Ski-Touring the Bogong High Plains

Over two years had passed between skiing adventures for me. The last time I skied was the end of the 2019 season at Perisher. Back in 2018 and 2019 I skied almost every day of the season, working on skis for my job as a Patroller and using my weekends to either ski the resort or check out the NSW main range. Unaware of the events to follow, I packed away my ski gear in anticipation for another season in 2020 and probably more after that too, I just had to work out what summer job would sustain me best so I could keep skiing the winters…maybe I’d go to Canada or the US of A one day to do a season over there…

Last known sighting of me as a Ski Patroller

Oh how the times a change as Bobby says. Fast forward through two years of COVID management BS at times where I was not game enough to make a NSW working holiday a NSW lockdown no-working holiday and I found myself having not skied since 2019. I better point out here that I wasn’t always a skier, my family never took the high-roller holiday of a chalet high on ze mountain for the winters. No no no, I came into skiing through a school outdoor trip where we were essentially bushwalking on skis. From there I kept getting my fix and getting better with my mate Ferg and I kept getting sucked deeper into the vortex of the winter wonderland that is skiing. Heading to the snow always felt like ‘my place’ where I’d embrace the ski bum way of life independently of my family and I loved this part of it. Ferg and I would do some silly things to save money so we could ski more, we were very much the Tony Hawk Underground skater vibe of the skiing world…

But yeah, I’d dealt with not skiing for the first 17 years of my life so a little hiatus of two years wasn’t too bad… until my plans to return to the snow got a little closer each day this year, then the ‘not pretty good’ (as Cam Smith would say) of not skiing was becoming more like ‘take me now Jesus, I’m ready for the snow’. After an action packed Saturday of Park Run, a short 19km race along the Torrens (picked up 1st place too), celebratory beer and donut I was on the bus heading to Falls, leaving my running shoes behind for a couple of weeks. This was the same bus I took as a 17 yr old in 2012 for my first ski trip so there was some nice symmetry occurring in the universe at the time.

1st Place in the Ultra Adelaide 19km.

On the bus ride over I went through a bit of a process of working out what I wanted to gain from this trip. It’s more productive than telling yourself to go to sleep when you can’t sleep. The over-arching goal of the trip was to first see if I could ski again. It would be a shame to have done two seasons so I could become a better skier to go and lose all that form. The other parts of the trip were all a bit of a fact finding missions and can be best summarised by the table below with how they eventuated…

ExpectationReality
2 weeks of skiing in case the weather is shit in the first week and I can’t remember how to ski1 week of skiing. I remembered how to ski and the first 6 days were awesome with a storm forecasted for the next three days so I bailed out.
Lots of touring around the Bogong High Plains filling in gaps of the Alpine Challenge 100 mile courseYeah ticked off a bit of touring, saw most of the huts but didn’t commit to the big descent’s and ascents required to check out Bogong and Hotham as hoped.
Enjoy Falls Creek Resort for a few daysSnuck in the back on my last day and only lasted a couple of hours until my appetite was satiated.
Test out my new ski’s and bootsYep, great success here.
Refresh my snow camping techniquesYep, also great success. 90% of my gear I’d bring again and 10% I’d change for something else.
The nostalgia of skiing memories from prior Bogong trips and Perisher hitting me unexpectedly.
Wanted a 2 week break from cycle of running training to freshen up body, mind and soulAfter about 3 days I was ready to go for a run again and by day 6 I was very much contemplating running through the snow…I missed it more than I thought I would.
Expectation v Reality, a favourite meme category in table form…

There was a lot of expectations for this trip, it’s a long table, and I was aware that it’s a dangerous way to live with lots of possibilities but no real strong direction to it all. In my defence, it’s hard to sit at home in Quorn and decide all I’m going to do is base camp at one hut and ski one location, or I’m only going to focus on touring and will move camp every day, or I’ll ski into the resort every day and negate the other options by doing so…What would happen at Quorn is I’d start thinking about a skiing trip and then I’d get sidetracked by some sort of 90’s music video montage of ski images in my head… so instead I landed with a plan to try and do all those objectives. Also, defence point number 2, if I take the long term view of what this trip was seeking to find out, I was hoping to take it’s findings and employ them in future seasons, I just had to first annoyingly kick a lot of rust off on this trip and see what skiing ability of mine had survived 2020 and 2021.

Home for nights 1 and 2.

2 for 1 deal. 1 for 2 instead. I originally booked two weeks of skiing (the bus only allows 1 week segments) because I didn’t want to arrive in the snow and get rained on with shit weather for a week of skiing and then have to return. My two week booking was firstly a weather insurance policy but secondly I also had a lot of things I wanted to get done and wanted to see if I could last a two week trip out there. On my second day of the trip I was indecisive about spending the day dropping down a big descent and climbing up the other side to see Mt.Bogong and experience first hand a new-to-me section of the Alpine Challenge 100 mile course. It looked like a lot of effort to go somewhere I’d been when there was some good snow right under my ski’s from where I stood. I couldn’t really be bothered because I was already having a great time on the spur I was standing on and didn’t need to tick the box of Bogong just to tick the box I’d created in my own damn head. So, by deciding not to do that, I saved myself about two days out of my itinerary. I did the same when I was looking out towards Hotham over the Pretty Valley/Mt.Cope area. It just didn’t look as appealing as I’d hoped to ski all the way over there just to satisfy a deluded thought I’d cooked up in Quorn about having to do the whole Alpine Challenge course no matter what. Saved myself a few more days of my itinerary there. From these decisions a pattern was emerging that I was putting more emphasis on having a fun personal ski holiday rather than, bring out all the big guns and put my body in a blender type adventure, I do that enough with my running I reckon… So, as the forecast for next week started showing a large amount of wind and snow being dropped over the first few days I was beginning to get the heebie jeebies. New snow is good for skiing but there’s two things to think of. One, sitting in a tent for a couple of days waiting for the wind to go away is not as fun as getting back into the running groove, and two, a lot of new snow can present risks that make skiing in the backcountry unstable, especially for those going solo… When I finally got my shit together and pulled the trigger on making my trip go from 2 weeks to 1 week I was a little sad, skiing is fun after all why don’t I just keep skiing? But I knew I had filled my bucket to an appropriate level and didn’t need to overfill it. Everyone knows how hard it is to carry a very full bucket of water. I had to rip the bandaid off straight away and get out of Falls before the ski gods got their fangs into me and really took hold of my psyche…

The weather forecast even prompted concern amongst Facebook users of the Australian Backcountry page about people heading out…

Doing a re-sort at the resort. Being capable of ski-touring I open myself up to opportunities to ski within Falls Creek without having to pay the big bucks ($200 a day). I snuck in the back side of Falls and blended into the crowd. After that, there’s no checks and balances on whether I’ve paid my dues as long as I don’t get questioned by any authority. (The ticket scanners are on the front side, where the carparks are and where everyone else gains entry, avoid them and you’re skiing for free). I use to cruise the resort at Perisher happily on my days off and I’d see familiar faces, have lunch at home for free or get discounted staff rates on the mountain, it was great. Skiing at Falls was kind of like this, I was still cruising, but it just didn’t feel right. My experience certainly wasn’t worth $200. Was it because I was trying to replicate the Perisher vibe at Falls or was it because the skiing at Falls didn’t match the backcountry skiing experience I just had where I can ski my own snow essentially. I don’t know and I don’t need to know because I also reckon resort skiing is great with mates or family or people you know but by yourself you need a very very good reason ($200 worth of reasons) to get yourself out on the mountain.

This ain’t no resort style accomodation but it’s pretty good if you put the effort in to make a fire. Ropers Hut.

There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness not having something you use to. The most difficult part of the trip was not the usual rigmarole of staying warm each day or getting a fire started at night but unexpectedly it was the processing of memories about being at Perisher and then about the next running cycle I have planned. In Dude Where’s My Car, stay with me here, the two main protagonists forget where their car is and go through a process of returning to the scene of the crime to jog their memories. A process known as sense memory, simulated perception, altered-consciousness memory retrieval. Unknowingly I had stumbled into this process myself as I had returned to the snow and my brain began cooking up memories of Ski Patrol and Perisher that I’d missed. From there, you start dreaming about all the coulda, shoulda’s and woulda’s in the world about how life might’ve turned out if I kept pursing the ski patrol way of life… Layer this dream scenario on top of the fact that my running had gone better than expected heading into the ski trip and I was excited to keep pushing it further to see what else I was capable of. When I originally booked my 2 weeks to the snow I hadn’t won the Alpine Challenge or the Pichi Richi so I didn’t think I’d have much running fitness to hold on to as I did. Did I want to bother stressing about losing running form over a 2nd non-consequential week of skiing versus getting back into running? Nah was the answer.

Sense memory, simulated perception, altered-consciousness memory retrieval.

Cleansing and purity. Everyone (climbers, alpinists, skiers) always talks so romantically about the mountains as if they’re pure and you have to respect the mountains. I think they’re adding a bit of mayo there, my view is that we should treat every landscape (oceans, deserts, forests etc.) the same but I do value the mountains simplicity. They force you to be responsible for the very minute things in life due to the lack of facilities present and the cold temperatures. I had to get the water from the creek or melt the snow, collect the firewood, do all that shit I’m used to but maybe others are not. Doing all this in a day is a fun way to live and a good reminder about that’s all that’s really important in life, anything you add on top, skiing, running, climbing, work, school is just something to fill in the time or pay for your ability to stay alive. So while I regularly go bushwalking or on trips where I’m living the simple outdoors life for some reason doing it in the snow makes it seem more real and confronting. For this reason, it also reminded me of the unnecessary habits I’d let creep into my daily routine that, since being back from the snow, I’ve managed to eradicate. Things like doom scrolling on social media, constantly checking emails, responding as quick as I can to messages etc. Without these minute activities I’ve been able to regain some focus throughout my day and am seeing (and enjoying) the benefits of that. That’s just one takeaway from the trip and here are some more in bullet point form (for those who’ve scrolled through without reading the whole essay).

Other Takeaways:

  • The new ski’s and boots that I purchased worked well. If I was to go on a pure touring trip of A>B type proportions I might consider using my old boots and a new shorter, lightweight ski but for everything else the new set-up is sufficient.
  • If I was to do a base-camp style set-up for one week I would take a bigger tent of mine and camp at Edmondson’s Hut.
  • Resort skiing is great for travelling to a new area or with friends and family who aren’t skiers but I can satisfy my ski cravings in the backcountry instead of revisiting familiar resorts.
  • I like skiing, or any activity, more when I have a purpose. The purpose could be as simple as going from A>B or trying to improve my turns or doing 10 laps etc. If I was to hypothetically go skiing again this winter I would have one purpose which would be reliant on whether I travelled solo or had company.
  • Last but not least, I realised that skiing is fun, like a lot of the other activities I do. But, the reason people might like skiing a lot or any other activity is because they are really good at it, or they don’t have the capacity to do anything else. I am fortunate to have the ability to do a lot of things and find it difficult to fit them all in. I wondered a lot during the week whether everyone I saw skiing would like it as much if they also liked running as much I do. I mean, skiing is great, but so is following a plan, doing some training and executing a race. I’m not so sure everyone is aware of that so when, this is all imaginary by the way, people question my decision to not ski for two weeks they might say ‘skiing is great, how could you not want to go skiing??’ what they don’t realise is how great running is and the trade-off I’m making.
The other takeaway I had on the trip was a cold pizza in Myrtleford on the way home. It was actually pretty good too! and only $5!

Whats’ next. If you’ve stuck with me for this long well done, because by now you’re probably wondering, alright mate, you rushed back from the snow early for your running dreams so what’s so god damn important? Well dear reader, from the day I got off the bus back in Adelaide at 6am on a Saturday there was two weeks until my next 50km race, then a week after that is Race 2 of the Trail Running Series and then a fortnight after that, if I’ve recovered well, is potentially the Adelaide Marathon. That’s three races over five weeks, or four intense weeks of training and a quick week of tapering to absorb the training. That’s arguably the smallest training block possible to actually get any physiological adaptations.

Two of these races I’d already planned and am looking forward to as very much fun races to be apart of (the 50km is in an area I’ve bush walked a lot and completed a prior personal adventure, and the TRSA race is very close to my Eden Hills residence) and the other, the Adelaide marathon, is something I’ve been motivated to enter for a few reasons. Specifically, the Pichi Richi was a great experience, I feel like a better runner because of it and I’d be keen to see how my time for a marathon stacks up on a flatter course. Hopefully there’s some quick runners in the race that’ll push me to run faster too, overall a plus for my development to be a better runner. It’ll also have maybe a nice crowd of all the local runners out there cheering people on, that’s always nice and different compared to the loneliness of trail running races. Long term, I think the Adelaide Marathon would also be a nice race to win so an entry this year could be a good reccy for the future. Lastly, if you hadn’t already noticed, I like running and why would I not get involved in one of the biggest running events of the year in my own state if I’ve got nothing else on? So yeah, that’s what has got me excited in the short term and what brought me back early from the snow. While I enjoyed my ski holiday I know that once I’ve squeezed everything out of my running I’ll have time to properly enjoy it even more then. But for now, it’s time to get running. Literally, I’m heading out for a long run now…

Thanks for reading!

2 responses to “Ski-Touring the Bogong High Plains”

  1. Craig McAuley Avatar
    Craig McAuley

    Well Frase, as usual , a very uplifting awe inspiring story. They always make me feel as if I’ve been there with you! Which is funny in itself. I look forward to reading your future stories around the upcoming races. I hope that run you just went on met your expectations. Until the next read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Craig, and yep it was my best long run of the year I reckon!

      Like

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