Huskies and Helicopters: A Non-Skier's Guide to Adventuring in Victoria's Alpine Villages
May 30, 2018
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Skiing and snowboarding might be the headline events when you're talking alpine holidays, but they're far from the only show in town. In fact, to really experience the majesty of the mountains during the snow season, you've got to see the white-cloaked landscape from a few different angles — dog's eye, bird's eye and shut-eye among them.
And you don't need to go as far as the ski resorts of Canada, Switzerland or Japan to do it. Some of the best features of these famous winter wonderlands have been adopted by the newer resorts of Victoria's High Country — and they're a lot closer to home. A long weekend, or a more luxurious week, is all you need to get a proper winter short break at Mount Buller, Hotham or Baw Baw, where snowfields meet eerie gumtree forests and icy adventures end with you defrosting fireside.
Whether you ski or not, base your plans around some of the extraordinary snow experiences in this article, and you'll have a holiday that's truly memorable.
GO DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW WITH HUSKY DOGS
Here's a sight straight out of the Arctic Circle: groups of friendly husky dogs, at home in their preferred climate. These kinds of sled dogs were bred to help with the transportation of humans and goods across snowy terrain, but now the arrival of planes, cars and snowmobiles have taken most of the burden off them, dog sledding is mainly a recreational activity.
Contrary to what you might expect, this is a quiet and peaceful way to explore the open plateaus and sleeping forests, as there's little sound beyond the drumming of paws on snow. Give it a go yourself with Australian Sled Dog Tours in Mount Buller. Their tours range from a brisk 30 minute introduction to a more strenuous 3.5 hours, during which you'll actually learn how to 'drive' a team of Siberian huskies. Importantly, all tours start with plenty of time for pats and cuddles, so you can get fully acquainted with your puppers.
If you're on Mount Baw Baw, look up operator Howling Huskys instead. During the full moon, they offer a special three-hour night tour that ends with a campfire, wine and hot chocolate. They also run tours in Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain.
Both of these operators treat their dogs kindly and care for them after their sledding retirement. But if you don't feel good about being carried by an animal, then Australian Sled Dog Tours does offer a meet-and-greet-only option with their huskies for just $20. Alternatively, plough onwards to other activities.
GET AN AERIAL VIEW FROM A HELICOPTER
If you've always wanted to treat yourself to a helicopter ride, the mountains are the destination to do it. Few landscapes are this dramatic. Rugged escarpments plunge into still-green valleys, mountain peaks rise right in front of you, and lonely stockmen's huts appear in isolated wildernesses. You'll have Instagram fodder for days.
Alpine Helicopter Charter offers a number of scenic rides that are perfect in the winter season, including a three-hour "Rooftop Tour" of Victoria's highest peaks. The same company also runs a Mount Buller Express, if you want to fly rather than drive up the mountain and arrive at your lodgings with an entrance worthy of Kim and Kanye.
If you're in Mount Hotham, look up scenic flights with Forest Air Helicopters instead.
GET ACTIVE IN THE OUTDOORS
Skiing and snowboarding aren't the only sports to do at this altitude; they're just the most serious. If you're more in the mood to let off steam than work up a sweat, try the Snowshoe to Fondue experience at Mount Hotham. Run by Alpine Nature Experience, the sunset trek is made easier by the provision of snowshoes, which keep you "floating" over rather than sinking into the snow. Best of all, once you arrive at your destination — a remote tipi hut with fireplace — you're rewarded with a long rest and a traditional Swiss fondue of melted cheese.
For those who really want to cut loose, however, poking food with sticks is just a warm-up. You'll want to round up your friends and book a session of laser tag in the snowy outdoors. Operators Howling Huskys have courses set up in Mount Hotham, as well as Mount Baw Baw and Dinner Plain. You'll need a group of four to eight.
DEFROST BY A FIRE IN A SKI CHALET
Melbourne isn't short of après-ski-themed pop-up bars at this time of year, but nothing compares to the real thing. If you're in the prime après-ski spot of Mt Buller, head to Snow Pony, one of the town's more foodie establishments, for tapas in true chalet style (think log walls and antler chandeliers). Afterwards, savour a glühwein in the uber-Austrian surrounds of Herbie's bar at Hotel Pension Grimus and the hills will truly feel alive.
When in Mount Hotham, make a beeline for the drinking and dining areas of Zirky's, the European-inspired lodge complex where Wednesday's schnitzel night is an institution. For drinks, check out Blizzard Brewery at nearby Dinner Plain. Not only is it a cosy spot to hang out, their beers are made with ultra-pure water of melted snow. Plus, you'll be able to say you drank at Australia's highest brewery (it's 1.5km above sea level).
GET VERTICAL IN AN ONSEN OR SPA
Any spa is good, but a Japanese-style onsen is glorious. Onsen hot springs are traditionally outdoors, and while Victoria's mountains can't naturally produce the geothermal heat of a volcanic island, the heated outdoor bath at Onsen Retreat + Spa in Dinner Plain gets pretty close to recreating the atmosphere. The shake-up you get dashing outdoors in your togs to get to the steaming pool is everything. Massages, beauty treatments and fitness classes are also available here, if you want to get even more healthful.
On Mount Buller, meanwhile, a good option is the Breathtaker on High Spa Retreat. The treatments here are inspired, and use the spa's own signature Breathe oils and masks. Splash out on the 2.5-hour Mountain Escape Ritual — it starts with a foot massage before your body is given proper attention by way of a dry brush, mask and massage.
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