White On: Mt Buller Getting Set for the Victorian Snow Season
It was the news a housebound public were hanging out for: would we actually be able to strap on our skis for the 2020 snow season? Then Mt Buller in the Victorian Alps became the first resort to announce they would be ready for skiers on June 22.
For a while in lockdown it looked like the snow season might be cancelled, but as the COVID curve flattened, our chances of hitting the ski fields soared, and then came the announcement that skiing was on for 2020.
“It is going to be different this winter as we all adapt to the constraints of coronavirus,” said Laurie Blampied, Buller Ski Lifts General Manager as Mt Buller became the first resort to confirm a green light for the white stuff. “We will need to limit guest volumes in resort to maintain social distancing, there will be rigid cleaning and sanitation protocols in place, our international staff will sadly not be travelling to work with us this year and our local mountain staff numbers reduced.”
This may make for a very different season, but once you are sliding down a powder-flecked mountain a little social distancing will be a small price to pay for the freedom skiing gives. Here are the best reasons to head to Mt Buller once the Victorian snow season kicks off.
Mt Buller village is petite enough that after a couple of days here the snow-covered walkways start to feel like home, but big enough that there’s plenty to do. Whether you are grabbing a quick jaffle at T’s High Country Cafe or stocking up at the supermarket for a quiet night by the fire, having a city-fied cocktail in the sophisticated surrounds of Black Cockatoo, or grabbing an après-ski pint in the Kooroora Hotel, a well-worn party spot given a brand-new home last year the village is always welcoming.
The On-Snow Eats
The centerpiece of Spurs restaurant is the giant handcrafted smoker from SC Smokers. It was quite a mission to get this metal beast up the mountain but the result – the Iron Maiden Smokehouse – is worth it. American-style barbecue is perfect for skiing, the tender cuts of beef brisket and pork butt are delicious, comforting and ready to slice and dice for a hungry crowd keen to get back to the lifts. Our family favourite is the old-school European-themed Tirol Cafe, close enough to the Bourke Street action to get to easily but far enough away to snag a seat, and the kids still remember the year that the snow was nearly up over the roof.
The Sled Dogs
Any family trip to Mt Buller has to include a visit to the sled dogs at Australian Sleddog Tours where the canine workers are a mix of locally bred and rescued huskies who love the opportunity to take a run through the alps. As a passenger in the sleigh you get an easy ride but if you are helping your guide to steer then it is harder work, as you work one foot tirelessly to help keep balance like you are in charge of a giant skateboard. But the view is amazing and the adrenalin rush equal to that of solo skiing.
While it is sad to hear that the usual European experts will be missing this year due to the pandemic, the ski school at Buller is perfect for starters or experts. While ski school gets the kids out of your hair longer, there is no match for a couple of strategic one-on-one lessons for the kids to catch up, and then quickly overtake, their parents.
The Après Ski
One of the best places to discuss the skiing highs, and the inevitable tumble or two, is over a mulled wine at the bar in Hotel Pension Grimus. This intimate, Austrian-themed stay was started by Alpine legend Hans Grimus and the walls of the adjacent Kaptan’s restaurant – which does the best schnitzels up, or down, the mountain – have a timeline of the various ski lifts that have operated for decades. Down in the village itself you can try some light meals and vegan fare at Birdcage or pizza at the Loft Bar in Breathtaker.
The usual COVID-19 caveats apply here as everyone heads into the much-touted “new normal”, so read about Mt Buller’s approach to this unusual season, and check out the website updates.
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