As Thredbo fades in my rear-view mirror, I’m fighting an extremely strong urge to turn back and stay for as long as it will have me. The last few days have been the best skiing I’ve ever done. And no, I’m not going to add the oft-quoted qualifier, “in Australia”. I mean the best skiing I’ve ever done, to date.
It wasn’t just because of the snow, although certainly, I got lucky with 17cm of fresh powder falling over 36 hours between days one and three of my four-day trip. It was because of the whole package.
“We’re focusing on elevating the experience,” Stuart Diver, Thredbo’s General Manager, tells me over lunch when we meet two days earlier. We’re sitting at Kareela Hutte, a ski-in/ski-out venue serving classic European fare. He orders chicken schnitzel, I tuck it into a plate of gnocchi, and both are perfect.
Care is being given to every detail. Lift ticket sales have been capped to minimize lines, meaning you can finish runs and ski straight onto the chair, even on the weekend. On-mountain eateries are operating with strategic mini-menus to ensure they can turn out quality food – and fast – even while there’s a shortage of skilled hospitality workers.
And then there’s the fact that Thredbo is the first Australian snow resort to have its operations powered by renewable energy. It’s a multi-faceted approach.
“We’ve got the longest runs, we’ve got the steepest terrain, we’ve got the village and the apres,” he says. “Now we’re focusing on taking that to the next level so people can experience it in new ways.”
A new dawn
A beacon appears in the darkness, and as it draws closer and reveals itself as a brightly lit snowcat, I know I’m in for something special. Thredbo launched its Sunrise Sessions in 2021 and brought it back this year due to popular demand, treating excited guests to epic views every Tuesday for $149 each.
It’s 6:25 am as I hand over my skis and bound into the cabin, and the sky lightens ever so slightly as we start rumbling our way up the mountain to the top of Karels T-Bar, the highest lifted point in Australia. The first thing to do when we jump out at the top is to ring the bell, marking our ascent. The toll rings out but quickly dissipates as the vibrations vanish into the atmosphere.
We stamp our feet and flex our fingers to get the blood flowing as the sun peeks out and the mountains glow orange and pink.
But that’s just the start. We jump back into the snowcat and roll down to Eagle’s Nest for a champagne breakfast, filling our bellies with fruit, fresh pastries, scrambled eggs and bacon, and bubbles. But not too many bubbles, warns Jono Brauer, an Australian Olympic skier, and our host, because today we get first tracks on Supertrail, on which fresh snow has been groomed to perfection, forming irresistible rows of corduroy.
It’s the first sunrise session post-COVID world, and stoke is high for guests and staff alike.
“It’s testament to the fact that we’re back,” he says. “It’s really exciting to be able to host these events and have people so the demand is through the roof and it just shows that we’re back to business.”
Over the top
This is my first time skiing at Thredbo, and while I enjoy groomers as much as the next person, my heart has always been in the trees. No surprise, then, that I jump at the chance to don some skins and make my debut in the backcountry.
It takes a bit to get used to the ungroomed terrain (my skis awkwardly skitter across more than one stretch of wind-blown ice), but deep in Monero-Ngarigo country, on a bluebird day with pillowy powder and the whole place to ourselves, it’s love at first stride.
There are three options available – I opt for the “Introduction to Backcountry”, which is suitable for upper-intermediate skiers and focuses on basic skills and gear familiarisation. At $199, which includes an experienced guide, a backcountry pack (including an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe), and a backcountry access pass (which takes you up the lift and saves you the hike), it feels like a steal.
More advanced backcountry skiers can opt for “Beyond Boundaries”, which heads into more challenging terrain, or “Advanced Adventurer”, which sniffs out Australia’s best backcountry spots. And as you’d expect, non-skiers and non-riders can also opt for a guided backcountry snowshoeing tour.
“Demand has been really high,” says Alex Parsons, the Backcountry Head Guide, as we stop for a snack break. “That’s probably because of COVID, the resorts were closed so people had to find other ways to get out there. It’s really cool to see, it’s a special place – it’s very spiritual, we’re lucky to experience it.”
Stuart Diver’s ambitions don’t end with this season’s offerings. He’s a man with a (big) plan.
Top of the list is enhancing the mountain’s snowmaking capability, closely followed by a number of development applications. These include developing a new Merritt’s Mountain House, replacing the Thredbo Bobsled with a new Alpine Coaster, developing more mountain biking trails to bring guests to the valley in the summer, updating the resort’s lifting infrastructure, and developing the Alpine Hotel.
“This is Australia’s premium ski and snowboard destination, but we’ve got a lot to offer year-round,” he tells me, as we finished our coffees and prepared to head out. “It’s definitely going to keep us busy.”
Right now, as I accelerate up the hill, I’m mentally scanning my calendar, searching for a window. Thredbo has won a place in my heart. I’ll be back; the question is how soon I can make it possible.
Kirrily Schwarz traveled as a guest of Thredbo Resort. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com