Teaming up in Buller
If it's your first trip to the snow, consider sharing the experience with friends. Debbie Neilson-Hunter discovers, the more the merrier at Mt Buller.
My two daughters, aged five and seven, are 'old hats' at skiing now, having perfected their snow ploughs and turns over the previous three winters in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
So last year we were invited to play 'tour guide' by close friends who hadn't been to the snow in years but were eager to open up the world of snowy possibilities to their own children. We welcomed the chance for a long-awaited catch up.
Since we are based in Queensland and they live Sydney we met up near Mt Buller in Victoria's famed High Country. They piled their two daughters into the family car and drove the nine-hour distance. We flew to Melbourne, a scenic three-hour drive away.
We based ourselves at the Grand Mercure Pinnacle Valley Resort, at Merrijig, just outside of the country town of Mansfield (where we hired our skis and boots). The resort's air conditioned one-bedroom apartments with handy laundry facilities, master bedroom with en suite, pull-out sofa for the kids and kitchen (where we cooked every night) were ideal. At night, when the kids were asleep, we could retreat to the public fireside lounge (just outside our doors) with a glass of wine.
Keeping the kids entertained off mountain was a breeze. Surrounded by vast gardens and kangaroos the kids enjoyed putting around the resort's mini-golf course on our all important rest day. We also found a playground, outdoor pool, lake (for fishing and paddle boating in summer), games room next to the restaurant, hot tubs, sauna, steam room, tennis courts and bike paths on site.
In the afternoon we convoyed 15 minutes to Mansfield Zoo - home to two rare white lions, camels, llamas, fallow deer, monkeys and more - and the local armchair cinema, where we watched Madagascar 3 in 3D stretched out on giant bean bags. The experience added an extra fun dimension to our trip.
Mt Buller's ski fields are a child-friendly half-hour drive from the resort. Day trippers pay a daily entry fee of $38 (cheaper if you travel by scheduled coach). Preferring to work to our own timetable we parked our cars at the base and ferried kids and ski gear via the free shuttle bus to the main village. In the height of the ski season, skiers and boarders can catch a chairlift up from Horse Hill.
Due to mild spring conditions the snow was a bit patchy in areas, particularly on the more advanced southern slopes but extensive snowmaking capabilities assured enough challenging options to play with. It didn't make any difference to the kids, who spent most of their time either on the Magic Forest beginner area (below the ski school) or zipping down the gentle northern slopes from the Holden Express and Blue Bullet chairlifts as their confidence grew. The sunshine also inspired positive first impressions.
Located at the base of the Holden Express chairlift, (a thigh-burning uphill walk from the lower village or short shuttle ride away - as we all discovered a bit too late) the ski school provides a range of half and full-day learn to ski programs, based on ability and age, for children from three years to 18. Ours couldn't get enough.
As we'd hoped our younger novices were determined to learn fast so they could ski beside their friends. By the end of the week the adults were having trouble keeping up!
"Our first experience at the snow as a family was better than anything we expected," mum Daniela Hutchens said.
"I would definitely recommend going at the end of the season - the weather is warmer but the snow still good for beginners and fewer crowds means there's no wait to get up and down the mountain!"
A snowman, snowball fights beside the toboggan slopes and hot chocolate-ringed smiles assured a keen desire to do it all again.