It's interesting, I think to myself as I adopt a pretzel-like yoga pose, that most wellness retreats are held in balmy climes. Yet here, outside the panoramic windows of Trackers Mountain Lodge, it's practically a white-out as spring snow blows across the mountains, covering Falls Creek in north-eastern Victoria in what looks like lashings of icing sugar.
Inside the makeshift yoga room we are snug and warm. The fire is going, candles glow on the windowsill as we contort ourselves into seemingly impossible asanas with encouragement from our two instructors. As much as I love yoga in warm weather, this scenario positively suits me.
Flushed from our 90-minute morning session, we sit around the communal table tucking into fresh fruits and muesli, warm porridge and a delicious kitchari, an Ayurvedic dish. I become addicted to this one-pot rice dish and wolf it down accompanied by hard-boiled eggs and avocado, wondering if it could usurp my usual breakfast of Vegemite toast back home.
Our group is a big one made up of solo travellers, families and couples from around Australia. Almost everyone skis or snowboards. After breakfast, warm gear is pulled on and the lodge empties as everyone skis or boards all over the mountain. We return rosy-cheeked, famished and with that happy tired feeling that only a day of physical exertion can bring. Some of us collapse into the spa or warm up in the sauna before rolling up for our last session of the day –a yin restorative yoga class delivered as the sun sets over the mountain.
To say I sleep well during the "snoga" yoga retreat, the latest hybrid combining all things snow and yoga, underestimates how physically worn out I am after a day's skiing bookended by two yoga sessions. I'm also travelling with my eight-year-old daughter, Ella, which means ensuring she is up, dressed, fed and on the chair lift for junior workshop (ski school) by 9.15am after our morning yoga class. I'm back to collect her just after lunch, dealing not only with my own tiredness, but hers too. Miraculously, we feel great; re-energised by the fresh mountain air. By the third day we are bounding out of bed at 6.30am, exercising for hours at a stretch, crashing into bed and turning up for more the next day.
And before you say anything about bringing a child with you on a retreat, I know. There are so few places in the world where this scenario can work. But Trackers Mountain Lodge has the family thing down pat. In fact, owner Janette Lawson, a mother of four, has purposefully created a lodge where families are welcome and accommodated. Our instructors Donna Buchanan and Kate Taylor from the Yoga Vine in Perth, are also travelling with Donna's son. I couldn't see this working with very young children (talk to the lodge about bringing family before you book), although it works brilliantly with older children, or say yogi mum, snowboarding dad and kids. After Ella toddles off to ski school each morning I am left with oodles of time to ski, have coffee and focus on me – which is the whole point of the retreat.
Lawson says owning a ski lodge and being a yoga teacher herself, snoga (her own idea) seemed like the logical combination. Over a steaming pot of tea, she explains that most Westerners think of yoga as poses practised in class whereas there are eight limbs of yoga and physical practice is but one of them.
"Yoga is the act of preparing the body for meditation, achieved by focusing on only one thing," Lawson says. "The act of skiing is meditation in motion, particularly when we hit more advanced terrain. Thoughts of all else disappear once we alight the chairlift and our focus turns to conquering the mountain."
Lawson believes this is why guests feel just as rejuvenated from a snow holiday – despite the physical demands – as they do from a week spent by the pool in Bali. "True rest only comes when the mind is quiet. Mindfulness is found on the slopes and yoga is the perfect counterpoise to the physical strain placed on the body during a ski trip."
Our newfound energy starts to make sense. Along with fun and relaxed sessions, the retreat also offers wholesome, nutritious and delicious food. Most is sourced locally, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. The raw food treats delivered for afternoon tea disappear particularly fast after a day on the snow. Alcohol is available and so is coffee.
Of the three annual snoga retreats, ours is the more active week and designed for the more accomplished practitioner. Having said that, there are plenty of beginners, or not so regular yogis, in our group.
After our final yoga session, Kate and Donna depart and I swap details with fellow "snowgis", promising to keep in touch. Ella and I then pull on our snow boots and make for the toboggan slope at Windy Corner. Laughing and screaming, we hurtle downwards, bumping and flying over the snow. At one point, I'm pretty sure I get airborne. Hair flying and holding on for dear life, I am focused and in the moment – exactly how this week in the snow has taught us to be.
Five-night snoga retreats cost $1250 a person (twin share), including breakfast, dinner, afternoon tea, one snow picnic or snow-based activity. Limited single share options are available on the first two retreats (at a higher cost), however all attendees are allocated their own rooms on the third retreat, a restorative HypnoYoga retreat with lodge owner Janette Lawson. Book early to secure the lodge's deluxe panorama rooms as some downstairs rooms have no view. Optional activities include snow mobile tours, skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing. See trackers.com.au/yoga-retreats-falls-creek/
Sheriden Rhodes travelled as a guest of Trackers Mountain Lodge and Falls Creek Alpine Resort.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN FALLS CREEK
No trip to Falls Creek is complete without a visit to mountain icon Snonuts (two locations). The classic warm cinnamon doughnuts are the biggest seller, but if you have young, hungry skiers try the "freakshake". See facebook.com/SnonutsFallsCreek/
Kids are well taken care of at Falls Creek. From the Renaut Snowclub (three to five years), through to Junior Workshop (six-12 years) and Teen Academy (13-17 years) half and full day (lunch included) ski school programs are available to kids of all abilities. You'll be amazed how quickly children progress with qualified instructors leading the way.
Bounce, bump and laugh your way downhill on a snow tube. Open daily, the Falls Creek Snow Tube Park (in the village bowl) is as much fun for non-skiers as those having a break from the slopes. Or hire a toboggan, like we did, and unleash your inner child. fallscreek.com.au
The signature apres-ski recovery treatment at the intimate SpaQ at QT Falls Creek includes dry brushing, mineral-infused compresses, a hot stone massage, re-mineralising wrap and a therapeutic foot treatment, relieving ski boot aches and tired muscles. Afterwards enjoy apres ski at QT's Stingray bar, before a well-earned dinner at Bazaar, which is reinventing the whole buffet thing. See qthotelsandresorts.com/falls-creek/spaq/
Elk is the kind of restaurant you hope to stumble upon after a day on the mountain when you feel like something more upmarket than a burger, accompanied by a good bottle of wine. Elk offers a contemporary space with a central fireplace where kids can toast marshmallows while adults indulge in a tipple or two. Think confit pork belly, steamed duck buns and chilli tequila wings. You can't go wrong. See fallscreek.com.au/restaurants/elk-restaurant