Falls Creek Kangaroo Hoppet cross-country skiing: ready, steady ... glide

On the trail.
On the trail. 

Cross-country skiing can be as energetic or as gentle as you like, writes Jane Reddy.

It's a blue-sky day in Falls Creek village and the bumper season is having a snowball effect on enthusiasm.

On Slalom Street, kids are on their backs flapping arms and making snow angels, restaurants are full and noisy and the lifts are on high rotation, four skiers abreast, as music pumps out across the Wombat's Ramble run.

The picturesque village.
The picturesque village. 

"The best snow for decades" is this season's catch-cry as we squeeze past packed coffee shop tables heavy in our ski clobber.

We're headed away from the downhill runs to Windy Corner, out past the toboggan run to the 60-odd kilometres of cross-country trails to try out our snow legs at a different kind of pursuit.

In comfortable laced boots clicked in at the front to our lightweight touring skis, it feels positively fluid next to heavy alpine gear. This family of two adults and two children under 10 is off and moving with surprisingly little fuss.

The Elk Restaurant, Falls Creek.
The Elk Restaurant, Falls Creek. 

The flattish terrain allows for a relatively smooth "gliding" action, like a reduced-gravity walk, and with poles for stability, we head towards the Nordic Bowl.

We're overtaken quickly by most of the others out there: a mother and her two teenagers with mobile phones and jelly snakes in their backpacks; and there's a toddler cruising along with dad, oblivious to his effortless style. Members of the Australian cross-country team (they're dressed in the kit), with offspring, meanwhile are heading out past Rocky Valley Lake to the more challenging trails like Boomerang or the Lake Loop to Wallace Hut.

I'm not alone, but still feel far removed from those bumper season crowds.

Easy as: Falls Creek cross-country lessons.
Easy as: Falls Creek cross-country lessons. Photo: Falls Creek

We mooch around the bowl, practising our glides and some gentle downhill moves in a sport that's been enjoyed for hundreds of year in the northern hemisphere.

Here, its popularity continues to gain momentum with this weekend's Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia's leg of the Worldloppet series of long-distance cross-country ski races the headline act that's drawn 150 overseas skiers from 24 countries, according to race organiser Alan Marsland.

About 1000 skiers - novices and Olympians alike - will be at the start for the 42-, 21- and seven-kilometre races. Among them will be Slovenian Barbara Jezersek, who has recently moved to Australia after strong results at the Sochi Winter Olympics and Australian Olympians Esther Bottomley and Phil Bellingham.

Geza Kovacs, manager of the YMCA Falls Creek Nordic Centre, has witnessed the changing face of this winter sport, which became all the more accessible here when trail fees were removed in 2011.

Kovacs, a ski instructor for 36 years, says he has noticed an increase in women encouraging the entire family to have a lesson then go on a day tour around the local trails, and an increase in the 30- to 50-somethings who want to combine a fitness workout with the pleasures of skiing.

"There's no pressure, no timetable other than the one that you set.

"It can be solitary but at Windy Corner, it's an incredibly social sport, with groups of people cruising, getting exercise, enjoying the environment and chatting," says Kovacs.

"It's a bit like mountain biking, you set the pace, either a quiet walk in the snow or 30 kilometres before lunch."

He says that at the end of a lesson most novices are able to stop, go and turn on easy terrain, which immediately allows them to go on little tours of several kilometres, like a ski out to Watchbed Creek, a seven-kilometre return trip alongside Rocky Valley Lake.

We take the easy way out, parking our skis and poles at the bowl and pulling out lunch from our backpacks for a picnic in the snow before gliding back to base, still energised.

"Cross-country skiers are known for their longevity," says Kovacs as we hand back our skis and a woman of a certain age laces her boots in preparation. I want to be like her when I grow up.

The writer travelled as a guest of Falls Creek.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

It's a day's drive from Sydney or about 4½ hours from Melbourne along the Hume Highway to turn-offs at Albury (from Sydney) or near Wangaratta (from Melbourne). Falls Creek's closest airport is Albury and is two hours from the resort. There are direct flight to Albury daily on Qantaslink, Rex and Virgin.

STAYING THERE

Koki Alpine Resort is a comfortable and friendly lodge with self-contained apartments and retro furniture. Rooms from $228 for two nights; apartments from $401 for two nights. See koki.com.au.

DINING THERE

Milch Cafe and Bar, 4 Schuss Street. Great coffee and sustenance for the slopes with the likes of blueberry and coconut bread or Canadian stack waffles.

Elk Restaurant, 18 Slalom Street. Vibrant apres scene with open fire at the centre of the restaurant and run by the exuberant Barry Iddles of the Sorrento Catering Company. Swift service and dinner from 5.30pm. Ideal for families with young ones to eat and then retreat.

SEE + DO

A 90-minute cross-country lesson and full-day ski hire for a family of four, two adults and two children under 16 years, costs $264. For snowboarding or alpine skiing, a Falls beginners ticket gives limited lift access and a two-hour introductory lesson. Price per day is $78 for adults and $53 for children (6-14 years).

MORE INFORMATION

fallscreek.com.au; hoppet.com.au.

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