Kids don't always enhance a travel experience (think airline check-in queues) but, boy, do they rock the snow. Taking the kids to the snow for the first time is like taking them to a land of permanent Christmas, a place of snowball fights, snowman making, snow angels – and snow balls to the back of the head when you thought the snowball fight was over.
I first fell in love with the snow as an adult, but taking the kids to Mount Buller for the first time reminded me of everything that is magical about the white stuff.
It helped that our fist stop was at Mount Buller's Gnome Roam, a little something to keep the kids busy that starts on the drive up to the snowfields with a trio of red-hatted garden gnomes standing outside their house in a gnarled old tree. Grab the Gnome Roam map from the Buller visitor centre when you get to the top and try to find all their friends.
We spot a few gnomes in the village as we grab our gear and head to our accommodation, the Huski Apartments, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom affair with plenty of room for a family of four and an open fire as the lounge room centrepiece. The kids ignore our killer view across the valley and are straight back out the door. "Don't get too wet", we advise and come out to find them stuffing snow down each other's collars. We head out to dinner at Black Cockatoo in the Mount Buller Chalet hotel, but call it an early night because we have a full dance card for our first full day on the slopes.
The following morning is the first skiing lesson for the kids, while I get to take off on the slopes solo, and my wife grabs a group lesson. I head for the southern slopes and have some long, leg burners along Wombat Run and Little Buller Spur; the snow is good but the day is warm so by lunch it is starting to get a little sticky, so it's a good time to head off and grab the kids. The oldest tells me "I can ski now", though their instructor says they have yet to master a few essentials … like turning.
But skiing is all about getting out of your comfort zone so we board the ABOM Express and take them on their first run down the manageable Bourke Street slope. What follows is far from pretty as my wife and I guide, push, lift and slingshot our two snow newbies to the bottom. We are exhausted from all the "helping", but they are ready to go again, so we squeeze one more in before collapsing into a family heap.
Mount Buller's village is compact enough to make a few stops for your apres ski so we start by taking the kids to the Kooroora Hotel, the must-do spot on the mountain to clomp in for a beer with your ski boots still on. It's early for the Kooroora so we head on up the village to Pension Grimus an evocative, European-style wooden chalet decorated with old ski lift ephemera (owner Hans Grimus helped make Buller what it is today). Over a gluhwein in Grimus's Herbie's Bar, covered with old black-and-white photos of Buller's early days, the kids are still convinced they could have done a few more runs despite the fact they can only ski in a straight line. My sore muscles suggest we did quite enough for a first trip.
But now the cold weather is back, and the snow is starting to fall, the kids have once again begun to ask when we are getting back to Buller. The off-season has done little curb their enthusiasm – or their inflated view of their skiing skills – but it's high country time once again.
Mount Buller is a three-hour drive from Melbourne and its Tullamarine Airport.
Huski Apartments offers the Huski 6 from $935 per night during peak season; visit mtbullerreservations.com.au. In the heart of the village the newly renovated four-star hotel Mount Buller Chalet Hotel & Suites has double rooms and larger balcony suites; visit www.mtbullerchalet.com.au. If you want to ski in and ski out, and get a great schnitzel for dinner, Austrian-style Hotel Pension Grimus is a local institution; visit www.pensiongrimus.com.au.
Herbie's Bar is at 5 Breathtaker Road in Mount Buller Village (www.pensiongrimus.com.au), while the Kooroora Hotel is right on the village square at The Avenue, mtbuller.com.au. Black Cockatoo restaurant is in the Mount Buller Chalet Hotel & Suites.
Paul Chai was a guest of Mount Buller.
FIVE MORE ALPINE ATTRACTIONS
GUARANTEE THE SNOW
Mount Buller has a new toy this season, the "Snowfactory" – also known as the Techno Alpin SF 220. This new addition to the team of snow guns can produce 220 cubic metres of snow daily, even when temperatures are well above freezing. In fact, Buller locals were testing out the new Snowfactory snow in March – 80 days before the season even opened. It is the closest thing Australia has to a sure thing when it comes to skiing. See www.mtbuller.com.au
EAT AT THE TOP
Mount Buller opened its revamped Black Cockatoo restaurant last year which has a modern steakhouse look with copper, steel and leather and views across to Mount Stirling plus a great wine list; the seasonal menu might include smoked local rainbow trout with miso eggplant or Flinders Island saltgrass lamb shoulder cooked until it falls off the bone. They are all available as share plates so order a bunch with friends. See www.mtbuller.com.au
CELEBRATE THREDBO'S BIRTHDAY
This winter marks Thredbo's 60th anniversary and the mountain is full of things to do including new play areas for the kids and a coffee-table book celebrating six decades on the mountain. A new addition to the slopes this year is the "2037" commemorative bell that has been installed at the top of Karels T-Bar (2037 metres above sea level) – the highest lifted point in Australia. Forget a selfie, now you can announce your arrival at the top with the clanging of a brand-new bell. See www.thredbo.com.au
PLAY GOLF IN THE SNOW
Another new addition to Thredbo village is the opening of the Disk Golf Park, that allows you to play a round of golf among eucalypts using a hand-thrown disk (think Frisbee golf) instead of a golf ball and clubs. The aim is the same; reach the holes in as few throws as possible and try not to end up in the rough, even if that is the beautiful snow gums that line the village. See www.thredbo.com.au
SWAP SKIS FOR A SNOW BIKE
Falls Creek is the first resort in Australia to offer snow biking, a seated ski bike that you can take on special runs. This is part of the latest crazes to get around the snow – think snow tubing, snow shoeing, and dog-sledding – so why not give it a go. See www.fallscreek.com.au