Australian Alps

It’s Always Bluebird in Hotham: A Misadventure in the Australian Alps

One.two…three…four…man, I did not pack my bag well…10…11…12…13…and here comes the rain…18…19…20…21…another downed tree? Shit, skis off…31…32…33…34…geez, this cramp…one…two…three…only a couple more miles to go.

Hiking six miles with camping and ski gear to spend a few days at an alpine hut shouldn’t break you; lots of people can run that far in an hour. But the hike from Harrietville to Federation Hut nearly did me in and was only the beginning of my misadventure on Mount Feathertop in the Australian Alps.

I first learned of Feathertop at a brewery in Jindabyne, New South Wales, near Thredbo and Perisher ski resorts. I bumped into and spilled beer all over a guy who turned out to have lived in Vail, CO—as I had—and was looking after a shop near Mount Hotham in southeast Australia for the winter. We were members of Ski Club Vail about the same time and traded stories of mutual friends and what we had been up to down under. Finally, he asked me, “Have you been to Little Alaska?”

He pulled out his phone to show me a photo of Mount Feathertop. At 6,306 feet, Feathertop is in southwestern Australia’s Alpine National Park, and is only the third-tallest mountain in Australia. But thanks to jagged topography, steep chutes and rocky outcrops that create the appearance of spines, it is the most imposing peak on the continent and easily the most dangerous—hence “Little Alaska.” The mountain is punctuated by a domineering cornice, which runs the length of the upper ridge and has claimed the lives of skiers and mountaineers who’ve stood on the summit. With slope angles hovering between 40 and 50 degrees, even experienced riders have been caught off guard by the sheer ice known to sully the skiable chutes, sliding to their deaths, unable to self-arrest…

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