If the promise of vast stretches of untracked powder is enough to get the pulse racing, look no further than Hotham’s incredible backcountry terrain.
Australians have been a little slower than our Northern Hemisphere comrades to catch on to the joys of swapping the lifts for the skins and heading into the wide, white yonder out back. But in recent times interest has grown exponentially thanks in part to a slew of heart-stoppingly exciting films from the likes of Warren Miller, better gear and new safety technologies.
Hotham’s Backcountry Festival attracted more than 300 adventurers in 2019 and this week the 2022 program is being released for an epic long weekend celebrating all things off-piste from Friday 2 - Sunday 4 September.
We’ve rounded up some inside intel from a couple of Hotham’s hardiest backcountry enthusiasts including their personal movie recommendations to get the froth going and the latest from the experts keeping everyone safe on the mountain this winter.
Jaw-dropping screen action
Traverse Hotham’s intrepid guide, Kelly van den Berg, recommends This Mountain Life about a daughter and her 60-year-old mother on a six-month ski trek through the treacherous Coast Mountains of BC. Be inspired then book a berth at Kelly’s Intro to Backcountry Skills for Women Sunday 8 August.
Alpine Running’s Shannon Dunbar, who guides women on all-inclusive snow-shoeing tours to Derrick’s Hut reckons Path to Everest (and anything else featuring) the extraordinary ultra-trail runner Kilian Jornet is ‘just brilliant’. New to Hotham this year, Shannon also offers guided ultra-trail running adventures for women in summer.
Roots: the new generation of freeskiers is Nicole Geurts, Hotham RMB Visitor Services Officer’s hot tip for the stunning European locations and strong representation of young women skiers. And Hotham RMB’s Visitor Services Manager, Kate Carlin chooses White Silk Road: Snowboarding Afghanistan featuring three Australian snowboarders riding awe-inspiring, remote mountains in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
Stuart Stevens, Hotham RMB’s Visitor Services Senior Manager, nominates 'Iron Will', a movie set in Canada and based on a true story about a young man whose desperate family circumstances compel him to enter a lucrative yet dangerous cross-country dog sled race.
Save the date
For the backcountry-curious, this year’s Backcountry Festival from 2-4 September is the perfect way to take the plunge. Catering to all skill levels, dive into everything from cross-country skiing and alpine touring, to split boarding and snow camping, photography to snow-shoeing and how to stay safe on the mountain.
The A Team
They may not wear capes but they do have mighty super powers! Hotham’s ski patrol, led by Bill Barker, is a crack squad ready to come to the rescue when things go awry. Their intensive training includes rope rescue situations, an annual, week-long immersion with fellow patrollers from other resorts, skills which come in handy fairly regularly during the season.
Bill has led the team for the past dozen years after starting out as a dishwasher at The Genny back in 1987 aged 22. On his days off he heads to the backcountry terrain which he knows intimately and at the end of the season he leads backcountry tours in Antarctica and Kashmir.
Avalanches in Australia?
Rolf Schonfeld, the Victorian Director of the volunteer-run Mountain Safety Collective, says many people are surprised that avalanches can and do occur here quite regularly. It’s the role of his organisation to monitor and report on weather and snow base conditions to alert backcountry skiers to possible dangers, including avalanches.
MSC has recently crowdfunded installation of an Avalanche Training Centre for backcountry skiers to test their avalanche beacons and practice using them. They have also installed QR codes at approaches to backcountry areas which scan to the MSC site for real time conditions and warnings.
Rolf has been skiing Hotham’s backcountry since he arrived from Germany aged 21 back when Bob Hawke was PM: “I’ve only ever skied out of bounds, going all over the place all around the resort from day dot. I spent winters working for Hoys standing on top of Big D at 7am and skiing down the back of it and then skin back up in time for work, covered in snow by 9am.”
Rolf is keen for anyone serious about backcountry skiing to consider joining the MSC which now has 800 members and works hard to keep everyone safe in the snow.