Day 1: Golf Course BowlAfter a long week at work, what could be better than throwing skis, snowboards and a few cases a beer into the back of the Forester and hitting the road, Thredbo bound. We check in to our accommodation in Jindabyne and before we know it, it's Saturday morning and we are on our way up to the slopes. This year has been touted as a great year for the Australian ski slopes, and having just spent a week in NZ, where the snow is always great, I’ve got my fingers crossed that it is!
It’s a clear day and the visibility is reasonably good, however moderate winds are predicted for the afternoon, so we skip the warm up and decide to head straight for Golf Course bowl. This run is “the best of Australian skiing” according to my mate Benj, but there is a slight hurdle. Gunbarrel (from Friday Flat) is closed due to electrical fault so we catch the shuttle bus and get on the Kosciuszko Express from Valley Terminal instead. We zig-zag across the mountain with Basin and Karel’s and I quickly remember how much I hate T-bars.
We reach the top. It’s quite windy, a bit icy, and the visibility is medium at best. We take the toe edge traverse as high as possible across the ridge until we can make out the orange rope and the elusive “open” sign next to Golf Course bowl. Now this is a run that is often closed as it needs a lot of snow for the run itself, and even moderate winds can put the 3 lifts it took to get here on hold. Benj will tell you the story of how he once tried for 5 years in a row to get to this run with no avail, though the number of years seems to increase each time he tells it….
We drop into Golf Course bowl and it is everything we hoped for and more. There is plenty of snow, unlimited line choice, and as it's first thing in the morning, we get to make the first tracks! Better still, as soon as we drop a few meters into that bowl, we are sheltered by mountain and trees from the wind and the snow being blown around. It's sunny, clear, calm and even the exit track at the bottom is great!
As luck would have it, the Kosciuszko Express goes on wind hold by the time we get back down and we spend the remainder of the day between Cruiser and Anton's, but it doesn’t matter to us. We got that run, the elusive Golf Course bowl, and in perfect conditions too! I guess Benj will have to reset that counter of his.
Day 2: Epic JumpsWe’re up early again, eager for another day on the slopes, but having barely left Jindabyne there is a slight damper on our day already. We’ve checked the lift report and just about everything is on wind hold or closed. Literally. Someone asks exactly which lifts are closed but stops me half way through… “okay, so which ones are open?”. OPEN: Easy Does It, Merritt's. --End of List--
Thankfully we are still riding the euphoria and satisfaction of Golf Course bowl yesterday morning and nothing can get us down. We decide the wind can suck it and we’re going to ski whatever we can, even if they are green runs, backwards if we have to. We take Easy Does It up the flat beginner section for which Friday Flats is named, then the magic carpet through the trees to Merritt's mid-station. Now Merritt's is a new experience for me, one of the only lifts I’ve never used before. This is because it is so slow and pointless that it's used more by walkers than skiers/boarders, in fact you have to remove said skis & boards and hold them to get on! But hey, it's the only thing open and we heard that Cruiser is opening, so we catch it up the hill all the same. Alas, we get to the top only to see Cruiser isn’t even moving yet, so it won’t be opening any time soon.
We grab a booth in Merritt’s Mountain House (the cafe/bar at the base of Cruiser), we order some hot chocolates, and we wait. This isn't bad in itself, a lovely place to sit and enjoy the scenery with some good mates, but I’m Down To Adventure, not Down To Sit Still, and after a few minutes my engineer brain breaks into problem-solving mode; What are our options? How can we get there? Where can we ride?
Raph suggests we walk up the slope, which I’ve done before at Mt Hutt in NZ… and I don’t recommend it. At the time I was (stupidly) doing it to prove a point. After 3 days of Mt Hutt being Mt Shut, it opened in the afternoon of our last day in the area. We drove the iced up (and scary) mountain road with chains the whole way to the car park, only to find that the main chairlift was on wind hold so we could either wait in line for that or take the magic carpets in the beginner area. The 3 friends I was with at the time were all skiers, so being the lone snowboarder I felt I had to prove just how comfortable snowboard boots were... and walk up the slope. My point was feeling quite effectively proven until about half way up the 400 vertical meter slope when it started to get a little steeper and I started to get a bit tired. By the 3/4 mark I was basically crawling, taking one step at a time using my board as a 3rd leg. Then the chairlift starts moving. Of course I knew my friends were first in the queue, so I picked up the pace. “Must... *pant*... reach top... *pant*... before... *pant*... them”, and I do, but by this point I’m so exhausted that they have to wait about 2 minutes for me to catch my breath before we ride down anyway.
So I ruled out walking up the slope. BUT I notice that Easy Rider T-Bar is open, giving access to the 3 lines of easy/medium terrain park and 3 medium size jumps. I quickly con a few friends, who are mostly skiers, into giving the terrain a go (or at very least coming along to watch me stack it) and we hit the park! We do a solid 6 runs down the park and jumps before the Cruiser chairlift opens, and I love it. I don’t necessarily live only for the park, but when I get a chance I do enjoy it, and today was the perfect time for it! I nailed the jumps, hitting the biggest air I’ve ever had with a clean landing. I also had a blast on the jib lines with some nice boardslides on the flat box and nailed the “clip the rail and faceplant” trick. Thankfully Cruiser stayed open for the rest of the day and we had a reasonable afternoon taking every possible path down including The Bowl and Boundary Rider. All in all, another epic day at Thredbo!
Day 3: Ice Ice BabyIt’s our final day for this trip, so we check out of our accommodation and head up the mountain. It is still quite windy, but thankfully it has changed direction and is not overly affecting the lift operations. We decide to try for Golf Course bowl again but we get 2 out of the 3 lifts up and Karel’s is closed. Up here it is exposed, icy, windy and zero visibility, even with my low light goggles. Karel’s won’t be opening today. We decide to keep high on the mountain and head for Funnel Web instead, but the first 20 meters or so is just ice and I can’t ride it. I unclip completely and find out in fact, I can’t really walk it either. While being blown sideways, I use the board as an ice-pick and dig in with each step as my feet just slide. More than once my board loses its footing and I slide a few meters down the hill. After the first section is over, it's still impossible to see but at least we’re on snow. The rest of this traverse isn’t great, but once we get into some trees then reach Funnel Web, we are sheltered enough to be able to see and ride properly. Upper Funnel Web is a great run in its own right, but then we see that there is another entrance to the lower half of Golf Course bowl, and it’s marked open!
We drop in and have such a great time that the horrible start seems worth it, so we do the same thing again. Same icy top, same no visibility, same slow crawl with my snowboard turned ice-pick, but once again the top of Funnel Web and bottom of Golf Course is well worth it. By the end of the 2nd run we are all starting to feel a bit tired, and also satisfied, as we pretty much say in unison “I’m happy if you’re happy”. We decide to call it a day and head back down High Noon to get to the car at Friday Flats. It has been an unusual 3 days, with a variety of conditions, but we hit the road satisfied with the snow behind us, and ever-ready to go up-DOWN those mountains again next time. If only we had more energy.