Mountainwatch | Words Drew Joliwizc Photos: Chris Hocking
In recent times skiing for me has been about exploring the Australian backcountry. To the untrained eye the Aussie Alps may appear underwhelming in stature, but those are untrained eyes – those in the know hold a different view. Images of beauty and ruggedness, our mountains are some the oldest in the world, worn and sculpted through the ravages of time and steeped in history, they have a story tell.
With the ebbs and flows of another Covid season emotions were frayed. We’re all human and it was another up and down year. Freeskiing is about expression and freedom feelings hard to come by in a Pandemic. Can we go? Can’t we go? When can we go? These questions were on repeat again and again.
By late September spring had sprung, the Victorian high ground was calling and there’s none higher than Mt. Bogong. I know, I know, we went there last year, the editor nearly didn’t run this. As the crow flies the Main Range isn’t that far away, why not got there? Well, for those who reside south of the border the Sentinel or Watson’s Crags may as well have been the French Alps or the Chugach. It was in NSW and last September the border was shut, and besides, in 2020 we never made it to West Peak.
As good as the skiing is that is not why humans first visited the area. Bogong and its surrounds are rich in Indigenous culture and the region was home to the Yaitmathong people. In the Waywurru and Dhudhuroa languages the mountain is named Warkwoolowler, which when translated means place to collect Bogong Moths. Visiting tribes sought permission from the traditional land owners to spend the warmer summer months at the higher altitudes feasting on the protein rich delicacy. Often walking for days different clans would come together, feast and hold sacred ceremonies.
On the summit of Warkwoolowler you can feel the presence of the First Nation Elders. While skiers will consider our recreation ceremonial, it pales into insignificance when reflecting upon the history of the clans who roamed the earth before us. While taking the upmost care when acknowledging the Yaitmathong people, our reason for being there was different.
Perched on the outer limits of the Bogong Massif lies West Peak and some of the most stunning terrain in the Victorian Alps. As a kid I can remember being at Hotham flicking through a ski mag and coming across a photo taken by Andrew Barnes of Australian skiing legend Bill Barker ripping the very western edge of Bogong. It must have been the early nineties. Greg Stump’s Blizzard of Aahhh’shad been released a few years prior, re-inventing the freeskiing movement.
This was a golden era. Here was a classic photo of Bill busting perfect jump turns on long skinny skis with his trademark dreadlocks flowing freely in the breeze. A timeless image, it could easily have been Scott Schmidt in Chamonix, France. Only it wasn’t, it was Bill charging West Peak Australia with Mt. Beauty thousands of feet below. That image stayed with me and fueled my desire to ski the West Peak.
Some things change, some things stay the same. While skis have changed, the striking views and rich green pastures of the Kiewa Valley remain the same, as does the grace and style with which Bill still skis today (and he still has dreads).
Our objectives for West Peak were ambitious. Most people ski this zone as part of an overnight trip, but our plan was up, out and back in a day. Leaving early, Chris Hocking, Dylan Robinson and myself travelled light, resisting the temptation to ski the other lines passed along the way.
It was a hard slog, but it was a stunning spring day, warm and sunny, and by late morning the snow surface was silky smooth corn. We were fortunate to be the only one’s skiing ‘Way out West’ and had the place to ourselves and skied a few different lines with Chris capturing some stunning pics.
As the sun drifted across the evening sky we began the suffer fest back down the mountain. In truth it’s not that bad and a quick pit-stop at Michell Hut for some whisky and a break made the final descent that bit easier. By 6pm we were back in civilisation. It was a big day, 12 hours door to door and while we were all beat, we were satisfied as we’d just ticked a bucket list box.
If the turbulent state of the world over the past two years has shown me anything, it is to appreciate what we have at right at our door. Maybe it takes a once in a hundred-year event to take stock, slow down and explore our own backyard, but there is no need to wait another ten decades for the next homegrown adventure. Where will it be? Not sure, but it will be a different destination in the Aussie Alps as there is so much more to explore.
This story is from the 2022 issue of Chillfactor, Australia’s premier ski magazine