Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ski experience part 1: Where the only way out is down.

Remember sometime in the beginning of the year I said I wanted to ski?

Well, I finally got my wish.

I just got back from a 2 day skiing trip to Mount Hotham over the weekend. However, as opposed to last year, when nearly everyone who went were good friends of mine, this time, there were a lot of unknown people, due to the organiser, my friend, being the president of the Melbourne University Thai Society, there was a bunch of Thai people coming along as well (actually, the Thai group outnumbered us, due to more than half of our original group that went to Buller not coming along this time), bringing along with them unique accents and unique nicknames like Bell, View, Pui, and many others.

Anyway, this time, we left on Saturday morning 2 am (yes you read that right), took a 5 hour (yes, five) bus ride, and got there in the morning before checking into our ski lodge, Kalyna, where we were going to stay the night. This way, we saved on one night's accommodation.

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Like I said in that post about Mount Buller, last year's snow was really crap. Furthermore, Mt Hotham naturally has much more snow that Buller anyway, and we weren't disappointed this time round when we arrived at Hotham to find it actually snowing.

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Before I go on any further, for the uninitiated, let me explain a bit on how the ski thing actually works.

Firstly, to ski, you need your skis, poles, and boots. To snowboard, you need the board and boots. Most people won't have those anyway, so there's plenty of places up the mountain that rent out that kind of stuff, like Hotham Central in the picture up there. We rented our gear from the Melbourne University Ski Club before heading up the mountain actually.

Once you've got your gear, you can head up to the slopes and ski (or board) immediately. Assuming you know how to, of course. If you don't, then you can sign up for lessons, available for beginners, and other levels of expertise as well.

The basic thing to understand about the slopes is that you take the lift up, ski down, and take the lift up again, then ski down again, and you can do it however many times you want.

The interesting thing about Hotham is that they have multiple slopes, and, the slopes are arranged in such a way that you can ski down one, take the lift up, ski down a different route, to a different area where there's another lift, which leads to yet another area with multiple routes that you can choose. The only problem with most of the routes, not that they are steep or anything, is that one side is just a cliff with no barrier, and if you are not careful, or unskilled (like me), you might just end up falling down the cliff onto a black run.

What's a black run you say? There are 3 different kinds of runs: Green, Blue, and Black. Green runs are for beginners, wide open expanse of snow, no cliffs, and not so steep, perfect for practising. Blue runs are the more difficult runs, much steeper, cliffs on one side with no barriers, however, even within the Blue category, there's a range of difficulties (some of them are very very very steep, but wide, so you don't need to worry about falling off, while others are actually not steep at all, but with one open side that you could fall off into), but you won't find that out until you actually go onto the run. And then there's the Black runs, for those super pro people, very very very very steep, some in unpatrolled ares (if you die, no one's gonna know), and even if you fall, you'll end up falling down very very very far.

Here I have a trail map of Hotham (click on it to enlarge):

Red lines denote chair lifts, slopes are coloured by their difficulties, green, blue, and black respectively. You can see that there's only 2 green runs, Big D, and The Summit. On the first day, I actually went onto most of the blue runs (yeah, including the far reaches to the right), but the way back terrified me so much, that on the 2nd day, I restricted myself to The Summit, and the relatively easy blue run nearby, Sun Run.

What I wasn't able to appreciate last year in Buller, due to the horrible snow fall last year, and also due to me being absolutely useless at skiing considering that it was my first time) was that you could ski on different slopes. I thought that there was only one beginner's slope, one intermediate, and one advanced. But Hotham proved that there's multiple copies of everything, with so many different intertwining routes of various levels, that its so easy to get separated from your friends, or, if you're not careful with the signs, just to go off into a Black run.

But that's what made it so interesting. Its like taking a walk through a forest trail, only that you're on skis. Wicked.

Ok. Enough talk. On to the pictures.

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That's the same Hotham Central building on the right, and we can see the bottom of The Summit in the background, with the ski lifts.

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This is the view from the top. On of the problems that I encountered was that I found that once you got up, the only way out is down. There was once when we going back for the day, and I was faced with 3 choices to get back. 2 very steep Blue runs on either side of me (look on the map for Lower Imagine and Snake Gully, near the Heavenly Valley lifts), and a Black one right ahead. And I absolutely freaked out. Being the most noobish one amongst my friends, I was the last to get down to the bottom, having several wipeouts along the way, after which I decided to just pick up my skis and walk down the rest of the way.

Speaking of Heavenly Valley lift, here it is:

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And here's a view of a different lift, but looking downwards:

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Going up the lifts were an extremely cold experience. And sometimes the lifts may stop suddenly due to whatever accidents or falls that may either happen at the bottom or the top, and you have to sit there and wait. Eeee. Not good if you have a fear of heights.

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This is the bottom of Big D, the other beginner's run.

And at the top of the slopes, you get views like these:
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This is quite a good picture (not mine), but I'm sure someone with more photography skills and a dSLR camera will get a much better shot than this.

Okayy, what an extremely long post.

But I'm not done!

Haha, I'll continue tomorrow. Watch out for part 2 of my ski experience.

Other parts can be found here:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


3.11. said...

Sounds like an excellent ski trip. There's another type of skiing that you should try if you get a chance - nordic (also known as cross country) skiing, which is a completely different animal. You will probably enjoy that as well.

crushedguava said...

I think, to try cross country skiing, you need to have at least a certain skill level first before attempting it.

As a matter of fact, I did see signs for cross country skiing when I was up in Hotham.