Ski Mountaineering Thredbo

In late August 2020 I went for a 3 night winter camping and ski mountaineering to Thredbo. I met our guide Mike in Jindabyne, and his other two guests, Jon and Ian, in Thredbo. As it wasn’t clear how fit they were, it was in the end decided to take the cable car instead to walk uphill. Given the fact that we already lost some time, it was a wise decision in the end. On top of the cable car we put our skins on the ski and started out tour. The two nights we set up camp at Rams Head North. It is quite sheltered for normal wind conditions. As the wind became stronger the final night, we moved a bit down into the upper snow gums.

The organisation of the tour was quite chaotic. Our guide Mike had for sure several decades experience, but I’m not aware of any formal qualification. He was for sure not an IFMGA guide, but more a photographer without clear planning and leadership skills. So the few km to Rams Head turned out pretty long, as every 5min someone stopped for some reason. Either to fix some of it’s gear, take a photo, have a drink or a snack. In the end, we never came into a good walking rhythm. Once at the peak we needed to dig ourselves into the snow to provide a plane area for the tents and some wind protection. In the evening the guys were busy making plenty of photos.

The second day we eventually went to Simkin Peak (after having no plan, when setting off camp – well, it’s a bit of a problem if you start walking, but don’t where you actually want to go) with one ski run partly down the valley until the treeline starts. I did pretty good at the steep section, but then the snow conditions changed and I fell in the sluggish deep snow. I was quite fast, as I wanted to take the momentum to reach the other side of the hill. In the end I injured my right shoulder, which wasn’t fun in the evening when sleeping on the thin mattress. For the climb up our guide insisted to go straight instead of doing kick turns. I asked him, why he doesn’t do them? He said, he never learnt and is instead doing V-turns 🤨. WTF. I mean kick turns is the only thing you need to know, when doing ski mountaineering. All in all it took us over 8h for a few km forth and back. Luckily the weather was good, but could have turned bad otherwise.

The next day, all we did was changing camp. Starting to dick snow out again, and then they went off and did photos in the afternoon. In between, we had lots of wind. It wasn’t clear if we should keep on our skins or not. Mike wasn’t clear in his instructions, so in the end everyone did what he thought is best. Mike did one stop to get off his skins again, directly behind a boulder to seek shelter. Unfortunately, we were directly in a von Kármán vortex street (Surprise, Surprise…). I lost one glass of my sun glasses, and couldn’t see anything as the snow particles glued my eyes while I repaired it. That only took 5 minutes, but was quite frightening. A spare pair of goggles would have been handy. Eventually we got out of the wind and into the shelter snow gums. No doubt, Mike has a lot of self-taught experience and I learnt some tricks for camping in the winter. But he lacks clear planning and leadership skills, at least in my experience. After I complained that we’re just sitting around and doing nothing, Mike at least agreed to ski up to Rams Head in the late afternoon, which we reached after one hour or so. After the night in the snow gums, we just traversed to the ski resort and the top stations of the cable car, and then skied down the normal slope to Thredbo.

After the snow camping I booked another 2 days for skiing in Thredbo on the slopes. The first day was quite ok. On top you’ve icy snow, the middle part was ok, and in the bottom it’s all slushy from late morning. But as all borders were closed, even the ones to Victoria, that was the only option to do some skiing in 2020 (except for Perisher valley). And as such Thredbo resort takes it from the living. The day pass costed 150AUD, and needed to be booked in advance, as demand was high. All Sydneysiders seemed to went into the snow. Well ok I thought, then let’s do it. The second day on the slopes went worse. I was up on the lift early (so didn’t read any SMS). By accident it was the only lift which opened early that day. Then I had three runs on a T-bar lift to the top of the mountain. The wind was very heavy. For the last 20m on the lift, you got bombarded with frozen snow and ice balls. That wasn’t too much fun, and I already thought, I’m not going to do that much longer. Then all of a sudden they put all lifts “on hold”. I thought ok, just sit here and wait. I got my thermos bottle with me, and enjoyed a cup of tea. After less than 5min piste control came, and insisted we have to ski down. I said, ok, but I’m going do ski down the other slope, where you need to traverse a bit uphill before going down again. He said, no you can’t that section is already closed. I thought, I’ve my skins with me. If I would want, I could go all the way up the mountain. Anyway, he pulled us with his ski-doo to the other side. The slopes were super empty by that time, and we had a fun ride down.

Guess what, the children’s lift on the flat was still open (the whole day). As such the resort never closed, and as I had already exactly 4 runs on the lift, I wasn’t eligible for any refund. And even if I would have read the message before, you only get a 150$ credit for Thredbo resort. What should I do with that? I needed to return my ski hiring at that day, and my rental car the next morning. Even if I would have chosen to extend, there were no tickets available for the next week. And Perisher valley, which is just on the other side of the mountain is operated by another company, as such you need another pass, and your pass from Thredbo is not valid there. So I thought, Ok, then I train a bit my ski skills on the flat for that 150$…as a lot of other people also thought so. In the end, you queued for 20 min to have a less than 5 min run. And there was a lot of “active queuing”, which reminded me on skiing in Pec pod Sněžkou when I was younger. There also, you queued longer than you actually skied.

On the way to Rams Head North
Snowy lookout from Rams Head North
View from Rams Head North towards Mount Kosciuszko
Me on the true summit of Rams Head North (© by Jon Fitch)
Our first camp at Rams Head North (© by Jon Fitch)
The snow covered Victorian Alps from Simkin Peak
I enjoy the view at Simkin Peak (© by Jon Fitch)
Our uphill zig-zag snow tracks (with kick turns) and Rams Head on the other side of the valley
Not too bad, given that this is just a few minutes after my accident (© by Mike Edmondson)
Moon rise on the horizon after leaving Rams Head North
Finally arriving the sheltered snow gums
Our second campsite in the sheltered snow gums
My sheltered tent dug into the snow
Me at the summit of Rams Head in the clouds with no view on the 3rd day (© by Mike Edmondson)

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