Mt Hotham will make you wish winter lasted all year
Recently a friend asked me to name my three favourite places to ski in the world and after careful consideration my list looked like this: (i) Chamonix, France; (ii) Lake Louise, Canada; and (iii) Mt Hotham, Australia. Fearing my snow cred might be at risk I did try to remove Hotham from the list, but the image of snow gums, the sound of laughter as good friends search for a lost ski in powder, and the smell of The General's chicken parma kept haunting me.
Mt Hotham is the furthest Victorian ski resort from Melbourne and takes around 4.5 hours to get there, although in difficult driving conditions it can take significantly longer. Sadly, many enthusiastic Melbourne skiers let years go by before they decide to make the trip and then, soon after arriving, exclaim "I can't believe I didn't come here sooner!" Don't be this person.
The snow here is good by Australian standards, and sometimes by world standards. Last year the whole resort was open at a time when others were struggling to keep signature runs skiable. The village is uniquely set at the summit of the mountain which can be accessed by road in both directions. You drive right up, there is no oversnow transport you need to take. It is refreshingly simple, Australian and ruggedly beautiful. There are no faux European buildings here. No village monuments. Hardly any lift queues.
If you're an advanced or expert skier you must come here. More than any other Victorian mountain Mt Hotham offers opportunities for tree skiing, off-piste and backcountry skiing. The "Extreme Zone" truly deserves its double black diamonds and offers challenging off-piste terrain within patrol boundaries. At your own risk, if you have alpine touring bindings or are prepared to hike back out, you can also access the unpatrolled areas in Avalanche Gully, the Razorback ridgeline leading to Mt Feathertop and many other spots I don't know about. Obviously be prepared before you go into battle with Mother Nature – you need to be a strong skier, should be accompanied by at least one other person and both be carrying avalanche beepers and probes.
The writer enjoying the lack of crowds at Mt Hotham.
If you are an intermediate skier this mountain will please you, and improve you. There are cruisy runs that could keep you comfortably entertained, some easy bumps near the Blue Ribbon chair, some steeper blues to pick up a bit of speed on and great views of the steeper terrain from the chairlifts so you can get familiar with your surroundings and watch others navigate their way down before giving it a go yourself.
Some people say Hotham is no good for beginners. One trip I switched my skis over to a snowboard and was a beginner here and I disagree. There are two easy areas, the Big D is as easy a bunny slope as you will find anywhere, and the Summit is a wide gentle run. You need to cross the Great Alpine Road to get to these areas which means beginners are mainly left in peace to hone their craft without the fear of getting mowed down by the guy in a racing tuck. It is a welcome contrast to the pandemonium on Bourke Street in Mt Buller.
For those who go to the snow for the après ski and to soak up the atmosphere, what Mt Hotham lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Swindlers is everybody's meeting place after your last run. The General is my favourite evening spot, you can tell from the sticky wooden dancefloor upstairs that it has been well-loved. Downstairs the kitchen turns out hearty and well-priced food. Fine-dining and classy cocktails can be found in the White Room.
There's plenty of on-mountain accommodation, all of which is a little expensive for what is being offered. The Arlberg is not glamorous but it is reliable, has a lot of different sized apartments on offer and is in a great location. The ski club lodges are all located around the Big D area, a 5 minute bus ride from the village centre. They offer the most economical on-mountain options if you don't mind communal living. I recommend Kalyna Ski Club where apart from cleaning up after yourself there are no duties. The vast kitchen area is well equipped for several parties to be cooking at one time.
If staying for several days my preference is to stay off-mountain in the beautifully town-planned Dinner Plain, an easy 10 minute drive away. This is Hotham's sexy little sister. The accommodation here is cheaper and the quality is higher. It's particularly well suited to a group of friends to hire a chalet and there is excellent wining and dining to be had but plan which nights you want to head out and book ahead as you will be suprised how hard it can be to get a table.
So back to the original question, Hotham remains one of my three favourite places to ski. In most seasons it can hold its own against a world class ski resort. It is not manicured, but is wild and seductive. Sort yourself out, go there.
I graduated to Mt Hotham after learning at Buller, then Falls Creek. this year after a 12 year break, I'm going back and taking my children. I can't think of a more emjoyable place for them to learn to ski and love the mountains.