Some like it Hotham

How about those picture-perfect mountain days? They're not the norm for Australian skiing so you have to embrace and appreciate them when they come along.

The weekend of 20/21 August 2011 heralded the start of another winter warm spell that provided stunning Alpine views across the Victorian Alps while serving up rather challenging skiing conditions.

How can blue sky days be challenging you ask? If you're aim is to carve the mountain up, then challenging mainly because of the early morning freeze that renders the entire mountain rather solid and scrapey.

For those non-skiers, imagine running a knife across a frozen windscreen ... then imagine you're standing on two of those knives and trying to get a grip ... on a very steep slope. But, challenges are what its all about, right?

At Hotham, it was just like that for some time until our Sun did its work and softened up that surface for some fine Spring skiing. Some give and some movement ... thats whats needed.

And there's the trick... and the converse of the problem. Softening can quickly turn the nice snow to slush. Slush is nasty ... it drags on the skis. So, the key is to move around the mountain with the sun in these conditions. A tough job for a vacation skier.

Don't ask your Swiss, Austrian or French friends ... they rarely suffer this problem in mid-winter when the temperatures stay well below zero and keep the snow pristine.

Australian and New Zealand snow is unique ... and I maintain, the best conditions to learn in as it will throw anything at you!

Its also unique for other reasons - in Australia the mountain snow gums, wildlife like possums and wombats, winding mountain roads, bush accommodation and complete lack of mobile phone coverage!

So unique and beautiful and thats something worth remembering while we can still ski there - yeah, the snowline has been moving higher each year with global warming making each successive year more of a challenge.

Not a great year for Mt Hotham unfortunately, but we're determined to enjoy it while we still can!

When you're on top of and around this little part of Australia you can relax and look out on those hilltops, across those plains and down on those warm dry valleys below and be happy.


Touch and go for snow

Welcome to Mt Hotham ... on a good day some years ago! What will it be like this weekend? Who can tell with temperatures teasingly hovering around Oc during this week and a lot of precipitation forecast.

Some good snow last week at Falls and Hotham put back the snow that was lost in that annoyingly warm week. Mt Buller suffered terribly and is only just keeping it together.

Hotham has the Orchard runs open again and will be hoping this week will bring rain and not snow so that it can keep them open.

Quite a lot of something is forecast, so there could be joy or pain this weekend! I tip joy, especially from Thursday's snowfalls.

Falls and Hotham both have close to 1 metre of snow, with poor Buller at around 40cms and looking in for some serious trouble this week.

We will be staying at Shadybrook Cottages in Harrietville again and catching up with some people on the mountain when the forecast is for clearing weather.

Over in New Zealand there has finally been a new snowfall after only one significant snowfall this season. And its coming down beautifully with many resorts likely to get up to 1 metre of snow, setting up the peak ski months of August and September beautifully.


Return of the snows

An enjoyable weekend at Mt Hotham ... but the aftermath of last week's warm weather was serious damage to our snow base.

Last week's record July temperatures were followed by some rain. This stripped about 30-40cms of snow from the 1m base at Hotham and the 75cms base at Mt Buller. The result was about half of each ski area having to shut down.

We arrived in beautiful Harrietville in the Ovens Valley on Friday evening. Shady Brook Cottages was just as we remembered, set back in the gardens of a large property next to the river and right at the base of the hills. These are great cottages - warm, cosy, modern and generously spacious.

The gentle, persistent sound of the rain continued all night and must have turned to snow on the mountain as the drive up required chains to be fitted.

The Orchard, Gotcha, and Blue Ribbon lifts had all closed during the heatwave so skiing was limited. But it happened to be a Demo Weekend where you can try out new ranges of skis: this made the weekend much more interesting! We must have tried on a dozen pairs of skis over the two days and it was remarkable the variety in performance. Definitely have some new favourites for an upgrade!

Sunday 7th August was far snowier and delivered different conditions to test out the skis. Heavenly Valley at Hotham was still a lot of fun and the snow was dumping as we left. So much so that there seemed to be some people struggling on the road out. Apart from the car in the ditch, I did feel sorry for the various Queenslanders who drove 30kms with their snow chains on. New tyres!

The forecast is for snow to continue through this week. All the ski resorts are beginning to slowly recover from last week and midweek is looking promising. Hopefully they can get back up to 1m again and open all the lifts.

Perhaps Mt Hotham again after a break this coming weekend. Would love to go and see more snow there.


Into the white unknown

How things change in a week. The warm weather we have experienced in Melbourne has not done the ski resorts any favours. Last time I wrote we were hoping for a fantastic 1.5m snow depth. This week's weather has resulted in massive snow melt.

This weekend is a crucial one for the Victorian Alps and could put the snow back on the runs. Weather buffs aren't sure how it will pan out - when will the rain turn to snow? Hopefully on Friday 5th it will get cold early. Especially as we're up to beautiful Harrietville at Shady Brook Cottages for skiing at Mt Hotham this weekend. Lets see what happens!

Friends interested in travelling up - our next trip may be 19/20 August.

Over in New Zealand, a mixed season with some areas (Treble Cone) scoring great snow and some missing out (Mt Hutt). Here's hoping for a cold, snowy August/September peak NZ ski dump.