I've stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia, a world painted in a palette of white, grey and blue. We're weaving our way past snow-covered gums, the only sound the crunch of snow underfoot, the alpine chill on our cheeks and a tranquil stillness in the air. It feels as if we've entered a different realm.
But the magic has only just begun. After 20 minutes of snowshoeing we come upon a hidden "eco-village", in a clearing looking out across the Victorian alps. Snowdomes are strung with fairy lights, a friendly French girl is serving gluwhein from an ice bar and fur-swaddled benches surround a fire pit. Overhead the winter sky is streaked with pink as dusk falls.
Already snow glamping at Mount Hotham's Alpine Nature Experience is living up to my expectations. And having been fascinated from a young age by eskimos and their igloo homes, my expectations were high.
Across the globe igloos are having a moment. From Scandinavia to the Himalayas, Andorra to Canada, spending a night in a luxe ice shelter is one of the coolest travel experiences you can have right now.
Igloo options in the southern hemisphere are naturally somewhat limited. In Sydney you can drink, do a gym class, or even sleep in a plastic igloo at Pier One overlooking the Harbour, while in Melbourne you can hang out in similar-style igloos at the Wharf Hotel on the Yarra.
But for something that much more closely resembles a proper igloo experience in the snow, book an Alpine Nature Experience.
It's the brainchild of Frenchman Jean Francois Rupp, who married a girl from Albury and found himself in Australia. A native of the French Alps, Rupp was initially sceptical about the alpine country this side of the equator. But when he drove up the Great Alpine Road to Mount Hotham, he was won over. He also realised the different terrain, with its lower elevation and snow gum canopy, represented a tourism opportunity that wouldn't be possible in France, where the mountains are too exposed.
In 2017 he launched a guided snowshoe walk and French fondue dinner experience ("Snowshoe to Fondue"), and last year expanded into overnight stays, including dinner and breakfast and scenic skidoo rides ("Igloo to Skidoo"). If he gets enough snow, there is a real igloo built out of ice blocks for guests to experience.
About 30 people are taking the snowshoe walk with us this afternoon in late July, including my youngest, whom Rupp pulls on a sled (he's too small for the shoes). Only 11 stay for dinner, and it's just my family of five and a couple celebrating a birthday who will spend the whole night in the snow.
Notwithstanding the roaring open fire, it is absolutely freezing out here as the sun goes down, and you'll be bitterly cold if you're wearing anything less than proper ski clothes. But it's all part of this unique adventure, the view across the mountains is spectacular, and the central tipi with its log fire and three-course meal is beckoning.
Dinner begins with some warming homemade pumpkin soup, before Rupp instructs us in the art of making French fondue. We chop garlic, slice bread and grate three different types of French cheese into the pot, where it is mixed with the garlic and French wine. We learn it's a major faux pas to attempt to retrieve bread that falls into the fondue mixture, and soon our pot is swimming with what Rupp terms icebergs.
A former winemaker, Rupp has an extensive range of beverages to pair with our dinner, including a beautiful local moscato (he jokes it's like a pinot grigio that actually has a taste) and a genepi liqueur popular in the European alps.
With Rupp tending the bar, the party often goes well into the night out here, but the children are wilting and we retire to our private snowdomes before 9pm.
Inside the thick canvas it's snow glamping at its finest. Our bed is a wooden raised platform furnished with a plush mattress, faux-fur blankets, fleece liners and minus-eight-degrees-Celsius- rated sleeping bags. There is a woodheater keeping the space warm and cosy, a sink with running icy mountain water, and even phone chargers. The roof is clear perspex, so you can fall asleep watching the stars twinkling in the alpine night sky – or, if you're lucky, snow falling.
But we're not prepared for the howling wind that buffets the snowdomes through the night and it's hard not to feel mild panic that we could all be swept off the mountain plateau. Captain Lawrence Oates' famous words during the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole – "I'm just going outside. I may be some time" – keep running through my head, while my husband imagines himself a convict swinging in a hammock on a listing ship bound for Australia.
But when we do venture outside for a midnight toilet visit (to a pit toilet so lovely it puts many plumbed toilets to shame), we realise it actually isn't blowing a gale after all, more a gentle breeze. Moonlight illuminates the silvery gums and our breath is taken away by our silent snowy surrounds.
My 11-year-old daughter turns to me and says: "Thank you so much, Mum, for bringing us here. This is the best." It seems a love of igloos is genetic.
Hotham is a 4½-hour drive from Melbourne or an eight-hour drive from Sydney.
Alpine Nature Experience Snowshoe to Fondue costs $109 an adult and $65 a child (age 6-12). Igloo to Skidoo is $289 an adult, $145 a child. Phone 0466 280 603, see alpinenatureexperience.com.au/
Cosima Marriner travelled with the assistance of Visit Victoria.