I’m not entirely sure what convinced me I was ready to tackle a black run. Perhaps it was the name of the run – “Big Slope” – suggestive of a gentle decline. Or perhaps it was the fog obscuring the exact dimensions of the run. Either way, as I nudged my skis over the lip and began my descent, I was confident I had this thing in the bag.
I was wrong.
After four crashes and two collisions with separate snow gums, I finally unclipped my skis and began the shameful walk down to the bottom of the run. It was a humbling experience that revealed two truths to me. First, I’m a decidedly poor skier. Second, the runs at Hotham are more consistently extreme than anything else in Australia – and with $4.4 million spent on snowmaking over the summer, you can be guaranteed these runs will be nicely blanketed with the good stuff come the first day of the season.
Sure, there are green runs on the gently canted snowfields of The Summit, but get down into Blue Ribbon or Gotcha and the runs are ferociously steep and walled in by stands of gums whose grey trunks look unnervingly like polished concrete. The apogee of Hotham’s extreme terrain is the double-black “Mary’s Slide”, a horrifying cliff of snow that plummets down-down-down before ending abruptly in a boulder-strewn creek. Poor Mary never lived to tell the tale of her titular slide. No doubt I would face the same fate if I tried to take the thing on.
Yes, if you’re a serious skier in this flat, brown land, then Hotham is your Graceland. If not, you’ll still have plenty of fun. Just be prepared to eat snow.
Want to take your skiing or boarding to the next level? Sign on for one of Hotham’s Advanced Masterclasses. Guided by elite coaches and aimed at advanced skiers or boardriders, these classes home in on a specific discipline – carving, short turns, moguls, etc – then polish that skill to a high gloss. Sign on for the All Terrain class (skiing) or All Mountain Freestyle class (boarding) and you’ll head off-piste to the steepest and most extreme terrain Australia offers.
If Hotham’s white-knuckle thrills leave you crying out for a gentler experience then explore the web of green, blue and black cross-country skiing trails branching out from Wire Plain and Whiskey Flats. The recently opened Brabralung Trail (try saying that after your third schnapps) cuts a delightful path from Hotham to the township of Dinner Plain, skirting the flanks of Little Mt Higginbotham in the process. You can hire cross-country gear from Hoy’s Skis (hoysskis.com.au).
Rex, Qantas Link and Virgin fly to Albury Airport from Melbourne and Sydney. From there, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Hotham.
Yama is a moodily lit joint that pumps out flavoursome share plates with a Japanese bent. Don’t neglect the extensive cocktail list, but be warned: the Coffee and Cigarettes does exactly what it says on the packet.