Getting your groove back

Julian Murphy discovers after a 10-year break that it's easy to get the skiing bug again.

 Standing near the snow-capped summit of Mount Buller, I inhale the crisp, alpine air and take in a stunning panorama of mountain peaks stretching into the horizon.

Below me hundreds of skiers and snowboarders buzz about on a dazzling blue-sky afternoon, making the most of a welcome dump of fresh snow.

But I'm not here to gaze at spectacular scenery and I nervously adjust my goggles and try to focus on the task at hand.

After a decade in the skiing wilderness, I'm about to discover whether I can attack a mountain the way I did as a fearless youth.

As I slowly edge down the slope, my first few turns are cautious and laboured.

Gradually I gather speed and before long the familiar rush returns.

My skis are relatively parallel and I instinctively recall when and where to plant my poles.

A knee-high mogul and an unsighted patch of ice provide unexpected scares, but I survive and arrive exhilarated at the bottom of the hill.

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As I try to catch my breath I'm aware the skiing bug has bitten me firmly - and is unlikely to let go.

While the 2010 ski season hasn't exactly got off to a flying start, Mount Buller remains a winter playground that caters for all levels of skiing ability.

Snow-making machines ensure a decent snow cover on lower slopes even when Mother Nature fails to uphold her end of the bargain.

Only half of the 22 lifts at Victoria's largest resort are open during my visit, but there is more than enough mountain to go around.

Beginners crowd the runs on Bourke Street, while intermediates alternate between Shaky Knees and Wombat.

More experienced skiers and boarders head towards Summit and Howqua and look forward to August and the promise of access to more of Mount Buller's challenging terrain.

When conditions aren't ideal on the hill, visitors can choose from a number of different holiday activities.

There are snow shoe tours through the village or up to the summit, where knowledgeable guides outline the resort's history and colourful characters

A new addition to the resort's off-snow repertoire is a helicopter flight which offers passengers a breathtaking, bird's eye view of the Victorian Alps.

A day on the slopes can take a heavy physical toll on the amateur skier – and my under-utilised muscles take a pounding.

Fortunately, my aching limbs are somewhat revived with a soothing massage at Breathtaker On High spa resort.

No trip to Mount Buller would be complete without indulging in the many après ski options.

In one memorable pit-stop my entourage enjoys lunch at the stylish Snow Pony.

The hip and cosy restaurant appears to have been transplanted from inner-city Melbourne and has a menu to match.

Other popular lunch venues include Koflers Restaurant and the Tirol Cafe, both located halfway up the mountain.

There are numerous classy dinner destinations, including the Mount Buller Chalet Hotel's Black Cockatoo and Kaptans at Hotel Pension Grimus.

The latter is undoubtedly an institution in the Alps, and not only for its hearty, Austrian-inspired fare.

Enigmatic owner Hans Grimus, who is celebrating 50 years at Mount Buller, is a wonderful host and openly encourages his guests to join him downing rounds of schnapps.

The resort offers a wide range of accommodation options, from humble lodge digs to five-star luxury.

My group is housed at the Chalet, which can't be matched for convenience to shops, restaurants and ski lifts.

An Australian resort will never be able to compete with overseas locations for snow conditions but there is an easy charm to Mount Buller that makes it an ideal destination for a winter escape.

For me the biggest attraction is the opportunity to spend a few days shut away from the cares of the outside world.

Not once during my three-day stay do I hear about the federal election campaign or a certain popular reality television cooking show.

All that seems to matter is the next day's snow conditions, the next run, and the next meal.

Back on mountain I'm still engaged in the serious business of recovering my ski legs.

After spending a few moderately successful hours dusting off the cobwebs, I am feeling positive heading into a one-on-one lesson.

However, my 20-year-old Austrian instructor quickly and mechanically dismantles my rusty technique.

The mild humiliation is worthwhile as two hours (and countless back-bending drills) later my confidence has returned and I am ready to tackle any terrain.

Late on my final afternoon, the weather closes in and I am the last man standing on Mount Buller's Summit run.

Visibility is almost non-existent and an icy wind whips straight through my several layers of clothing.

Yet for a dozen thrilling runs I have the place to myself, and, despite the conditions, there is nowhere else I'd rather be.

Eventually a young liftie tells me it's time to call it a day and as I reluctantly head back towards the village, I promise myself it won't be another decade before I strap on the skis again.

Mount Buller is about a three-hour drive from Melbourne. Two-day lift passes are $195, and $106 for children up to Year 12 age. For more details phone 1800 BULLER or see www.mtbuller.com.au

 The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.