Trip Report: SUBW Beginners Ski Trip, 5-8 Aug 2005

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Party: Lucy Barbour , Mick Barta, Jo Boyd, Sabrina C , Tom Gleeson, Megan Higgins , Sok Hui, Anke Klostermeyer , Jacqui Knox, Kate Lord, Christian Peckham , Will Prino, Ashley Burke

After more than a month on the drawing board, the day of departure finally came and all was set for 14 Subwarians to head down to the snow. Then late on the afternoon of departure, after 2 out of the 4 cars had already set off, one of the drivers had to pull out, leaving Sabs and Megan suddenly without a driver. This was quickly resolved by Sabrina securing her mother's car, but the saga did not end there.

In the end there were 13 people in 4 cars, settling in for the long drive south. After extricating myself from a hectic day in the office I was just settling into the cruise around Lake George with my 3 passengers when the mobile phone began beeping ...

Megan and Sabs had just passed the second Yass turnoff, having continued along the Hume Highway instead of taking the Federal Highway to Canberra . Realising their mistake they decided to head towards Tumut. Then the phone crackled and went dead. What now?

So only 3 cars managed to regroup at Cooma late that night for ski hire, and it was 11 of us that made our way in convoy to the Island Bend camping area. A fresh dusting of snow had fallen that afternoon but the sky was clear and in the sharp cold we setup out tents under vivid stars. To set the scene for the next few days a few of us congregated around a half litre flask of port, and dealt with that before retiring for what was left of the night.

A beautiful morning greeted the campers with fresh snow offering inspiration, as if we needed any. We sorted out our gear and headed up to Guthega ski resort. There we were able to get in touch with Sabs and Megan who had arrived in Cooma at 3am after a long drive across the mountains via Kiandra and Adaminaby. They would arrive at Guthega around midday.

Most of the group were new to skiing, and unfortunately the first part of the trip is quite hard, with heavy 4 day packs on backs, and these strange long thin planks of fibreglass on feet, and you are actually supposed to slide on these through the snow to Guthega Dam. And snow is slippery stuff at the best of times. The easiest bit for most people was learning how to fall over. With Jacqui's help I began to ferry some packs down to the dam so at least people wouldn't have to struggle with them but when I got to Will's pack, I could barely lift it. It felt as if it was full of gold bullion, but apparently it was just a few tins of food that were responsible for all the weight.

But anyway, the weather was glorious and in time we were all at Guthega Dam. Then all we had to do was ski up a ridge to Guthega trig. Yes, that is UP the ridge on those funny slippery planks again. The first step was to learn a bit of edging technique and some time was spent on the lower slopes of the ridge getting familiar with the technique of climbing on skis. I began ferrying people's packs to higher ground and steady progress was made in warm sunny weather to our destination on top of the ridge. By about lunch time, most people were about half way up, and it was time for me to ski back down to Guthega to see if Megan and Sabs had arrived yet.

They had indeed made it to Guthega after many hours of driving across the mountains and were just about ready to set off and catch up with the rest of the group.

At last, by about mid afternoon, the whole group of 13 people were united at our camp site just beyond Guthega trig, and we began digging in our tents and setting up the camp. The gentle slopes around the campsite provided good territory on which to practise, and a little later on a group of us went on a ski a bit further up the ridge to get a sense of the magic of a late afternoon high up in the mountains.

As darkness fell we settled into our tents for dinner and port, and after that some of us crammed into Tom and Jacqui's tent for after dinner socializing and more port.

Saturday morning was cold and clear under a deep blue cloudless sky. This was fantastic weather for a trip out along the Rolling Grounds. Despite the fact that almost everyone in the group were complete beginners to skiing, many had picked up the technique quickly the day before and were ready to test their skills on the real thing. So it was a group of 9 of us that headed out that morning for a ski to Dicky Cooper Bogong. The slopes on the Rolling Grounds were perfect for practising turns, and soon the bare untracked snow was criss-crossed with our tracks - along with several punctuation marks.

Further out along the Rolling Grounds the group became acquainted with what it is that makes ski touring the ultimate. I have said it before and I'll say it again - nothing beats this. Nothing. The sense of space. Untracked snowy wilderness rolling into the distance. Glimpses of the massif of Jagungal to the North and the Victorian Alps to the south. Buttons of cloud below us to the west. And then just pointing a ski pole at a distant snow saddle and saying "let's go there". Picking a gently contoured route down into a shallow basin and then gliding down into it for lunch. What could be better than this?

After lunch we climbed the final slopes to the jumble of granite known as Dicky Cooper Bogong and from there surveyed the expansive views of gentle alpine meadows and meandering snowy streams. Then we made our way back to our tents on Guthega Ridge, quickly following the tracks we had made on the way out.

Back at the tents we rejoined the others, and in the late afternoon I took Sok, Sabs and Megan on a short ski near the tents. Will, decked out in full military outfit, constituted the group's anti-terrorist unit and conducted his covert military operations from inside his sleeping bag.

That night more port was consumed, and a bottle of wine was produced, sufficient inducement for another tent party.

Cloud blew in overnight and Sunday brought poor visibility and cold southerly winds. Today would be spent skiing in the vicinity of the tents. Plenty of energy would be spent despite the weather as the snow was excellent and there were plenty of enthusiastic people ready to hone their skills.

Kate mastered the art of turning using the following technique:

1. Point skis downhill

2. Gain speed until critical velocity is reached.

3. Start squealing

4. Plant head into snow creating terrific bow wave

5. Giggle for a minute or two with head pointing downhill and skis splayed out at comical angles.

6. Get up and face new direction

7. Repeat steps 1-6.

Jo decided that ski poles are a complete waste of time and did without them, skiing both uphill and downhill using arms only for balance. A snow board might be the go for Jo next time.

Jacqui mastered the art quickly and carved good turns. Even falling over was graceful, always landing on her bottom instead of her head.

For Lucy it was the snow gums. Weaving her way in amongst the trees was the thing for her, admiring the mottled green colours of the bark and of course the ice particles clinging to the trunks and leaves.

Christian got the hang of it quickly too, and never seemed to run out of energy, quietly skiing uphill and back downhill again all morning.

For Tom, snow camping is all a question of infrastructure and industrialization. Back at the tents he was tirelessly at work building snow walls around some of the tents and then set to work digging some kind of subway system, harbouring grand plans for a network of trenches and tunnels joining all the tents like some kind of ice citadel.

Megan, Sabs, Sok, Mick and Anke enjoyed each other's company back at the tents and Will continued his covert anti-terrorist operations from HQ Sleeping Bag.

We all headed back to the tents for an extended lunch and then a large group of us piled into Tom and Jacqui's tent for post lunch socializing and port, while Tom continued feverishly digging his trench system which at one stage threatened to undermine the foundations of the tent we were all in.

Then it was time for some more skiing until it got dark followed by a tent party in my tent after dinner to finish off the remaining port.

Monday dawned cold and windy, and a fresh dusting of snow had encrusted the surrounding landscape in white. The morning light made the icy trees and granite tors photogenic. Sadly it was time to pack up and get ready to leave. The clouds began to break up and it got warmer as the group made its way slowly down the ridge back to Guthega Dam. After sorting out all our gear into the various cars we all headed down to Jindabyne for a late lunch before finally parting company.

It was a terrific 4 days in great company. For me personally it was great to see so many enthusiastic people get out into backcountry skiing for the first time and learn to ski so well in such a short time. Yes, skiing is definitely the ultimate.

Ashley Burke

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