Skiing in Australia is seen as somewhat of a surprise to most foreigners. People like to believe that Australia is all kangaroos and hot summer days all year round. But this is simply not the case. The weather in the south can vary significantly, and that includes snow in our alpine regions. A trip to the snow is even possible for just the day with multiple mountains at arms reach from Melbourne. My favourite mountain for a day trip is Mt Buller.
Mt Buller is 208km from Melbourne, about 3hrs drive from Melbourne. It’s peak is at 1,780m, allowing for ample snow cover every season. The mountain caters to a wide range of snow enthusiasts, be it people who just want to see snow, skiers, snowboarders, and even tobogganers. It is by far the most popular mountain on Victoria.
HOW TO GET TO MT BULLER
There are two routes from Melbourne to take, ultimately ending up in Mansfield. If you are going for the day and intend to get the most out of it, you’ll need to leave Melbourne around 5am. If you have a 9am lesson, I’m afraid even earlier will be necessary.
The first option is via the Yarra Valley. This is the route I take as it is closer to where I live. The roads are in pretty good condition, and aren’t too windy apart from one section on the right of Kinglake National Park. Thankfully, the speed limit has been reduced on this stretch of road, and now feels much less dangerous.
The other option is to go via the western side of Kinglake. Eventually, both routes intersect at Yea. You’ll then pass through the iconic town of Bonnie Doon (made famous in the Australian movie, The Castle) and then you’ll reach Mansfield.
I strongly recommend stopping in Mansfield to rent any ski gear you might need, and use the bathroom (there are some public restrooms just to the left of the main roundabout). It will take about 45 minutes to reach the top of the mountain and then park the car. When you leave Mansfield, watch your speed. The police love to sit with a radar near Chapel Hill Rd.
I’ve been renting from the same place for years in Mansfield, and every year I keep coming back. Becs and the team even recognise me now (haha!). The place is called Ski Centre Mansfield, and is along the main highway entering into Mansfield. You can spot them relatively easily with the large “Discount Ski Hire” sign.
Their rates are really cheap, and they give pretty good stuff. When I was a beginner, I rented the performance poles, boots and skis for $48 per day. Now that I know what I’m doing on the skis, I rent Executive set for $55. You can also rent snow chains here, and any clothing you might need. They’ll even show you how to fit the snow chains. Keep in mind, you can’t rent beanies, gloves or goggles, so make sure you have these. The shop also offer a returning customer discount, so all those years of loyalty have paid off (or are a clear sign that I really need to invest in a set of ski’s).
If you don’t have roof racks for your car, I strongly recommend you take a towel or tarp for the inside of your car to put the skis or snowboards onto. You’ll thank me at the end of the day when your skis are dirty, covered in snow and you need to put them back into your car. Any snow that drips off will go straight onto the tarp.
Hiring your gear in Mansfield is not only cheaper, but also a major time saver. If you rent on the mountain, you’ll need to park the car and take the village bus from the car park, and then find a rental place in the village and get geared up. All up, it takes a lot longer, losing precious time on the mountain. In the meantime, you could have parked, and walked 5 minutes over to the Northside Express chairlift, and be on the mountain in 10 minutes.
In order to maintain the natural beauty of the park, a fee must be paid for accessing it. The entry fee goes towards things like snow clearing the roads, village buses and rubbish removal. The fee is $44 per car for 1 day.
You can buy the resort entry at the gate at the base of the mountain, or online in advance. Buying online is a huge time saver. The lines to the gate are typically really long, and you’ll easily save yourself 20 minutes by doing this at home the night before. Just print out the pass, and pop it on your dashboard when you reach the gate. They just need to double check it, and you’re good to go!
Mount Buller uses an electric pass called B-tag. It is unique to Mt Buller and cannot be used at any other resort. To save yourself time, you can buy your lift pass online, and have your B-tag posted to you, or you can pick it up on arrival.
Alternatively, you can also buy the lift pass when you arrive, however queues can sometimes be lengthy. Lift passes cost $120 per day. There is an offer for cheap Thursdays for $80. There are also tertiary 50% off days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find the lifts at Mt Buller slow. If the whole park is open, the queues aren’t too bad, however the time spent on the chairlift is normally pretty long. I timed the Wombat chairlift to be 14 minutes. There are a number of two person T-Bars. I find it near impossible to balance on these with another person and have to concentrate more than you’d think.
On Mount Buller you’ll find 22 chairlifts, split between the northern and southern side of the mountain. The northern side typically doesn’t have great coverage as it is exposed to the sun, making the snow melt faster. Therefore, the northern side won’t always be open. When the north side is open however, you know you’re in for a special day.
The southern side is almost always open, as there are several runs with snowmaking machines. These make for a great top up to the natural snow.
As I’m an intermediate skier, my favourite runs on Mt Buller are Little Buller Spur, Whisky Creek Trail, Wombat, Summit Slide, Tirol and Cow Camp.
To get the most from your day, I recommend avoiding Burke St and Abom Express chairlifts. The home stretch into the village is pretty crowded and usually has long lines for the lifts. The area is also prime area for beginners. This means that usually there are a lot of people sitting down in the snow. This quickly becomes more a game of “dodge ’em” rather than actually skiing down the mountain.
If you are a beginner, I strongly recommend taking a group lesson. The skills you will learn from the lesson are invaluable. The cost is $180 which includes your lift pass for the day. Yes, it is a little more expensive, but seeing as you’d spend $120 on just a lift pass, the extra $60 is really worth it. Would you rather spend $120 and be miserable falling over all day, or spend $180 and fall over significantly less? Sometimes it pays to spend a little more to enjoy the experience more overall 🙂
WHERE TO EAT
There are 4 cafés that are on the mountain at Mt Buller. That means you can quite literally ski up to the front door and have lunch. My favourite on a sunny day is Koflers Hutte, which is central to everything.
Here you’ll find a range of food specifically designed for high energy snow days. Koflers is typically a pretty quick in and out lunch spot, with large picnic tables outside. You’ll find food like kransky sausages, spaghetti bolognese, apricot mogul, lasagne, soups and nachos. It gets pretty busy, so I recommend avoiding it between 12:30 and 1:30, otherwise finding a table may be very difficult.
On a sunny day, there is nothing better than grabbing a kransky sausage, a corona beer and sitting outside on the deck chairs enjoying the sunshine. Just take note that you have to ski down the mountain (eg. Family run) in order to get back up to the top bowl from here.
This Austrian inspired Cafe found at the top of Shakey Knees is great for when you want a longer lunch. You can have a Parma, burgers, soups and woodfired pizzas just to name a few. Wash it down with a beer or some Glühwein, and you’ll have a true Apres Ski experience.
I haven’t eaten here, but it’s just by the Northside Express chairlift.
THE FOOD TRUCK AT THE BOTTOM OF LITTLE BULLER SPUR
Serving hot jam donuts, and coffee for when you need that mid run refuel. Delicious!
END OF DAY
The lasts lifts start at 4:30pm, so make sure you allocate enough time to get back to the Northside Express. Ski patrol always do a final sweep of the mountain, so don’t worry if you’re running late. You won’t be spending the night in the snow.
When you get back to your car and pack everything up, the descent is usually pretty busy, as everyone else is doing the same. Everyone is also hungry, so Mansfield is prime location to grab something for dinner. I usually get pizza from Mansfield Pizza. You can order it online (reception is patchy on the way down, but it usually starts working around Sawmill Settlement), that way it’s ready to go when you get there. There are also a few other options, keeping in mind McDonalds isn’t one of them – there isn’t one in Mansfield. Live local and true!
After dinner, the journey home takes about 2 hours, having you home around 8pm.