The General - The Heart of Mt Hotham

16 January 2013

I was sitting on a stool in a bar at Mt Hotham listening to the Ben Smith Band - a Melbourne-based outfit - crank out their unique blend of folk rock. I glanced out the window to look over the stunning peaks of the Victorian High Country and thought, "this would have to be the coolest place to appreciate the astonishing natural beauty of Australia's alpine region."

mt_hotham The View Over Mt Hotham

The General is the social centrepiece of Mt Hotham - a destination where skiers can enjoy a delicious meal after a satisfying day on the slopes and, in the summer months, cyclists and hikers can drop by for a refreshing ale.

However this entertainment hot spot hasn't always been the beating heart of this fantastic Victorian alpine resort as co-owner, Darren explains, while we drive through the village.

"When we got the place 13 years ago after it had gone into receivership, it was run down. Over the years, we've been slowly building it up and renovating. First we added the upstairs part and extended the balcony. We also built the apartments.  We're the biggest independent operator up here. All the other places are owned and leased from the lift company. So that's one of the reasons why we are the local's place because we are genuinely independent," said Darren.

"Today The General is the number one entertainment hub in Mt Hotham. There is always something going on from breakfast to close. There's an energy in the place with lots of live music and a lot of people with heaps of spirit."

As a ski resort, Mt Hotham experienced significant growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And while it boasts 245 hectares of skiable terrain and 13 lifts, it's the location of the village that makes the resort special – Mt Hotham is one of only a few alpine locations in the world where the infrastructure is on top of the mountain. Therefore skiers and snowboarders traverse down the mountain into the valley and catch the lifts back to the top.

"I like its remoteness up here. Being in Victoria you're not far away from everything but you're a long way away from everything as well. It brings that sort of people up here. It has a lot of advanced ski runs and because it's on top of a hill, it seems to get adventurous souls up here - it has that spirit about it. It's a resort for people who really love skiing and snow." said Darren.

"This is the Heavenly Valley chair lift," continued Darren as we approached one of the resort's principle lifts.

"There's a whole heap of different types of runs into Heavenly Valley; it has wide open runs with steep pitches, it's got gullies, tree runs; it's got lots of different runs that are perfect for the intermediate to the advanced skier."

Darren goes to on to tell me that there are plans in place for a new lift near the Heavenly Valley lift that would, once operational, open up even more skiable terrain, potentially up to 100 more hectares. This is certainly an alpine resort that's determined to attract both serious and leisurely skiers to its slopes.

As we drive towards the start of the iconic Mt Feathertop - Razorback Ridge walk, I comment on the volume of cyclists determined to conquer the steep incline of the mountain roads.

"The Great Alpine Road is getting used more and more all the time, particularly by cyclists. More power to them. When we were first here there were one or two cyclists. Now there's one hundred a day. It's the challenge," said Darren.

The Victorian Tourism Authority are actively encouraging cyclists to explore the countryside with the Seven Peaks Challenge of which Mt Hotham is one of the peaks. The General is the official passport stamping point for cyclists who reach the village of Mt Hotham. On that day, the team at The General had already stamped 150 passports.

Heading back towards The General, Darren says that together with his business partner, Steven, they're only about half way through their planned renovations on the property. They plan to add two more luxury apartments to the four that they built three years ago. And they want to further develop the already impressive landscaped garden area, which comes complete with a rug available to guests of The General.

Darren and I head upstairs from the main bar area so that I can admire that function space the team created for weddings and corporate events; it can accommodate about 120 people comfortably. Needless to say, the views from the upstairs balcony are mesmerising.

As an avid hiker, the scenery was too enticing that I wanted to be a part of it. So I bid Darren farewell for the moment and take myself down into the valley, along what's dubbed the Huts Walking Track, to investigate the location where the film, The Silver Brumby starring Russell Crowe was filmed in 1993. Hiking through the glorious summer alpine terrain is certainly a wonderful way to end a great day in the Victorian High Country.

 The replica Silver Brumby Hut

Lyndon Barnett

Guided by curiosity and a sense of adventure, Lyndon travelled independently to 69 countries on six continents. As such, travel is Lyndon's only addiction. He enjoys with equal measure - scaling the peaks of a South American mountain at altitude, attending opera in a European Opera House or hunting for a bargain in an Asian market.