Forums Trip Reports The Gondwanaland TR Part 2: A Few Turns in OZ
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    312 Posts

    I departed Africa and soon woke up to these colorful little ones on a balcony railing in Australia.

    Stellar moments along the Aussie side of the beautiful Tasman Sea.

    I made this stopover in OZ to connect with some great ski industry friends that I used to work with in Hakuba, Japan. Josh Fletcher snagged me from a Sydney hotel with word of good snow in the Snowy range and a strong motivation to tour. The sights in route to the Snowys were quintessential Down Under.

    Snow and mountains have never been quintessential Down Under in my mind however, and it was really cool to take in this enhanced geographic and cultural understanding of the Australian landscape.

    Time to dance.

    (my tracks in the eucalyptus)

    Multiple laps of dry powder turns in the eucalyptus trees were totally unexpected. As I said above, every ski trip is a gamble and this particular leg of the journey just paid off big.

    A beautiful sunset and grilled kangaroo steaks were the perfect elements to end a happy day of turns in backcountry OZ.

    I was scheduled to fly to NZ next. My time in OZ was short, just enough for a taste of the possibilities. The most important observation for me was a realization that there is splitboarding potential in Australia that I had never imagined. I took notice of numerous mountains and line possibilities that would likely provide excellent touring and riding. In fact, in the snow and weather conditions I experienced, there is no doubt that all of this terrain would have received some action if it was located in North America. Yet it seems that the Aussies are not taking advantage of what they have (or are not generally cognizant of the possibilities?).

    Have a look at what I’m talking about here;

    Simply beautiful. Mountains unique to anywhere else on the planet. No wonder the aboriginal peoples held these mountains in such high regard.

    Knowing what I know now, if I would have had more time in OZ I would have surely put some tracks on many of these peaks and chutes. It is true that access to most of this terrain requires overnight missioning. Is that what is holding the Aussies back? It is entirely common for many of us North Americans to make approaches on dry ground with heavy loads and overnighting for access to good backcountry skiing. Perhaps the Aussies should master their own mountains before they maraud Japan and crowd out every mountain there (among other places)? I know those might be fighting words, but I just find this a very curious phenomenon, especially amongst a populace already so immersed in skiing, mountains, and adventurous outdoor pursuits in general. Or do I have this completely wrong? I witnessed 3 days of high pressure and soft, stable snow and did not observe one track on any upper tier terrain.

    …continued in Part 3…

    62 Posts

    a number of factors imo.

    consider that its the same 30 guys who attend splitfest every year, so a tiny backcountry community.

    the overnight access as you note. but even more to this, is the fact that most mountains are nowhere near where most people live. For example, I live in Sydney, and it takes me a good 6-7 hours to even get down to the snow. Add in the cost of petrol to get there etc, Accommodation (I camp but most dont), Food

    99% of aussies skiing in Japan are not skiing backcountry. They’re resort skiers. The difference between resort skiing anywhere in the world vs Australia is massive. Skiing is generally terrible and expensive in Australia so thats why we all go overseas. And Japan is cheap, dirt cheap.

    Having said that, sure backcountry skiing in oz can be a bit of fun, but in no way is it amazing if you’re comparing it to anywhere else on earth. Its just something to do between July-October ish before the real snowboarding gets done overseas starting in december.

    just my 2c

    312 Posts

    Thanks for the reply. I get what your saying for sure, there is def a difference between average resort skiers and people adamantly concentrate of backcountry and If I lived close enough to Japan I’d be another Geijan storming across the place. I have a fair amount of experience in Japan and my view is that the bc there is seeing largely increasing activity and suspect that more experienced Aussies are playing a role in that, but certainly not the primary factor. I think my main point, however, is that if the mountains in those last 6 pictures were in relatively civilized/accessible areas in North America (as those are in OZ), in that snow and that weather, they would have seen a lot of activity. I know they are not close to Sydney but they are certainly close to other populated places with skiing communities? I am not promoting that virgin places get spoiled, but just saying that these mountains seem to definitely be getting much overlooked by people in OZ who are capable. I’d love to see you guys getting it! If I would have had more time there than you’d be looking at Feather Top full descent TR right now 🙂

    151 Posts
    312 Posts

    Nice TR Method. Great to see you guys getting after it. I learned a whole lot about snow and mountains in Australia while I was there, much of it completely unexpected. Based on what anyone ever told me before about mountains in Australia I was totally caught off-guard by the fact that you do have some pretty substantial mountains. It was also pretty cool to see that there is an active backcountry community. There were skin tracks and turns being made at all the easily accessible spots I saw. I was also surprised, saddened, and humbled to hear of the backcountry avalanche deaths in Australia while I was there. All this set in stone for me that neither Aussie backcountry riders or Aussie mountains should be taken lightly.

    That said, I still find it extremely odd that not one of the bigger lines I saw had tracks on it, despite great weather, stable snow , and excellent conditions. These days in the USA you’d need to battle for first tracks on any of those lines on that fluted face of Feather Top, after 2-3 days of good weather and stable snow that face would have tracks everywhere. That face is world-class terrain. Do people realize that there is a little slice of AK in OZ? Looks like I’m not the only person that took notice, since JJ also made comment, which is significant.

    Again, I just find it really interesting. I am an anthropologist by profession and am really interested in how cultures evolve. I can totally see a mountain like that not getting tracked in the 3rd world, or if it was in a very remote location in the 1st world, but at least some Australians not skiing some of these lines is strange brew to me. I’ve traveled all over the world snowboarding and seem to always meet some Aussies shredding it up. (you know the running line about snowriding in Japan is usually something like “too many Aussies” or “overrun with Aussies”).

    Perhaps the local ski culture has yet to develop to full capacity. My whole point is that since there are so many Australian snowboarders and skiers there is huge potential for a flourishing backcountry community that is increasingly progressive. I just want to inspire some folks to get out there and go big on those mountains. I want to see tracks on that terrain.

    Here are some potential routes. If you guys don’t get after this stuff some foreigner is gonna show up and be the first to ski it.

    AK in OZ

    I predict that within the next few years these lines will get skied. That’s just the way the sport progresses.

    sick zone

    again, anywhere else, this would be a prime spot.

    Alright-I knew I would piss someone off. Don’t hate on me. I am only predicting the future and taking a little jab at all the Aussies who talked shit to me about stepping up to bigger lines when I was a guide in Japan 🙂

    62 Posts

    i think you totally underestimate the size of the backcountry ski community as well as the standard of skiing in Australia.

    There is also the fact that backcountry ski culture in Australia is probably 10 years behind everywhere else as evident by the fact that only the past couple of years has there even been any avalanche training available (AST1).

    Would it surprise you that wearing an avalanche beacon isnt even a standard practice when venturing out in the backcountry? Totally standard.

    151 Posts

    I want to see tracks on that terrain.

    Here are some potential routes. If you guys don’t get after this stuff some foreigner is gonna show up and be the first to ski it.

    For sure the SE side of Feathertop is Alaskan.

    All these lines have been ridden. This section of Feathertop is called avalanche gully – for obvious reasons – gets pretty wind loaded! People die here every few years, although usually not in avalanches – “slide for life” is usually the main concern. To the frothers left of avalanche gully is hellfire gully, which is not quite as gnarly. The cornice is always a hard, icy cornice too which makes cutting it a little harder. So most times it’s more of a “spring” line. Getting out of avalanche gully is usually technical.

    The main issue is access. Personally, I’m quite glad it’s a long way = less people there.

    The are two common routes.

    First is up from the valley floor at Harrretville, which is a relatively easy and protected trail (used by pack horses in the ’20s and 30s). Depending on snow cover, it’s 1000m of vert (give or take) to the snow line and then another 500m to the peak. All of the good lines take you down the eastern side of the Razorback so you need to skin back up to that ridge before you descend back the way you came to Harrretville (walking most of the way down).

    Less vertical, but longer (10km) is coming from the Great Alpine Road along the razorback – an undulating, exposed and usually icy ridge.

    Certainly lends itself to overnighting, which is obviously more committing than a day tour particularly in terms of gear.

    My major problem is finding other people to do it with!

    Looks like I’m not the only person that took notice, since JJ also made comment, which is significant

    HAha, those were my photos of Mt Bogong and Mt Feathertop/The Razorback he instagrammed/tweeted last year! I’m still waiting for the “take me there” phone call from him!!

    I’ve traveled all over the world snowboarding and seem to always meet some Aussies shredding it up.

    I always head to Japan and North America (or Europe this year) in the northern winter – ain’t no snow here at that time of year!

    312 Posts

    ozsnowbum- I don’t think its a matter of underestimating, in fact it might be a matter of overestimating. My on-the-ground experience speaks for itself; I only had 2 days to check things out but in that time I made a good assessment of the situation; It had been 4 days since it snowed, conditions were prime, soft dry snow in most places on top of a stable snowpack. All the locals I spoke with told me it was the best conditions possible in OZ and that I was really lucky to be there at the time. I poked around in shorter pitches of steeper terrain and stability was solid. There were patches of ice in places, but mostly it was soft everywhere. If there was a time to ride FeatherTop in powder snow condition, this was it. And my main point is that, overnight or not, in those conditions a mountain like that, the most aesthetic steep peak in the land, is gonna be getting skied in the states or canada or europe ect, especially in places where it is the only mountain with that type of terrain anywhere close by. That is my observation and I think it is a fair one, which your suggestion that OZ is ten years behind validates.

    Method- thanks for the detailed run down on the access. I actually figured all that out at about 10:30 in the morning the day I went over there. I almost went for it starting from Harretville but decided there was no way I would have time. I made it about a third of the way out there on Razorback ridge and gave up because of the distance and lack of time. It is tedious travel and very far. Nevertheless, I think it is doable as a day trip, out and back. In fact, I am certain that bc people in my area here would be able to day trip and ski a route on the peak without worries. We have done plenty of 4:00am starts for lines here, returning well after dark with headlamps. We also do plenty of up and down dry trail hiking for access as well. If I would have been more prepared I would have made it out there one way or another. I regret not making it happen, cause I might not ever make it back to the Snowys.

    Great to know that people have skied some of those routes. It seems to me that OZ would have pretty good spring skiing and good corn snow. I saw how treacherous those ravines are that every ski run on Razorback Ridge finishes with, so can imagine that it is not easy getting back up and out of those lines on Feather Top. Also I did come across some very icy steep terrain in the bottom of one of those shaded ravines at the end of one of the runs I did on Razorback that day, so I could see how Feather Top could present some complexities. Nevertheless, these are things we confront all the time in the bc and can be successfully navigated. Regarding snow stability, there will always be unsafe times to be out there but I am sure there are times of stability as well.

    Yeh, probably hard to find people really up for going out there. I saw a lot more in OZ that I think would make for some excellent snowboarding adventures other than just Feathertop. I think there are many nice areas that could keep a guy busy for a few years. I think the spring skiing and camping would be exceptionally good. If I ever make it back there I will hit you up.

    I stand humbled by my comments before. Thanks for putting me in check guys.

    351 Posts

    Great photos and TR!! Thanks for posting!

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