Small slope, big heart

Cool fun ... children finesse their snowman.
Cool fun ... children finesse their snowman. 

There are plenty of family friendly activities at this ski resort - but there are irritations too, writes Peter Munro.

Victoria's smallest snow resort, Mount Baw Baw, is more white-tipped hill than mountain. But it has something of the charm of a small country town in a commercial television drama, minus the strange murders.

The busiest part of the mountain, worn down to the dirt and grass during my visit, is the main toboggan run. My two-year-old, who insists on being called Woody from the Toy Story films, sits in front laughing, oblivious to my panic as we barrel towards a group of toddlers. ''Do it again,'' she says, sitting comfortably as I drag the sled back up the threadbare slope.

Snow on the nearby ski runs, which are best suited to beginners, is similarly patchy and icy in places. Baw Baw is keen to market itself as a cosy, family-friendly destination; the small corner store of ski resorts. Several times during our short stay, staff tell us how ''families feel safe here''.

Indeed, we do feel safe - though, I suspect, we wouldn't be in mortal peril at Mount Hotham, either. But I feel frustrated, too.

The Baw Baw activities club for small children is closed - as we discover only that morning - because there are not enough small children here to bother. So we arrange an ad hoc babysitter at $35 an hour while my wife and I ski.

Lift passes at Baw Baw are about two-thirds the prices at Hotham, Mount Buller, or Falls Creek. There are no chairlifts, only platters and T-bars, but no queues either.

Atop Hut Run Platter, one of four lifts running today, a friendly staff member breaks from building a small ice throne to help my wife fix an errant ski. Such attention feels like a freshly baked slice of small-town hospitality.

But being small has its irritations, too. It's a quiet Monday and Baw Baw is still snoring. We ski down the short, well-groomed run, past the new Big Air Bag, a giant inflatable cushion at the end of a steep ramp for novice freestyle skiers. But it's closed today. At the bottom of the slope is another empty space, this time where the new Bungee Tramp, a glorified trampoline, is supposed to be but it's closed, too.

We stop for a hot chocolate with Woody in the sparsely stocked cafe and then rush her at great pace to the closest toilet, a weary 200 metres up the road. The grey brick building also houses a sauna but it's locked. There's a gym here too, apparently, but it's hidden behind an unmarked locked door.

One end of the building has been reinvented this season as the new ''Wellbeing Centre'' and Gwen, a warm masseuse with baby-soft hands, a soft voice and great big bottles of oil with which to rub over my enormous calves, works in two small rooms - one of which has no heating.

In the mountainside above the building is the ambitiously named spa pool, which is the size of a backyard hot tub.

The pool, which opened last month, is built amid the mountain rocks and snowgums and is partially open to the elements. Spending time one night in the hot water, the mountain dark and still as snow flakes draw dots on our faces, is magical.

Our two-bedroom Altitude Apartment is warm, with good views over the village and a well-stocked kitchen. ''Welcome to our little mountain,'' reads a note on the kitchen counter, next to a bottle of tempranillo from small local winery, Brandy Creek. We walk up the snow-covered main street for dinner at the Village Central restaurant and I am served a slab of beef. It's bloody and juicy and the biggest thing I see in Baw Baw. Sometimes, size matters.

Peter Munro travelled courtesy of Destination Gippsland and Mount Baw Baw.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Mount Baw Baw is 120 kilometres, or about 2½ hours' drive, east of Melbourne. There are two approaches to the mountain. The tourist route via Noojee and Icy Creek has many bends. The South Face Road, via Erica, is dirt but less windy. Gate entry is $35 a car on weekends and $30 on weekdays. Snow chains, available for hire from Neerim South and Erica, are compulsory for entry during the ski season.

Staying there

The two-bedroom Altitude Apartment has good views over the ski slopes, $935 a weekend during peak season or $376 a night midweek (sleeps four).

Skiing there Lift prices on weekends $64 adults/$54 students/$44 children and midweek $59/$49/$39. Ski, poles and boots are available for hire from $45/$32 a day.

More information

Phone 5165 1136, see www.mountbawbaw.com.au.

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