This is the sight just past the summit, looking towards Mt Feathertop (on the left) with Mt Bogong and Mt McKay in the far field. The sky swiftly dissolved as we moved past Australia Drift and on to Rambo's Revenge where the PistenBully's controls (of MechWarrior reminiscence) were demonstrated and explained. We talked at length about the grooming process, what the job is really like (both the good and the bad), how one lands such an esoteric position and so many other curiosities. Enlightening and candid, my personable guide provided answers to all of the things I'd wondered about.
After a half hour of grooming and chatter it was time to caterpillar back to the base of the summit chair to end the tour. Forgetting I'd changed lenses (and no longer had my camera strap around my neck) I heaved the door open against the wind and started to climb down from the cabin to the steel tracks. I now know that the sound a photo enthusiast never wants to hear is that which his camera makes impacting said steel tracks.
Thankfully SLRs are built tough and all the gear is insured anyway. After checking that the attached lens had survived, its cap having ricocheted away into the snow, I wasn't concerned. That particular lens and the 11 precision glass elements it contains are worth more than the camera body anyway. When I got back to my apartment I took a few shots and the camera still worked - phew! I would have been disheartened if it'd been dead and I couldn't take any further photos of the trip!
Only recently I discovered that some damage was done and a sensor in the onboard flash is inoperable, so currently the camera is being looked at by Nikon to see if it can be repaired.
Another crystal clear day of boarding, mostly on the "village loop" and the summit. The slopes were quiet due to the school holidays having already ended and the entire terrain of the resort being open, so there was a lot of space for everyone. I joined a group lesson in the afternoon and further improved my technique, as well as meeting a bunch of nice people. It was also the first day that I took my GPS data logger along with me, which I'd bought just before the start of the trip. It's a GlobalSat DG-100 and I'll post a subset of the recorded path in a future update :) In total it says that I did about 40 km of actual snowboarding, which is a lot I think!
It wasn't long before the lifts were being shut down for another day, which meant it was time to go and meet the snowgroomer for the tour! As the sun fell below the horizon I was greeted by the concierge who I'd previously met at Mt Hotham Airport and then introduced to Alan, the operator who'd be showing me around. We jumped in the resort's latest Kässbohrer PistenBully 300 and headed to the top of the summit.
I cannot emphasise enough how cool these things are. Not only are they huge, being 3 metres high, 4 metres wide and 10 metres long with a weight of 8.5 ton, but they manoeuvre like nothing else. You can even plug your iPod into them (yes, really!).
The following day, a bright and early start - lacing up the boots, strapping on the board and finding the feeling again. Beautiful skies and white everywhere! After an hour my muscles were beginning to remember and I tried a few runs that I didn't get the chance to hit last year. It's a wonderful moment when your body starts working instinctively and you don't have to think about it any more; you're just cruising with the wind in your face.
The first day seemed to fly by and soon enough the lifts started closing and it was time to wind down too.
After watching the snowgroomers crawling the slopes at night last year I was jumping at the opportunity to get in one! This year at Mt Hotham that was now a possibility in the form of snowgrooming tours that allow you to ride shotgun while they do their stuff!
There are only 3 places per night (the groomers only seat an operator and one passenger) and I was lucky enough to get the perfect timeslot (just after the sun had set) for the following evening.
After grabbing my luggage I was picked up and taken to my accommodation by an awesome 4WD oversnow buggy, the driver of which was clearly enjoying being able to hoon around as part of his job description. I checked in and found, with relief, that my snowboard had also arrived safe and sound - I'd sent it the previous week by courier due to luggage restrictions on the flights.
I was shown to my apartment and settled in, taking in the ever-changing view from the window seat before heading out to grab dinner as the sky sunk into darkness.
After an 80 minute flight with a smooth landing, there was now a striking edge of cold to the air. Although the runway had been cleared of snow there were large sheets of ice around the terminal building (which is a compact, minimalist and modern structure) - it made for some fun for unsuspecting travellers. Also worth a mention was the number of babies on the flight - 6 or 7 of them crying, and several small children. In a plane with only 36 seats, that makes for an interesting flight.
It was now just a 20 km bus trip via Dinner Plain (a small village above the snow line) and I was there, greeted by a spectacular setting sun throwing golden vibrancy on the snow.
Click for a larger panorama showing the Gotcha, Keogh's and The Orchard area of Mt Hotham.
And these are the views I was talking about. As we headed away from Sydney and further inland to the Australian Alps the brilliant sugar islands of snow-capped mountains started appearing.
Arriving in Sydney from Canberra and making the cross-carpark trek from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2, there was only a brief wait before boarding again. Above is the view from the gate lounge, with the Dash 8 almost ready to leave and unsettled clouds closing in. I'd never flown into Mt Hotham but given it's status as the highest airport in Australia I was expecting some nice views, and I wasn't disappointed.