Having tried downhill skiing as a young woman – I fell off International Poma, at Falls Creek in Victoria’s high country, part way up, and lacking the confidence or experience to ski down the run I walked up the slope carrying my skis, reaching the top too weary to tackle any slope other than the gentle Home Run back to our chalet – and cross country skiing more recently, I have found the white season alpine sport for me and others happiest on their own two feet.
Last Friday, Lake Mountain turned on the perfect late winter day for me to tread the 5km Snow Shoe Trail, an easy loop through regenerating snow gums and across heath plains thick with snow sparkling in the sun.
I first encountered snow shoes at 16 when I visited Canada with my Dad. I didn’t try the sport then but bought a pair of traditional children’s snow shoes (the adult ones were too big to bring home). Resembling elongated tennis racquets, with wooden frames criss-crossed with strips of animal hide, these travel souvenirs hung on my bedroom wall for years.
The snow shoes I hired on Lake Mountain last Friday were very different beasts. Made of red plastic – I was never going to strap on the blue alternative – with metal studs, they were about 25cm wide and 40cm long and, unlike pesky skis, didn’t slide anywhere when I placed one foot in front of the other!
One of the many things I love about bushwalking is getting away from civilisation and crowds and, I’ve now discovered, I can escape snow-loving crowds wearing snow shoes. The glorious weather had attracted hundreds of tobogganers and cross-country skiers to Lake Mountain but I was mostly alone on the well-signed snow shoe trail that loops east out of the village/resort and then north, within a network of groomed cross-country trails. Trailing yeti-like footprints, I walked for two hours through the skeletons of snow gums killed in the Black Saturday fires and the leafy, green-and-yellow barked sapling eucalypts growing among them, and across heath plains pillowed with snow cut through here and there with creeks and patched with ice-crusted pools.
While I saw skiers through the trees and heard others, for much of the time the only sound was the snow crunching beneath my feet and the thumps of branches weighed down with snow dumping their load on the ground and rebounding skywards.
Back in the busy village, noisy with tobogganers and builders of snowmen, I assumed that the popular 800m uphill walk to the top of Lake Mountain would be groomed and removed my snow shoes for the climb. I was right, and safely negotiated the summit track and the uncleared short detour to Marysville Lookout, for tree-framed views over the valleys and town.
The snow on the 300m side trail to the Alps View, which I can only assume was stunning, was deep, however, and after sinking up to my thighs several times within a few metres I reluctantly gave up and, cursing my foolishness in abandoning my trusty red weight spreaders, and too tired to climb back up again wearing them, I headed back down the hill.
A snow shoe convert, I climbed into my car and headed home to spread the word.