The Snow-down on Falls Creek, Victoria

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May 22, 2018

When the white stuff starts falling, the best place to be is falls creek. Larissa Dubecki carves out the ultimate alpine adventure in Victoria’s high country. Photography by Charlie Brown.

There wasn’t meant to be a mountain village here. Falls Creek owes its existence to a group of hydro-electric workers who defied authorities back in 1947 by secretly constructing a hut when they saw the skiing potential of the snow-covered Bogong High Plains. And what potential it was. The big drawcard of modern-day Falls Creek is its picturesque ski-in, ski-out village (translation: skiers and snowboarders can ski out of their accommodation at the start of the day and back in via one of the home trails when they finish on the slopes), which adds bucketloads of convenience and an extra layer of icing on this winter confection.

It’s a unique proposition even in Victoria, the state with the largest number of ski resorts (that’s seven, trivia hounds). And you can add to Falls Creek’s manifold attractions the pleasing fact you’ll rarely face the lengthy lift queues of other ski resorts, thanks to a chairlift capacity greater than the number of beds in the village, as well as an impressive number of places deserving of your drinking and dining dollars. Yes, there’s no more well-rounded resort than Falls. 

Best hotel

The graceful timber- and steel-clad wings of the boutique QT hotel embrace Slalom Plaza, the town square of Falls Creek. All you need to do is ski out from the boot room to the start of the Falls Express chairlift. Too easy. QT also boasts a brilliant buffet breakfast as well as à la carte and buffet dinners in its Bazaar restaurant, while the Stingray Lounge (dress code: Aspen chic) swings Americana with great cocktails, burgers and Tex-Mex street food. Most exciting, the majority of the 39 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments have balconies with that ultimate accessory of snow luxury: a hot tub. Soak in bubbling comfort while gazing out over the ski runs or the magnificent Kiewa Valley. Don’t forget your swimsuit.

Best coffee

As the name might suggest, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair at The Pass but this tiny hidey-hole tucked near a staircase in Slalom Plaza is the mountain’s pick for coffee. The beans are produced by Evoke roaster in Shepparton; the Ricco blend is caramel-toasty and goes nicely with sub-zero temperatures.

Best breakfast and brunch

The food hub of the Village Bowl at the top of the town, Be Foodstore (27 Falls Creek Road; 03 5758 3222) personifies urban hipness with its rugged timber fit-out and also has a broad outdoor deck for watching the action at the base of the newly upgraded Eagle chairlift. Start the day with a chia pudding and a super smoothie or poached eggs on ciabatta with smoky bacon – and there are eggs and soldiers for the kids.

Best lunch

You have to mooch up the hill to reach Milch Cafe Bar (4 Schuss Street; 03 5758 3407) but we promise it’s worth the effort to reach this convivial spot. Refuel between ski runs with a chargrilled chicken burger lavished with chipotle mayo and slaw in a brioche bun, a satisfying lamb souvlaki or soulful spaghetti bolognese. There’s a menu for the kids, too, while fruit and vegetable juices squeezed to order will get your healthy diet pyramid in order.

Best dinner

Summit Ridge restaurant has won a deserved reputation as the mountain’s best address for a slap-up dinner. Partly it’s the assured European-leaning menu that mixes cold-weather classics (duck liver parfait; lamb loin and parmesan risotto) with sprightly modern additions such as capsicum, harissa and smoked mozzarella soup. Partly it’s the wine list, which will please any high-altitude rollers with choices such as Henschke’s Hill of Grace shiraz.

Best bar

Time for an après-ski drink? SomePlace Else has a crackling fire, a cool fit-out and a cocktail list to put a spring in your step, from the caffeinated delights of a classic Espresso Martini to a party-starting Margarita and the superbly rich chocolate dessert substitute, the After Dinner Mint.

Best spa

There are many reasons to love Astra Lodge, recently revamped into one of the most luxe addresses on the mountain. First, the kids’ room, decked out with couches, games and a wall-mounted screen for the PlayStation 4. Then there are the nightly dinners of warming soup and hearty pastas. But the spa is in another league. There’s a heated magnesium pool, spa, steam room and sauna. And you can pamper your weary body with all kinds of massages (how about hot volcanic stones to soothe those ski-weary muscles?), facials or a foot treatment to get ski-boot fabulous.

Best mulled wine

Winter and red wine are natural bedfellows but the ski fields call for the full mulled wine experience. A Tyrolian-style lodge complete with folk music and Swiss and Austrian trinkets, Karelia Alpine Lodge has its own secret mulled wine recipe. Owner Jerry Brazda will reveal only that it involves quality red wine, cinnamon and specially imported Austrian and Czech liqueurs.

Best hot chocolate

The ground-floor café at the Huski apartments is a bustling hub at all times of the day. We reckon a large part of its appeal must be the intense creaminess of its King Cacao hot chocolate.

Best lookout

Located right at the top of the Falls Express chairlift and adjacent to the ski school, Cloud 9 restaurant (03 5758 3390) is a pit stop in the sky. Grab a hot drink and survey the beauty of the mountains stretching into the distance from every vantage point. Just remember: the only way out is down.

Best snack

And the winner of the award for best thematic snack on the mountain goes to... the Snonut. In reality it’s a hot cinnamon-dusted doughnut but we’re happy to give Snonuts Donuts 10 points for their cute play on words as well as the addictive sweet treats at two Falls Creek locations, Slalom Plaza and ATS Terminal. And for a few dollars extra, you can get yours drenched in molten Nutella.

Best kids’ activity

It’s a painful fact of life for many adults that the pint-sized snow shredders zipping down the mountain put them to shame (by way of consolation, the youngsters’ low centre of gravity gives them a head start). Falls Creek’s Burton Riglet Park in Slalom Plaza is here to add to the grown-ups’ pain. A snowboarding school for three- to five-year-olds, it uses tow cables attached to child-sized boards so parents can pull their young charges over mellow features such as rollers and berms to start them on the road to an Olympic snowboarding career.

Best non-skiing adventure

Sure, it’s an adrenaline-filled high to whiz down a slope at speeds your grandmother warned you about but for a more contemplative adventure (and certainly less speedy), try putting on a pair of Nordic snowshoes. Crunch along trails past the snow gums to explore the back country, either on your own or with the Falls Creek Activities Desk, which runs two-hour tours with experienced guides. If that sounds like too much effort, try a ride on a snowmobile through the spectacular wilderness.

Best fireplace

The log fireplace is the centre of attention at Feathertop Alpine Lodge, at what the owner calls “the Paris end” of Falls Creek (it’s certainly one of the highest points of the village, with all the amazing views you’d expect). Proudly locavore, the restaurant serves food that screams “winter”, such as stout-braised rabbit pie. You could also pull up a fireside stool and graze the wine list, which drills down on Victoria’s North East region. 

Best ski runs

Falls Creek got its first ski lift (a rope tow) in 1951. Fast-forward to 2018 and it has about 90 runs across 450 hectares, making it the largest resort in Victoria. So which to choose? 

For families

Wombats Ramble is Australia’s longest green (beginners’) trail, giving newcomers to the sport a full 2.2 kilometres of gentle gradient on which to explore, experiment and find their snow legs. It’s not just for the novices, either – Olympic snowboarder Scotty James nominates it as his favourite run. Twice 9a week, floodlights along the course are turned on for family-friendly night skiing.

For beginners

After a lesson or two, head to Drover’s Dream, a long, gentle run for beginners, overlooking the Rocky Valley Lake. Next door is the Fox Trail Park, which will be catnip to anyone learning to snowboard, thanks to naturally forming jumps, berms and roller-coasters, making it a terrain playground taking you on a path through the snow gums.

For intermediates

About 60 per cent of Falls Creek’s runs are rated blue for those of an intermediate ability. Try Shadow Ridge, where you can ski and snowboard on groomed terrain among the trees.

For experts

Beware the black run... unless you really know what you’re doing. In which case, head straight to The Maze. A true adventure area, it’s where you’ll find tight, steep, tree-lined trails. The natural beauty is just a temporary distraction from the terrifying gradient.

SEE ALSO: Where to Ski in Australia and NZ This Snow Season