard Raubitsheck wrote:

After a few turns on the extremely steep slope, I suddenly realized that I was caught in a surface avalanche. This carried me down some 300 feet before I was able to extricate myself and run out of the still moving stream of snow.

The Sentinel does have a reputation for sliding – when James Morrow of and his mate tried the North Face in 2008, they also triggered a wet avalanche and had a lucky escape.

Sentinal North Face
Yes, it’s gnarly.
Sentinel SW Chute
And there’s lines on the SW side that haven’t been skied…

But, overlooking the Sentinel, we now come to the most impressive piece of mountain in the state of NSW.

Watson’s Crags

Watson's Crags
…anyone feel like going to the beach instead?

That thing in the middle is the Center Chute.

Bigger shot of the Crags
A more expansive view.

The Centre Chute would be the first unlabelled red arrow from the right. My mate, Liam Filson, has dropped into the third unlabelled red arrow from the right, and climbed out the way he came. Crags Creek has also been skied, all the way down into the valley.

View lower down in Crags Creek
Lower down in Crags Creek

It’s the kind of instantly mythical place that breeds rumours almost as an afterthought. The Centre Chute gets skied…but by who? The NZ Alpine Club used to train for Mount Cook here. Glen Plake once did a top-secret heli drop.

Whoever this guy is, he got it in the conditions of the decade.
Whoever these guys are, they got it in the conditions of the decade. _E.d.Turns out it was Anthony Mitchell. He says”that was me and 2 mates in Aug, either 2003 or 2004. In the absence of a name we called it Moonlight Couloir, because by the time we had hiked back up it was dark and the full moon was out, and we had to skin back to the tent in the moonlight. Photo – Anthony Mitchel”

But the fun doesn’t end on the south face.

North Watson's Crags

James Morrow, Mark O’Conner, and Brian Wilson dropped into this monster in 2011, for probably the most notable first descent Australia has seen in a while. Straight from the, err, forum’s mouth:

…some impressive sluff management at the top of all shutes & some impressive chunks of debris that had fallen off cliffs above rolling down with sluff. I got caught in a cliff band at the bottom of the second pitch which seemed nearly steeper than the top & I could tell there was a good drop as I could hear the goolies whumping as the sluff sailed over the edge. SB went lowest and could see the side of what looked to be a good 5m band so I was glad to stop a turn or 2 short leaving me a horrid boot pack out with digging my hands into snow, sinking up to above knee & my helmet brim hitting the wall of snow in front of my face with each step. Then crampon over to the next gully to join B Wilson & SB for some relief up the last 40m of their boot pack track followed by total melt down at the top.

….The top section of this run is definitely the steepest pitch i have skied. Made Carruthers north look very flat the following day.

Epic, straight up epic. Here’s the view from the top:

Looking down North Watson's Crags

Someone on the forum said it reminded them of the rock climb Tourettes up in the Blueys, because when you look at it you just start swearing.

Blue Lake

After that, another mere cirque is going to seem kind of tame. But we still have Australia’s premiere remnant glacial landscape and ice-climbing venue, Blue Lake. The lines here are helpfully labelled from

Blue Lake from Little Twynam
It’s bigger than it looks. Also note the large avalanche in the background.

The Amphitheatre boasts one of the biggest cornices around, and, sadly, Australia’s most recent avalanche death. Tom Carr-Boyd was standing near the top of the cornice above Amphitheatre 1 when it collapsed, triggering a huge slide that ran out nearly 50m onto the lake.


He was buried 3m deep. You can read a very emotional account from a climber who was nearby and first to help in the search. I’m going to start calling Amphitheatre 1, Tom’s Chute, in memorial as a reminder to carry a beacon and stay further away from cornices than you think.

Amphitheatre 2 has been called the Avalanche Gully because it always seems to have debris at the base.

Avalanche debris
Remember, no-one bothers to carry beacons in the Australian backcountry. Because it doesn’t slide here!

Just before the Amphitheatre, we have Stag Gully, a line so steep, rocky, and narrow it’s actually a rock-climbing route in summer.

Stag Gully from the base
Doing it with this much snow seems like it should be cheating.
Stag Gully from the top
A very ballsy spot to take out the camera.

Then finally we have the ‘easy’ option of Glissade Gully. Oh hey, that’s me.

Glissade Gully
Measure the angle though, seriously that is 45+ degrees at the top.

But I can hear the Victorians complaining already. The Main Range is flat! What about Mount Feathertop? Buller? Bogong? Tune in soon for Part 2: Victoria.


24 thoughts on “The Gnarliest Runs in Oz, Part 1: NSW

  1. Nice shots dude! I missed out on any good boarding this season since Japan’s only place is way far up north on Hokkaido, far from my home on Shikoku. But from what I’ve heard, Japan’s snow is one-of-a-kind, although the mountains may not be all that tall…

    Anyway, nice analysis of the runs!

  2. great stuff mate. I am looking to head out there this coming winter- what would you say is the best place to camp? down in the trees closer to the bottom or up near the lakes/ in saddles up high etc?

  3. Its always good to reference other peoples work. In this case half the images posted are mine. I don’t mind you using them as long as you reference them properly.

    1. Sorry James. This post got put together a while ago by Sam and it was unfortunately overlooked. If you can list which images are yours for me I can update the post to give you credit. Apologies again.

    2. Yeah sorry about that. Honestly I never expected these posts to get nearly as many views as they did, I just wanted to collected all my favourite photos from the forum before they disappeared, for my own reference and to get friends psyched. I need to go through this whole blog and make sure everything is credited correctly.

      Your site and Alan Andrews book changed the way I thought about skiing. I’m really grateful for that.

  4. Hey mate – any chance of a photo credit? That pic labelled “Whoever these guys are, they got in the conditions of the decade” – that was me and 2 mates in Aug, either 2003 or 2004. In the absence of a name we called it Moonlight Couloir, because by the time we had hiked back up it was dark and the full moon was out, and we had to skin back to the tent in the moonlight. Cheers.

    1. Absolutely Mitch. Great to hear from you – I’ve wondered about the story behind that pic for so long! Moonlight couloir huh, will use that from now on.

      As James said, I did these posts early on when we had a total of about 5 views, and I pretty much copy-pasted all my favourite pics for our own research and motivation, without thinking too hard about credit. It got picked up by a few news feed sites for better or worse. I understand now that it’s poor form. This blog is absolutely just a personal thing and we make no money off it whatever just to be clear.

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