High Country Region
Victoria's alpine region north-east of Melbourne is a major winter sports area and a very scenic part of Australia. With slopes peaking at 1800 metres (5800 feet), Victoria's ski resorts are nowhere near as high as ski resorts in North America or Europe. Mt Buller, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek nonetheless provide very good downhill skiing and snowboarding. The 3 have excellent facilities, good accommodation and offer plenty of fun. Not far from Mt Hotham, the much smaller Mt Buffalo is best for beginners and intermediate skiers. The ski season starts on the first weekend in June and runs through until early October, depending on conditions. The big resorts have big snow making machines, which run overnight to supplement mother nature's efforts. Best of all, the resorts are buzzing with activity when ski fields in the northern hemisphere are closed for the summer.
Mount Buller, 246km north-east of Melbourne near Mansfield, sits in a valley with slopes north and south of an access road. It claims the most extensive lift network in the southern hemisphere with 27 lifts ranging from pomas to triple-chairlifts. They are capable of handling 40,000 skiers an hour - 4 times peak demand. It has 80km of ski runs covering 160 hectares. Three hours drive from Melbourne, the village has 7000 beds in hotels and lodges. Some are open in summer.
Falls Creek, 375km north-east of Melbourne and east of Bright through Mount Beauty, is the second largest winter resort with 4200 beds. Many regard Falls Creek as Victoria's best skiing area, though that's a topic hotly debated in most resort bars. Many of its 18 lifts are triple and quad chairlifts. It has a sizeable village with shops, ski schools, car parks and about 20 hotels and lodges. Some of the larger ones stay open in summer.
Mount Hotham, 375km north-east of Melbourne and south of Bright, is the fastest growing ski resort in Victoria, covering 245 hectares with 13 lifts, 8 of them quads. It has a wide variety of accommodation. Skiiers can use lifts at Hotham and Falls Creek on a single pass. Mt Hotham airport has direct scheduled flights from and to Sydney and Melbourne throughout winter.
Mount Buffalo, 330km north-east of Melbourne, is a much smaller ski area in the centre of Mt Buffalo National Park north of Bright. It is best suited to beginners and intermediate skiers, and there are 7 lifts. Although a major cross-country skiing centre, accommodation is limited to the Mount Buffalo Chalet. The area is popular with trout fishermen, hikers and cyclists in summer.
Mount Baw Baw is about 160km or 2.5 hours drive east of Melbourne, in the Baw Baw National Park. It has 25 downhill ski trails in 37 hectares served by 8 lifts. There are also 10km of groomed cross-country ski trails. Accommodation is available, though many Melbourne people make it a day trip. Mount Baw Baw is not on this tour route.
All resorts are accessible by road, mostly sealed, though it is essential to carry snow chains in winter. These can be hired en-route, usually from petrol (gasoline) stations on approach roads in the area or at the resorts. There is no need to bring your own equipment. All resorts, and several stores in Melbourne, hire a full range of clothing and equipment for skiers and snowboarders. There are special designated snowboarding areas at each resort.
Winter sports aside, the High Country is a very scenic area best visited from spring to autumn (fall) unless the attraction is skiing. The winter scenery is rather bleak, the weather cold and often wet, making driving unpleasant and sightseeing more so. Autumn is a beautiful time, particularly in the area around Bright and Myrtleford when the leaves on the trees turn to red and gold.
The suggested tour route is east from Melbourne on the Princes Highway to Bairnsdale, then north through Omeo, Bright (side trip to Mt Beauty and Falls Creek and/or Mt Buffalo) and Myrtleford to Wangaratta, then south through Benalla, Mansfield (side trip to Mt Buller), Lake Eildon, and Marysville back to Melbourne.