Hot tips for cool times

The Australian snow season has kicked into top gear with good snowfalls across resorts in NSW and Victoria. There's no tuition needed if you simply want to throw snowballs or slide on a toboggan but if you want to find the best parties, the coolest bar life, have the best boards on your feet and go faster than ever, Traveller's panel of snow experts has some tips.

How to ski fast

When I raced World Cup downhill we had a saying: "To turn is to admit defeat." It's a sure-fire way to ski fast but not one I should recommend here.

Speed is a big part of the attraction of skiing or snowboarding on any slope. With gravity as your engine, it's not hard to get ticking along. Controlling that engine is the key.

The reality is there are only two types of fast controlled or not. One is fun, the other is dangerous and will likely get your ticket confiscated before you hurt yourself and others.

Skiing fast is a relative thing. As a beginner on the bunny slope, fast is not much more than walking pace. For intermediates, fast is the speed you travel in a school zone, about 40km/h. Racing World Cup downhill, fast is up to 160km/h and amazingly the speed-skiing world record is 251.4km/h very bloody fast.

The real key to going fast is control and to have that you need instruction. I always implore first-timers to take lessons. More than just technique, you learn the alpine safety code.

If you already have some skill and experience, check with your resort ski school or race club on joining a masters program. You'll have loads of fun and get access to a race track.

If that's too much to comprehend, then get out early and catch the first chairlift. Look around and make sure you have a slope to yourself and point 'em downhill repeating my old mantra: to turn is to admit defeat.

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- Steven Lee

Lee is one of only three Australians to win a World Cup ski race and has competed at three Winter Olympics.

Where to find the best bars

Japanese bar life comes to the snow with Oishii Go at Falls Creek's Silver Ski Lodge. Echoing the prevailing Australian passion for Japanese snow resorts, the bar is stocked with hot and cold sake and a range of Japanese beer and the kitchen presents happy-hour bar snacks of wasabi peas, fish and ginger rice and miso soup.

Most resort bars have a split personality, showing their best either at apres-ski hour or after dinner.

Among the best apres options at Falls Creek is the infamous Harvey Wallbanger Hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Falls Creek Hotel, or Mo's at Feathertop Lodge serving Beck's beer and bubbles with oysters.

At night, Glo is a funky little basement bar beneath Milch restaurant in the Frueauf Village complex at Falls Creek, which doubles as a casual cinema early then transforms into a cool chillout lounge later.

The Grochowski family has created the ultimate vodka bar at Astra Lodge in Falls Creek, importing 80 European vodkas.

The White Room in Hotham Central lights up with colourful and subdued lighting effects, making it a hit with the cocktail crowd.

At Thredbo, the stylish Denman Hotel has sexy urban cocktails poured in its Apres Bar and high tea at happy hour. The Lounge Bar within the Thredbo Alpine Hotel complex, with its plush seating, big central fireplace and chic modern styling, is another cool place to unwind with a cocktail.

Guests at Perisher Manor find they have to share the intimate Base 1720 cocktail lounge with increasing numbers of visitors to the lodge, who often stay for snacks.

For something more classically European, the Black Bear Inn at Thredbo has 80 schnapps and many Bavarian beers, while on Mount Buller host Hans Grimus encourages schnapps and snuff at the boisterous bar in his lodgings, Pension Grimus.

- David Sly

The best parties

In most resorts, the action drifts from location to location according to which venues are hosting live music, parties or events. But at each resort there are also a few places that are always "on".

Thredbo's Alpine Hotel is the hub of night activity with its five bars and dining areas, and its Schuss Bar remains the place for dancing from 10pm each night.

At Perisher, a fun-seeking crowd of staff and guests is drawn to the Sundeck Hotel's comedy night each Tuesday and to see live bands on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Later into the night, the swank Jax Club in the Perisher Centre attracts the cool crowd with smart bar offerings and a decent chargrill menu.

At Mount Hotham, Swindlers Bar draws crowds to hear DJs and bands but also to watch snowboarders catch big air in the terrain park outside the large windows. Further along the village road, the General Store is a magnet for mountain staff and lodge guests, with live bands and events from darts tournaments to grooving with the hilarious macho skiing idol DJ Eddy while enjoying gourmet pizza and tapas.

On Mount Buller, the Kooroora Hotel is the after-dark focus. If you find yourself linking arms with the crowd and singing along to Dean Martin's That's Amore, it means you've stayed until closing at 3am.

At Falls Creek, the Frying Pan Inn remains the place to assemble for late nights especially during big snowboarding events such as the Big Air and Stylewars competitions in August. It's also a great meeting place after the fireworks and ski demonstrations in the illuminated Village Bowl on Thursday nights this month and next.

- David Sly

The best food

Tapas-style dining dominates across the resorts, with shared plates for communal grazing sweeping across a broad culinary landscape, from the bold fusion of Australian and Japanese cuisine by chef Hamish Nugent at Tsubo in Dinner Plain to more conventional Spanish and Greek fare at Cilantro in Dinner Plain and Zirky's Bar at Mount Hotham. The Mediterranean flavours extend further to Moroccan and Turkish dishes at Sante Restaurant in Thredbo Village.

Classic European fare remains a feature in even the newest attractions. The Snow Pony opened at Mount Buller last year with a French chef focusing on classic bistro dishes, while provincial French and Italian accents feature on the plats du jour served at Huski's Produce Store in Falls Creek and Jimmy Camerino cooks delicious fresh pasta to order for lunch at Mount Buller's Tirol Hut.

Fine dining has become competitive across the resorts, led by Simon and Wendy Rawlings at Summit Ridge in Falls Creek. Many others aim equally high, from Falls Creek neighbour Astra Lodge to Melbourne chef Andrew Blake's a la carte menu at Zirky's and the Black Cockatoo Restaurant at the Mount Buller Chalet.

In Thredbo, Credo Restaurant is the mountain's ornate showpiece restaurant, while steak lovers favour Bernti's Grill in Thredbo. A classic seafood buffet remains a drawcard on Tuesday nights at Snowgums Restaurant in the Perisher Valley Hotel.

- David Sly

How to dress like a snowboarder

If you think dressing like a snowboarder is all about baggy pants with a crotch that hangs to your knees, you might be in for a shock. This season marks the height of the retro revolution so, believe it or not, tighter snowboard clothes are hot.

Snowboard companies are bringing back the very bright days of the late 1980s. Dress in bright pinks, vivid blues, greens and oranges in fact, just think citrus.

"Every season it changes this year purple and orange are huge," says Australia's best-performing snowboarder, Mitch Allan. "But I'm not sure about tight pants, I hope that never comes in."

For women, the days of the unisex design are over. This season, feminine features are as important as keeping out the cold. We are seeing more lace, faux fur and fabric detail than ever.

Apart from looking cool, you want your clothes to keep you warm. One way to achieve this is by layering; even the best jacket won't keep you warm if you don't have the right things underneath. "The only times I'm cold now is when I don't layer properly," says champion US snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. "You need multiple layers underneath, preferably fleece."

- Craig Tansley

How to dress like a skier

If you've kept your old outfits from the '80s you might be the coolest person on the mountain this season. There's every chance your bright pink fluorescent one-piece suit could be in vogue with the retro revolution.

But what skiers should remember is that clothes don't have to be super-tight; they can borrow from the trends of snowboarders.

The most important factor to consider, though, is comfort. Australia has some of the world's wettest snow so Australian skiers need higher waterproofing and breathability in their outerwear. All good outerwear will have an index on the label that indicates the level of protection as a rule, try to buy jackets and pants with a 10,000-millimetre rating.

Fashionable colours for skiers mirror snowboarders, with the emphasis on bright tops matched with black, olive, brown or plaid pants.

This season, snowboarders will move closer to skiers in their slimmer style of gear. Perhaps there'll be more love between the two species.

- Craig Tansley

Best snowboards this season

Snowboard design is changing fast and every year there are leaps in technology.

A recent dramatic design change, reverse camber or rocker, means some snowboards are now bowed like surfboards. The Lib-Tech banana snowboard was the first of this kind and provides a "catch-free" feel. These boards are perfect for Australia's varying conditions and mellow slopes.

Another benefit of reverse camber is that it makes riding deep powder snow effortless. The surfboard-like camber pushes the nose of the snowboard above the snow. This allows you to relax your back leg when riding deep snow.

Most snowboard companies now have a reverse-camber board on the market. Burton Snowboards' Hero has a flat base for the best of both worlds while K2 Snowboards has the Gyrator with a huge rocker that performs exceptionally in deep snow but poorly on the piste.

For an all-mountain board, Transfer Snowboard Magazine recommends Lib-Tech. This company's boards combine the rocker with Magne-traction, a serrated-knife style edge that allows the rocker boards to perform on the piste carving, in the park and in deep powder.

- Russell Holt

Best skis this season

Skis are generally wider and more versatile this season. In the all-mountain category, Elan has two standout models: the 82XTi and the 78Ti. The numbers refer to the width in millimetres at the waist of the ski. At first taste, the 78Ti seems the perfect Australian resort ski; that is until skiing the 82XTi, which is an exceptional performer. It's a very capable carver on groomed runs but with enough width and the right flex characteristics to glide through powder snow and drive through heavier spring snow.

Another brand with these qualities is Nordica, with its Hot Rod Nitrous (78 millimetres) and Hot Rod Jet Fuel (84 millimetres). If you spend most time skiing groomed runs, the 78-millimetre waist is for you; if you seriously want to cover the entire mountain in all conditions, you should be on the 82-millimetre-plus ski.

But the "Ski of the Year", according to theSKImag ski tests, is the K2 Xplorer (84 millimetres at the waist). I have skied the Xplorer on Australian groomed terrain and in Japanese powder and it shines in both.

Skiers looking for a high level of performance on groomed terrain making those exact, instructor-type turns are usually on a ski with a narrower waist. There are two skis that leap to the front in this category. The Dynastar Contact 4x4 (75 millimetres) is hailed for its stability at speed and snappy performance. Equally well regarded is the Rossignol CX80.

Among the specialist women's skis, Elan stands out for its Pure Magic model and Nordica for the W Speed Xbi. Both are all-mountain skis. Of the twin-tips tested for younger girls, the Roxy Shazam and the beautifully named K2 Miss Demeanor are winners.

- Jim Darby

Darby is publisher and editor of theSKImag, which conducts annual ski tests.

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