“Mate, we haven’t even started exploring this mountain yet,” Mount Buller’s ski lifts operations manager Nick Reeves chuckles as he watches me fall flat on the snow, panting like a real-life, snowboarder-kitted version of Thomas the Tank Engine.
We’ve just spent a full morning riding narrow chutes, skiing through trees and finding untracked fresh snow, sometimes just metres from well-known runs, and we’ve barely seen a skier or snowboarder.
“People think this place is crowded,” Reeves says. “Yeah, sure, if you stick to the busy runs. But mate, if you want to really explore Buller, you’ll spend a lot of time by yourself.”
Mt Buller is Australia’s most underrated ski resort, hands-down.
The main reason for that, veteran ski patroller Ed Mahon says, is that you can never see the ski area in its entirety. “There’s not a single spot you can see more than about 25 per cent of the resort,” he says.
“No photographer can ever capture it, either, unless they shoot from a helicopter. But this is a huge resort, you won’t even begin to get a sense of how big it is till you move around it, and really got out there and explore. And most people don’t truly explore.”
I’m lucky today. I’m riding with Reeves – and no one knows Mt Buller as well as this bloke. He’s worked here for over 30 years and knows every nook and cranny.
We take off down a run I’ve boarded a hundred times but Reeves changes course, banking hard left and veers into the trees. The pitch gets steeper, but the trees are evenly spaced so we can wind our way through, throwing up so much snow I can’t see ahead for a moment.
“There’s always unridden powder around here on a good season,” he says on the chairlift ride up. “There’s so much good tree-skiing at Buller, and there’s no other mountain where you can ski between ancient woolly butt trees (on the north side of the resort at the bottom of the Tyrol Chairlift).
We venture over to the Chamois Chairlift, on the resort’s south side.
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Ski All Day Without Lift Lines
Between here and Wombat Bowl, there are over 25 marked runs, few of which ever attract many skiers (all are for intermediates to advanced levels).
“It’s the bits and pieces between marked runs at Buller that are the best,” Mahon tells me later. “Even on the busiest days – a Saturday in mid August even – you won’t get many skiers through here.
"There will always be crowds at the well-known spots, but here you’ll ski all day without standing in a lift line. You could stand and wait for five minutes on some of the runs on the south side and you won’t see a single skier come down. People think we’re pulling their legs when we tell them that.”
While Mount Buller has some of Australia’s most extreme ski terrain (try the chutes from Fanny’s Finish and beyond and you’ll be skiing down narrow slopes over 40 degrees in pitch that rival any runs in Europe or North America), it’s the secret treasures it offers every level of skier or boarder that make the resort stand out.
“When we get over 80 centimetres of snow in a season all the terrain is open and the volume of the terrain is amazing,” Mahon says.
Lifts With No Skiers
I haven’t boarded the same run twice with Reeves all morning, and as soon as we get away from the best-known runs, I don’t see another skier. Instead, we stop and talk to lift attendants who have no skiers to help on to lifts.
“It’s so easy to get anywhere on this mountain that it feels a million miles from anywhere, or anyone,” Reeves says. “In 20 minutes you can be anywhere in this resort, feeling totally lost.
"We’re not even talking about getting into the backcountry here, this is sidecountry; it’s terrain only just off the groomed trails.”
3 Victorian gems to test the best
1. Mary's Slide
Mount Hotham, located in the Extreme Zone. Mary’s Slide is steep and challenging with a lot of natural jumps and features and some great tree runs and no crowds.
It’s one of the toughest in-bound runs in Australia and is the best place to go on a powder day because you’ll always find big stashes of fresh snow.
Mount Hotham, also in the Extreme Zone. Lindsay’s can deceive skiers and boarders because it starts off wide open, but as soon as you hit the tree zone everything changes.
The area is known for steep cliffs and rocks and the trails can get very windy with little margin for error. Many skiers and boarders have ended up in creeks.
3. Cabbage Patch
Falls Creek, located off the Summit Chairlift. It’s a powder trap, so come here after a night of fresh snow and ride a sequence of natural drops that can be linked together.