Before The Snow Flies, Members Gather For Work Party And Find A Reason To Talk Skiing.

Heiner’s Bakery’s curry pies are in demand in Myrtleford on the road to Mt. Hotham, Victoria, Australia.

My road trip from Melbourne in my Skoda AWD has been a pleasant morning drive. With two and half hours peeling away quickly, the freeways were unusually devoid of cars today on this Friday in March. My mate Terry phones to ask me, “Is it Heiner’s Bakery, just off the main street, where they sell those fantastic curry pies?” “Yes. Remember you always get the last one available,”

We meet at Heiner’s Bakery, where the stars have aligned; they have baked more curry pies, maybe sensing our visit. Arriving in Myrtleford, the large alpine service town on the edge of the two main Victorian snowfields, is an occasion. The large trees in the wide streets are yet untouched by autumn’s cold fingers. Summer is only a week or two passed. La Nina in the Pacific has blown moisture laden winds across our state; the rain makes for benign and balmy heat levels. The previous year, devastating wildfires lit up the whole state. Every paddock and forest seemed to be on fire. It’s a stark memory still, but not this year. It’s been a year of growth and recovery in the forest and the mountains. The fields in these alpine valleys are green and nearby mountains creep up with eucalyptus trees to their summits. Summits that in a few short months will be snow covered.

Our ski club requires us to work a weekend each year. My friend Terry, an electrician, offers his services to the work party. He has missed the easy banter and mateship above the snow line since retirement. Retirement is an itch that is uncomfortable at times for him, he is someone used to being busy. He is offered work credits towards accommodation at the ski lodge. He is happy to work for no reward; it is his nature to help out.

Early snow at Gravbot Ski Club welcomes work party in Mt. Hotham. Credit: Dave Chambers

We arrive at Gravbrot Ski Lodge, Mt. Hotham, and bump in to Dave, a fellow member, here for the work party. he is somewhat surprisingly dressed in lycra and bike shoes.

“Dave, that is interesting dress for a work weekend.” I say. “Don’t you own work boots.”

Dave replies, “I have just ridden down and back from Omeo, this afternoon.”

Now to be kind to Dave, his best days and youth are well behind him.  I am very impressed. These are what we call mountains in Australia, and, while they aren’t as lofty as Aspen, they are mountains that rise to over 6,000 ft.  Dave has not only ridden down but has returned back up to the top in the thin mountain air. This fitness becomes more useful when we have to remove forty bags of cement that someone stored under the lodge five years ago. Advice to anyone contemplating this, don’t. The cool moist mountain air and cement are easy bedfellows. And the product of this union is a very large heavy brick.

We light the fire to warm the frigid air. A warming glow will greet the next couple of work party participants. Our gum trees are the scourge of summer when the temperature rises above 100F. Wild fires are all too common place now in Australia. The sap in eucalyptus trees explodes at extreme heat levels fueling the wild fire fronts. But now more benign the dry branches gathered from the base of Snowgums around the ski lodge make great fire starters. A warm glow fills the lodge quickly as we remove the corks from some very fine Cabernet Sauvignon. A cheese platter offers some aged gouda and vintage cheddar to accompany the fine red wine from Black Cat Winery, in the Yarra Valley, Victoria. Others amble in over the following two hours. A busy weekend is planned, says the Works Leader, and we need volunteers to remove forty bags of cement to the truck for disposal.

“Hey, Dave did you bring work gloves,” I call out.

Terry and I contemplate and recall stories about life above the snow line and experiences over a couple of decades of skiing Australia and the world. We make some new friends. We chat into the night, all of us hoping that 2021, this year, we will get a start to the ski season now just a few months away.

March brings autumn in Australia and an early snow in the mountains. Credit: Dave Chambers

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Patti Farkas says:

    Well, that’s the day BEFORE the work weekend – where’s the rest?

  2. How do I get to the list of ski areas that give 70 plus skiers discounts on tickets and season passes?

    • Michael Maginn Michael Maginn says:

      Look under Community > Subscriber Only Content. The directory of free or almost free skiing is a menu pick.

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