Want to enjoy the snow, but feeling too cash strapped or physically challenged to go skiing?
Mt. Baw Baw and Mt. St. Gwinear are both popular destinations for Melbournians seeking to experience the snow without breaking the bank. Mt. St. Gwinear is the cheapest option offering free entry, free parking and free access to the trails and tobogganing. However, as one may expect, the facilities at Mt. St. Gwinear are spartan, the only public building being a shelter complex containing rudimentary toilets, change rooms and a lunch room. So you'll need come prepared with a thermos, food and have hired all your snow gear on the way – Erica being the closest option.
Mt. Baw Baw is more convenient than Mt. St Gwinear. It has a village that has several restaurants, cafes and bars as well as a well stocked equipment hire centre and many options for "on the mountain" accommodation. Whilst there is a charge for entering Mt. Baw Baw National park and for access to all runs and snow play areas, the costs are much cheaper in comparison to those of the better known resorts of Buller, Hotham and Falls.
Mt. St. Gwinear and Mt. Baw Baw are both within 2 hours' drive from Melbourne so either is an excellent option for a day trip. For Mt. Baw Baw the exit is well sign posted. For Mt. St. Gwinear ignore the Mt. Baw Baw signs and exit at Moe, go through the town and follow the signs to Walhalla until you start seeing signs to Erica, Rawson and Mt. St. Gwinear.
Once at either mountain, the other is easily accessible in just under an hour's drive via the 25 km, good quality, unmade South Face Road. The South Face Road link, makes this area a fantastic weekend destination for both experienced skiers seeking something different and for people seeking a first time alpine experience with a bit more "cred" than tobogganing.
Snow-shoeing is a great alternative to down hill or cross-country skiing as well as being a fantastic way to introduce someone to the snow. If you can walk, you can snow shoe. Whilst somewhat more physically demanding than a stroll, snow shoeing is one of the most easy, cost effective and accessible ways to have a satisfying "alpine experience".
Snow shoes are essentially large discs with "teeth" on the under side that are clipped onto your water proof boots. The size of the disc distributes your weight across the snow and the teeth ensure that you will get a grip on the snow and not slip when walking up or down hills. In conjunction with poles, they make walking over deep, ungroomed snow relatively easy.
For a great day's snow-showing you'll need the following: thermal underwear (top & pants), a warm fleece, waterproof jacket and pants, gloves, water proof shoes, poles and snow shoes. Apart from the thermal underwear and fleece, all equipment can be hired. Don't forget your sunscreen and sun glasses, if you are lucky and get a sunny day you'll need these to protect you from the glare of the sun bouncing off the snow. If you don't own chains, you'll also need to hire these as access to both Mt. St Gwinear and Mt. Baw Baw during winter is illegal if you are not carrying chains.
Equipment can be hired either at Baw Baw Village, or on the way up at Tanjil Bren. If going to Mt. St. Gwinear equipment can be hired at Erica . If you only need chains and snow shoes a good option is to hire the equipment in Melbournebefore your trip from one of the many outdoor stores in the city around Little Bourke St.
Once you have all your gear, you are ready to start snow-shoeing. If at Mt. Baw Baw make your way to the beginning of the "Nordic" trails, buy your $12 pass and start down the clearly marked Village Trail. By the time you get to the intersection with the LaTrobe and Summit Trails you'll feel as though you are in another world: the busy-ness of Baw Baw Village and the downhill area will seem worlds away. You'll feel as though you are the only person in the world, alone with the snow gums and – if you're lucky – the occasional wombat. The 5km Village Circuit Trail is a great, taking a moderately fit person a leisurely 2 – 3 hours to complete (including snack & photo breaks).
If you are having a day trip at Mt. St. Gwinear then there is a nice, 6km loop to the top of Mt. St. Gwinear via the summit trail and then back via the Cascade trail. As with the Village Trail, this will take a moderately fit person under 3 hours to complete, including time for a picnic lunch and photo and rest stops.
If you are some kind on an iron person, then you may wish to snow-shoe all the way over to Mt. St. Gwinear and back again (approximately 20kms return). This is a very popular trip for experienced cross country skiers but do not undertake this snow shoeing (or cross country skiing) unless you have taken all the sensible precautions: let someone know before you go; equipped yourself with the right clothing and; ascertained that you are fit enough. By way of comparison a kilometer of snow shoeing is roughly equivalent to walking on sand with a full backpack, packed for an overnight walk.
If the return trip in one day sounds a bit much for you, then a good alternative is to drive to Mt. St. Gwinear and walk to Mt. Baw Baw. You'll need to carry some overnight things and to book accomodation in Mt. Baw Baw in advance. The cheapest accommodation on Mt. Baw Baw is "dorm style" accommodation at the Alpine Hotel. The following day you can walk from Mt. Baw Baw to Mt. St. Gwinear and pick up your car.
If carrying your things to Mt. Baw Baw doesn't appeal, another excellent option for the weekend is to do a day walk on each of the mountains, staying over night in Mt. Baw Baw and using the South Face Road to travel between the mountains.
If snow shoeing on both days sounds a bit too energetic, then either one of the day walks can also be combined with a visit to the nearby town of Walhalla. Many of the accommodation options in Walhalla have reasonable packages in winter which include transfer to the snow and equipment hire.