(Australian Associated Press)
I’m skiing smoothly through knee-deep powder, carving tracks in the fresh sugary snow. Apart from our group of four, there is not another soul in sight.
Turn after turn, our tracks are the only ones that disturb the perfect glistening fluffy powder.
You may think that I’m on the slopes in Canada, Japan or the European Alps.
But this is actually Australia.
I’m on a back-country tour from Thredbo with K7 Adventures.
Our guide Jeff is a “winterer”, his wife Janine tells me. He loves the snow and ice and isolation of the wilderness so much that he spent a year working as a carpenter in Antarctica.
Here in Australia, he has been touring the backcountry for 30 years. He looks perfectly comfortable, probably because he is so prepared. I think his orange ski jacket looks beautiful against the bright blue sky. He chose it because it can be seen from a long distance away. In his red backpack, he carries safety gear just in case something goes wrong off-piste.
Jeff knows the mountains beyond Thredbo ski report like the back of his hand. And he knows how dangerous it can be. He has rescued dozens of poorly prepared would-be adventurers from the icy wilderness and says no-one should be up here, beyond the boundaries of the resort without a guide.
The first mistake people make is to assume the weather will stay stable. A stunning clear day can easily turn deadly when a storm front rips through.
The second mistake is thinking a mobile phone will help get you out of trouble. Cold saps the power out of lithium batteries. His wise words are reinforced an hour after we start. My fully charged Go-Pro battery is dead. It couldn’t handle the -15C wind chill.
The wind is intense as we reach the top of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift. Skiers and snowboarders struggle to dismount as the wind and snow blasts in their face. They seek shelter inside the hut at Eagles Nest, adjusting neck warmers and goggles before they begin their downhill run.
We are not going downhill. At least not yet.
Janine and Jeff help us to fit skins to our special skis. Backcountry skis are designed for walking uphill. The bindings unlock and release the heel for ease of movement. The height of the heel can be adjusted to suit the slope or locked down again for a downhill run.
The skins are stuck to the bottom of the ski. They are called skins because the early adventurers used animal skin. These days, it’s all synthetic. Just like fur, the material is soft and smooth one way, but coarse when rubbed in the opposite direction. That’s what makes it grip in the snow and stops the skier from sliding backwards.
From Eagles Nest, we’re on our own, walking uphill and away from the resort.
The snow quality varies from ice to pure powder. Every now and then we stop to catch our breath. The stillness is overwhelming as is the sense of space and peace.
I certainly “earned those turns” as the backcountry pros like to say. As we trudge up the hill, the wind whips through the air, blasting powder in all directions. The tall granite boulders are splattered with ice crystals carved into intr