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Fabian Stocek 2023 Mens Merino Muster winner's trip to the Merino Muster and Kangaroo Hoppet.

 

The feeling skiing in Europe you might only get towards the spring when the warm days heat up the top few layers of snow and the evening frost transforms it together such that you can step outside of the manicured track and get on the wild, yet stiff terrain carrying you down wonderful valleys or meandering through tall trees. That kind of feeling you can get in Australia and New Zealand almost every day in their winter season. That is what skiing down and under is like

Similarities:

Both countries sit in the southern hemisphere, meaning when it's cold there it's warm in Europe and the other way around. (Which is great because if you cannot bear the European heat anymore you can cool yourself off by flying to snow). Due to their colonization history in both countries you also have to drive on the left side of the road. The currency is a dollar in both countries respectively and each is worth just under 15 czech crowns with the Australian dollar being slightly stronger.

Costs



Not everyone gets to go skiing in Australia and New Zealand, the sport there has unfortunately a fairly high financial barrier to entry and that is mainly due to the fact that in both countries you have to drive to a significant altitude to get to experience the magical and perhaps more applicable here is the privileged feeling on snow. Many of these resorts are also in the national park. You might need to pay a daily fee as high as 30 euros to be able to park your car there. With this fee you also support the grooming in the area, so there are no further fees to ski unless you go alpine skiing. If you rent equipment it is about 50 - 60 local dollars each, about 700 czech crowns, so you are likely better off bringing your own gear if you plan more than a couple days of skiing, which you absolutely should.




Ski tracksPartially due to the latitude being much closer to the equator than the Czech republic. It basically never snows at altitudes below 1000 meters. Similar to the Czech republic, except in Czech this snowline might be 500 meters lower. Perhaps painting a picture for the future skier generations. The season runs from the middle of June till the end of September. All ski tracks are made to be skied on the left side, just like driving in both countries, so watch out coming around the corners. It might actually be much easier to get used to this rule in a car because of the lines, but when you are trying to avoid someone coming head on with skis, turn to the left. A mistake could cost you a pole or two. If you don't want to crowd on the tracks choose the firn skiing towards Mount Spion, a must do for those wanting experience freedom on cross country skis.

The locals

The people who get to ski in Australia create a fun atmosphere. In both places it feels a bit like a mixture of cultures, mainly the US and central Europe. Which in itself of course creates its own unique culture of skiing. The skiers there are also very eager to meet skiers from other countries, so feel free to wear your Czech flag proudly to get to know other people.




Fauna and flora

The Fauna and flora in both countries are unlike in Europe. The birds are extremely loud, and some even sound like goats. There are a lot of parrots and very large birds munching on ripe oranges down in the valley. You will not see many wombats and kangaroos while skiing unfortunately, but you will see many around the roads in the valley, it is also one of the most common ways to cause a crash. When driving up to the ski resort in Australia, the tree line only stops at 1500m, so much of the drive you can admire large ferns and towering eucalyptus trees. just watch out so you don't swerve off the windy road.

Australia - Falls creek




There are 5 resorts in Australia which host reliably more than 10 km of groomed trails. They are in the Great Dividing range of mountains consisting of the fittingly named Australian Alps and the Snowy mountains. The highest mountain in that range being Mount Kosciuszko at 2228m. It is also the highest mountain in Australia. In this article I will mainly talk about Falls creek, probably the more famous ski resort due to the International race they host, the Kangaroo hoppet, which is part of the Worldloppet series. Falls creek is situated about a 5 hour car drive from Melbourne and about 7 hours from Sydney.

At about 1600 m above sea level it hosts up to 70 km of trails, which are groomed and plethora more if you are a fan of crust skiing. The trails at Falls creek are in many ways similar to Horni Misecky. At the parking lot level there is a race course for FIS races including a 5 km loop and then one can ski up the cattrack to the top of the mountain with a variety of little connectors on the main McKay loop which also brings you to the highest mountain of the resort called McKay. From the top there during nice conditions one can firn ski all the way to Hotham ski resort which is about 50km as the crow flies. The race course of the Kangaroo Hoppet runs around the reservoir from the FIS trails. The race was unfortunately canceled this year for the first time, due to a lack of snow for over 1000 participants. It was an unusually low snow year.

One of the more famous Australian cross country skiers is probably Phil Bellingham. He has attended 3 olympics and currently works as a ski patroller at Falls creek while working on his skimountaneering career alongside some nordic training. The man never stops. He is a native of Mount Beauty and Bogong village halfway up the road to Falls creek. Both of those villages have been established as short term villages housing workers and families who worked on the construction of a large hydro project which runs through the valley from the resort consisting of 3 dams and hydroelectric turbines. Due to the surrounding nature many families decided to stay after the construction ended. Unfortunately the houses were not built as a long term solution, so if you live in the village you might find yourself having the air conditioning with heating on all the time due to the lofty construction.

Other attractions:

Since you descend almost a 1000 meters in elevation down from skiing, it is considerably warmer in Mount Beauty than in Falls creek. In the afternoons and evenings especially, it is a great time to go kangaroo watching as they are most active and almost everywhere around

the town, but they prefer to eat the grass on the golf course. If you get lucky you might even see a small one hop in and out of a pocket. There are a couple of other ski towns to explore but don't expect a coffee shop bustling downtown for apres ski. A few establishments are only open for the weekend. The next town over has a brewery which serves nice burgers and another section of national park which hosts a few more kilometers of skiing but only in the midst of the winter. If you want to experience a bustling cultural city, you might be better off taking a couple extra days in either Sydney or Melbourne.

Melbourne

In this multicultural Mecca you will find unsurprisingly a fairly large Asian influence with many delivery bicycles.

Australians, especially ones who live in Melbourne, love a game of “footy” also known as Australian football which is like if Rugby and American Football had a baby. One of the rules which might seem strange is that the ball can only be punched with a hand and not thrown. Yet there are still 100 000 people who watch the finale in one large stadium called the Melbourne Cricket ground. Most teams come from around Mellbourne so it is geographically a very tight game, but somehow extremely popular.

If you still have not had enough nature, then consider going to Philips Island. You can see and even pet Koala bears in a sanctuary and in the evening you can go to a beach to watch many small penguins get out of the seas from hunting fish all day and sleep in their nest on the coast line. An amazing natural wonder.

Include a trail map for both

The New Zealand Snow farm

The appropriately named snow farm sits at (1520)m with a treeless gravel dirt road leading up to the resort. In New zealand the landscape around the road leading up towards the Snow farm is more moon-like with its red clay earth unraveling vistas of the many nearby mountain ranges like mount Aspiring national park. This gravel dirt road is shared for skiers and also for a car testing facility which keeps a fairly secretive operation with groomed roads in order to test the responsiveness of the latest car models on snow.





The trails

The trails themself are unlike any other in Europe. There are no trees and due to the fairly consistent wind which can be utilized for kite skiing, most of the tracks are hidden in a valley reminding of an open mine with ever so slowly inclining and declining ascents and descents. The larger loops lead you down the valley and past backcountry huts which you can rent for an overnight stay and the Snow farm staff will even deliver your backpacks for you. There

are 3 of these huts all accessible from the loop. There are magnificent views on the way back to the start with Cardrona resort on the other side as well as all the way to the Remarkables, which is a ski area where some of the scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed. Each year there are a few members of the US ski team who are there for summer ski training. They also take part in the main race of the year, which is the Merino Muster, a 42 km skate race taking you a couple times through the 20 km loop around the snow farm. If you want to ski against the olympic stars, this is your chance to do it.

Other attractionsIf you are longing for a delicious burger after a long ski, while enjoying the snowy vistas, drive down from the snow farm and consider stopping at the Cardrona Hotel, an old school establishment with its iconic car in the front, one of the more photographed places on the southern Island. It is really just an old building with an old car, but there are not as many of these in New Zealand.

Wanaka

After a long cold ski, consider enjoying an outdoor sauna on lake Wanaka. With amazing view of the lake during a sunset and jumping in for a refreshing lake dip, this will bring you to your senses. The river is so clear you can very easily see down 5 meters and if you want to experience more of it, rent a kayak and float down the crystal clear rivers in the surroundings. With a developed waterfront, and bustling food truck scene, Wanaka is the closest city to the snow farm.

Queenstown

If you are only coming to ski, consider flying to Queestown as it is only about an hour drive from the snow farm, versus 6 hours from Christchurch. Besides the gorgeous lake town, voted the most European like city, Queenstown also host Ferk Burger, which you will recognize by its very long lunch line and deliciously smelling burgers and fries. If you still have not had enough American style dining, feel free to visit Cookie time, a local New Zealand shop serving hot cookies in every way you can imagine. With your burger or a cookie stroll around the lake front, while pondering whether you should sign up for the bungee jumping next day, offered by many outdoor adventure companies.


Fabian was the Winner of the 2023 Merino Muster and also awarded his WorldLoppet Master Diploma His friend Christian Winker was second



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