I’m standing in a group of five – three participants, two guides – making my first attempt to affix nylon skins to my skis as part of Thredbo Resort’s Introduction to Backcountry tour. The two long, flat strips have a furry texture on one side, and an adhesive on the other.
Once they’re on, I’m told, I’ll be able to ski uphill with no worries at all.
A sensible person would query why we’re going uphill instead of down. Isn’t that the point? They would be correct, but instead of riding chairlifts and sticking to groomers, we’re embracing our intrepid side. The ethos of backcountry skiing is to “earn your turns”, a statement worn as a badge of honor by those motivated enough to go out of bounds, schlep uphill, and explore the mountains.
Alex Parsons, Thredbo’s backcountry head guide, says demand has been increasing since Covid when the resorts were closed and snow enthusiasts had to find other ways to get out here. “It’s really cool to see. It’s a special place – it’s very spiritual,” she says. “This range is 400 million years old, so it’s a real privilege to be up here.”
The introductory tour costs $199 and is suitable for upper-intermediate skiers. It focuses on basic safety skills and gear familiarisation, which includes a backpack with an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, as well as a Backcountry Access Pass, which lets you skip the initial hike by riding the lifts to the top.
Within minutes, my skin is on, and I’m taking my first steps forward. It’s surprisingly easy – they grip the white stuff so firmly it’s like walking on a carpet. The transition is straightforward for skiers – simply a matter of attaching the skins and unclipping your heels so you can walk. Snowboarders can switch to a split board, a special type of board that separates into two pieces for the uphill commute and clips together for the ride down, or carry their own and hike on snowshoes.
It’s love at first stride. We take off up a short hill, getting used to our gear, and then transition back to ski/ride mode. In front of us a wide and sheltered expanse of untouched snow beckons.
“It’s time for some zooms,” Parsons announces. The range has seen a fresh dump of about 17cm of snow in the previous 36 hours, which is now sitting on an icy base. “There’s an avalanche risk today, so we’re going to keep it mellow,” she cautions. “All I ask is that you stay behind me. If I stop, you stop.”
And with that, she’s off, her green jacket and purple pants contrasting vividly with the pristine snow as she winds her way down the hill. We follow like ducklings, before our second guide, Jo Larkins, brings up the rear. The ungroomed terrain poses some interesting challenges – I’m an okay skier, competent on groomers, and comfortable in the trees, but I’ll never win any awards for style. Especially out here.
My skis skitter across more than one stretch of wind-scoured ice between pillows of powder, but I’m grinning from ear to ear as I pull up after our first run. It’s exhilarating. There are no beginners to dodge, no resort infrastructure to avoid, and no signs of civilization impeding the magnificent view.
We pause on the leeward side of some boulders for a snack and a quick lesson with some safety drills, before putting our skins back on – considerably faster this time – and starting our next ascent.
Backcountry skiing is just one of the new activities Thredbo is offering to elevate the experience of its guests. The resort already has Australia’s longest runs and steepest terrain, as well as a cozy village and booming après-ski scene. Now it’s adding to that with various backcountry tours, a new sunrise experience with a Champagne breakfast, an exclusive on-mountain supper club at Kareela Hutte, snowcat dinners, the Saturday night fireworks and flare run, an impressive line-up of musical talent, and an array of fabulous food. The resort has also capped ticket sales so guests can ski straight onto the lifts, even on weekends.
“We want you to be able to spend as much time as possible out there,” Thredbo general manager Stuart Diver says. “What we have is special, and we’re really focusing on taking that to the next level.”
More advanced backcountry skiers can opt for the Beyond Boundaries tour, which heads into more challenging terrain, or Advanced Adventurer, which sniffs out Australia’s best backcountry spots. This terrain is also accessible to non-skiers and non-riders, who can take a guided backcountry snowshoeing tour.
As I doff my skin and tackle a steep descent into a gully, I realize skiing doesn’t get any better than this.
Parsons is right, this is a special place.
Thredbo is two and a half hours from Canberra, six hours from Sydney, and seven hours from Melbourne by car. Qantas also runs seasonal direct flights from Brisbane to Snowy Mountains Airport in Cooma. From there, take a shuttle for the hour-long journey to the ski field.
The writer traveled as a guest of Thredbo Resort. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com