The snow tribes: Who is hitting the slopes this winter

 As the days cool and the mountains call, the snow people stir. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and with different pursuits in mind. The snow is their common commodity, but they split into packs when it comes to the ways they use it. From the Park Rats in the halfpipes to the Chookfooters on the cross country trails, the tribes are defined by appearance and equipment (or, in the case of our 4pm Heroes, the lack of it).

CHOOKFOOTERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Lean, Lycra and lanky, these athletic types with winning skin folds run triathlons and spend quality time on their road bikes in summer. On the snow, they cover the distance like gazelles on their slick cross country skate skis. The tribe isn't without defectors from the hustle and bustle of the downhill slopes either, people cruising along in search of some alpine serenity.

HABITAT In the Snowy Mountains, Perisher NSW's valley floor and gentler tree-studded slopes (the ones away from the lifts) give it the best terrain for XC skiers. The marked trail network measures in at more than 100km, much of it groomed (for conditions reports, see perisherxcountry.org). Anywhere in the village will be a good place to stay, but a good-quality, mid-range, dinner bed and breakfast option is the Man From Snowy River Hotel; see themanfromsnowyriver.com.au

ALSO SPOTTED AT Falls Creek, Victoria, has the benchmark trail network and hire and tuition facilities. Dinner Plain village, Victoria, near Mount Hotham is sublimely picturesque and when the snow cover is there, Lake Mountain, just a couple of hours from Melbourne, also has claims. 

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON This, and every season, on the last weekend in August, they'll gather with a United Nations of competitors for the Kangaroo Hoppet at Falls Creek; the Australian leg of the 26-race international World Loppet series; see hoppet.com.au. Also look for Fast & Female events at Falls Creek and Perisher; see discoverxc.com JD

EARLY ADAPTERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES More adherence to American and European style trends than the Kardashians; males of this tribe will openly discuss each other's clothes purchases (where else in Australia does this happen?). Don't expect Early Adapters to wear labels you're familiar with…yet. Boards, skis and clothes will be hand-made in Colorado or California. Will have the buzz on any new bar, restaurant or hotel in the ski fields before anyone else. 

HABITAT Your Early Adapter is the Thredbo, NSW, kind of snow-goer. Its chic Tyrolean-modelled village is home to dimly-lit wine bars where log fires rage and DJs spin records into the early hours. Will always find the hippest scene…first; like the Rekorderlig Apres Poolside Bar at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel where DJs play beside a heated pool full of revellers. You'll stay in the classiest five-star on-snow accommodation in Australia, Ski In Ski Out, skiinskiout.com  

ALSO SPOTTED AT Queenstown, New Zealand, with more than 130 bars and licensed restaurants in one small town – the race is on to find the next big place before anyone else.

WHAT THEY'LL  BE LOVING THIS SEASON Perisher's Dashboard RF development – now you can share the vertical metres you ski with the cyber-world. At Hotham, you have the hottest restaurant in Australia's ski-fields, Yama Kitchen & Bar, run by four of Victoria's most decorated regional restaurateurs, there's a taste of the world's hippest resort at the Ski Aspen tour at Mt Hotham August 25 to 28. CT

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4PM HEROES

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Only reach peak performance levels after the lifts have stopped and the groomers are on the mountain. Divided into two sub-groups: one, the skier or boarder whose energy is eternal and has skied since 8.30am and will be dancing in ski boots by 6pm. And two, the vacationer who has far more interest in apres skiing than snow skiing (easily spotted, they're the ones in street-wear at 4pm).

HABITAT Thredbo is the ideal habitat for the 4pm Hero. Kareela Hutte on the mountain-top is the perfect setting for lingering liquid lunches, while the apres action kicks off metres from the bottom of the slopes at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel. Four o'clock Heroes will be dancing in their ski boots at local's favourite, Schuss Bar (on the upper concourse of the hotel, there's live music and happy hour goes from 4-5pm daily). Stay close to the action within the same hotel, see thredbo.com.au

ALSO SPOTTED AT Because of its proximity to Melbourne, Mt Buller is notorious for type two 4pm Heroes, try a lively apres ski option a few metres from the slopes at Australia's famous Austrian bar/restaurant, Pension Grimus (pensiongrimus.com.au).  

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON As Queenstown's popularity continues to skyrocket, apres lovers are discovering the merits of Wanaka, an hour's drive away; and in particular, one of New Zealand's hippest bars, Barluga; Perisher's favourite apres ski bar at the Man From Snowy River is introducing six evenings of live music from, you guessed it, 4pm in 2016.  CT

HAIRY HIKERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Beards and ponytails, bib 'n' brace pants, all the skills of a survivalist along with strong green credentials (yes, the overnighters will even pack a poo-tube to take you-know-what home with them). Everything they need is on their back or in their pockets; they're geared-up like commandos.

HABITAT The Snowy Mountains Main Range in NSW is their Everest and can bring in blasts of weather almost as severe. You'll see them crossing the dam wall at Guthega, near Perisher, where they'll head deep into the white wilderness. You may also catch some sneaking a ride on Thredbo's Kosciuszko Express chairlift; they prefer to do the climbing, but gaining 560 vertical metres in a few minutes is sometimes too good to resist.

ALSO SPOTTED AT The Bogong High Plains around Falls Creek and Mt Hotham in Victoria for vast open spaces with some very steep mountain faces, like Feathertop and big old Bogong itself.

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON Gear is gold – the lighter and more tech the better. Ski poles are telescopic and carbon fibre; some with inclinometer to measure the slope angle. Bindings allow free-heel movement to cover the ground and a lock-down heel to enjoy fast, resort-type turns on steeper terrain; the new Marker Kingpin 13 at a slim 730 grams has a lot of fans. Skis are also light, but many like them fat (wide underfoot) to better enjoy fresh snow – K2's Wayback is one and the new DPS Wailer range another, but there are many. JD

HIRED HELP

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Lifties, instructors, patrollers and others roll up in the ageing Subaru AWDs they use for early-start car pooling. They'll unload at the Skitube or Thredbo's day car parks with uniforms generally in good shape (the darker the colour, the dirtier the job – lift maintenance usually wears black) but their hardware is in the best shape of all – the latest in ski and snowboard equipment. They know the priorities for their generally humble pay.

HABITAT Jindabyne, NSW, is the place and the stage of life will determine the digs, with Big Brother-type share rooms at The Station for the young and apartments or a first-home for the more accomplished, people who might be managing back-to-back seasons, teaching or patrolling in the Australian and Colorado or Canadian winters. The Station has a bar and big-name live acts to pay wages back to the company, Banjos in town is another favourite.

ALSO SPOTTED AT The General at Mount Hotham is a cult venue, especially on Monday nights when DJ Eddy plays (see thegeneral.com.au). With much more staff accommodation on-mountain in Victoria, the Hired Hands play a big part in the party. The flipside is in New Zealand, where nobody stays on the mountain, so the scene is full of life for all. Hit the bars of Post Office Lane in Wanaka and you'll find 'em burning off all that alpine energy. 

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON If their contracts kick in early, they can kick the season off with the Peak Music Festival in and around Perisher from June 10-13 and later in the season is the earthier, chart-stopping Snow Tunes in the heart of Jindabyne (snowtunes.com.au). JD

INTERSCHOOLERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES The Interschools snow program is the biggest snowsports comp in the Southern Hemisphere. The tribe splits three ways – the children, the parents and the organisers. To their great credit, the organisers make it all about having a go, but as they will, the parents look for a competitive advantage according to their spending power. Check who has the race suits and race skis and what mum/dad are driving and you'll catch on.

HABITAT On race day, the parents are beside the racetrack in Thredbo or Perisher, clipboard in hand for their volunteer course marshall stint, rugged-up like Michelin men against the early morning cold. The children will be in a pack at the top of the course, gossiping, fretting and trying not to freeze. And the teachers and Interschools officials will be fussing about, herding them all into position, chatting away on portable radios.

ALSO SPOTTED AT The biggest Interschools of all is the Victorian edition, at Mt Buller and it'll attract everything from Porsches to Protons; it is where it all started and remains a true snowsports festival.

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON The events culminate in the national titles for all the state winners. It moves from resort-to-resort to spread the business and this year is Perisher's turn – from September 7 to 11; clipboards and all, see interschoolssnowsports.com.au  JD

PARK RATS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Predominantly young: from mid-teens to early 20s, but with a growing proportion in their 30s, sometimes even 40s, as knee and shoulder surgery procedures improve. Characterised by bright colours (best for photos, dude) and crotches that hang to the knee, occasionally beyond. Despite their ghetto digs, Park Rats often come from wealthy stock, and demand only the latest boards, skis and fashion.

HABITAT You'll find Park Rats at Perisher's Front Valley where there's five of the southern hemisphere's best terrain parks and Australia's biggest half-pipe. Will often stay in packs in Jindabyne, or just outside, particularly at perennial favourite, The Station, set on 88 hectares just west of town, perisher.com.au/the-station .

ALSO SPOTTED AT Falls Creek has been a long-time rival in the fight to lure Park Rats and in its Ruined Castle advanced terrain park, it arguably has the best single terrain park in Australasia, with seriously huge jumps and death-defying rails that host the country's hottest competitions. Cardrona also has four terrain parks and one of the world's best half-pipes.

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON Being able to lap the park all day long with the best pros on Earth at Nitro's revolutionary Good Times Camp at Mt Hotham from August 12-14, Thredbo's new skate park with quarter pipes, grind boxes and roll-overs, and Australia's favourite park event, Falls Creek's Storm The Castle on August 20. CT

TRY HARDERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES They invented the term MAMIL (middle-aged men in Lycra) for cycling, but it's at its worst here. Ski racing suits leave nothing to the imagination and the older they get, the tighter the Lycra becomes and the more like Humpty Dumpty these masters racers look. They're a tribe of could-a-been World Cup downhill champions who just can't leave the racecourse alone. 

HABITAT Some are still club members and many club lodges come equipped with a ski room set aside for sharpening, waxing, and general swooning over ski equipment. Those without the club rooms might book themselves in at a place like Bernti's in Thredbo (berntis.com.au) or the Marritz in Perisher (marritzsalzburg.com.au) where they'll find the remnants of some Austrian alpine influence, and the Austrians are the die-hards the try-hards love to emulate.

ALSO SPOTTED AT Every resort has a master's program but neutral terrain in NSW is Lake Crackenback Village (lakecrackenback.com.au), where they can easily access Thredbo or Perisher, use the gym and health facilities, and the remarkable ski tuning talents of David Harrison. If they're in Jindabyne, they'll be taking their boards to Shane Burdett at The Racers Edge (theracersedge.com.au).

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON The legendary Thredbo Masters Race on July 23 and the Perisher Masters on August 6 and 7. Both events have training camps in the lead-up; see mastersskiing.com.au JD

SPEED BUMPS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Often found in groups blocking thoroughfares and doorways, with ski poles dragging behind skis totally mismatched for their height and weight. Often wearing borrowed, dated garments that don't match (think: figure-hugging ski pants with snowboard jacket three sizes too large). Prone to glove dropping. 

HABITAT There's nowhere better to learn in the southern hemisphere than its biggest ski resort, Perisher. It's huge – at more than 1200 hectares – with 80 per cent designated beginner or intermediate terrain. There's plenty of beginner-dedicated areas, the best being Smiggin Holes, easily reachable by a free shuttle bus if you'd rather avoid chair-lifts. And make life easier by staying there overnight at Snowy Gums Chalet, snowygums.com.au, a walk from the slopes.

ALSO SPOTTED AT With a separate ski area dedicated to beginners, Thredbo's Friday Flat allows beginners to learn without distraction from more advanced skiers and boarders. 

WHAT THEY'LL BE LOVING THIS SEASON Both Perisher and Thredbo now have Max 6 Ski and Board Lessons for adults, giving two hour lessons in classes no larger than six, and an all-mountain pass from $151, Perisher have introduced new "bundles" for beginners this season, which cover every type of snow user, see perisher.com.au CT

TREE CHANGERS

IDENTIFYING FEATURES Cheery, chatty dispositions (they've got all the time in the world), Tree Changers are the skiers and boarders you see calling lift attendants and cafe staff by their first names. Often seen in groups of other Tree Changers who ski and lunch together regularly, treating the slopes like their own country club.

HABITAT We all like a sense of community, don't we? Tree Changers revel in ski resorts that are also bona-fide villages. Thredbo, with its large contingent  of long-term, full-time locals, is ideal habitat. Often spotted at establishments run by iconic locals; try Bernti's Mountain Inn, berntis.com.au run by Donna and Ted Gregorski.  

ALSO SPOTTED AT Mt Hotham, particularly at its purpose-built town, Dinner Plain, a community of 150 people 13 kilometres from the resort.   

WHAT THEY'RE LOVING THIS SEASON  Go down valley where the Thredbo locals go on their days off, to Crackenback Valley to enjoy Sunday French-provincial-style lunches at Crackenback Farm (crackenback.com), join the Friday Afternoon Club at Mt Hotham, weekly two-hour skills sessions for local women every Friday afternoon from July 22.  CT

SNOWSPEAK

Apres ski: though not technically skiing, this after-ski social activity is usually perceived as being just as important by most skiers and boarders.

Chookfooters: Most tribe names are self-explanatory, but just in case, think of the way a chook moves its foot... XC skiers all over.

Fakie: Not an imposter or a poser, but when better skiers and snowboarders head down the slope or land a jump backwards.

Figure eight: The almost poetic performance of good skiers or boarders linking turns on a slope covered in fresh powder.

Figure 11: The not so poetic style of a skier who blasts straight down the powder run, never turning.

Garage sale: A spectacular fall, best witnessed from a chairlift, with equipment scattered all over the slope.

Knuckle draggers: Unkind name given to snowboarders by skiers referring to their throwback status in the evolutionary chain.

Off piste: When a skier or snowboarder leaves the groomed runs behind to try and find new snow in areas not groomed overnight.

Powder (pow, or pow-pow): The ultimate for any snow lover – refers to dry and soft new snow that falls on a ski mountain.

Sick: Oddly, not referring to someone's health, but rather is used to show delight when something is very pleasing.

Six pack: Not something you boast about your body, but a six-seater chairlift.

Trustafarian: US term, a rich but dishevelled ski bum trying to look poor (and therefore authentic).

Jim Darby, an editor at Traveller, once belonged to the mountain worker tribe, has been an Interschooler parent and has even ventured into the backcountry (although not overnight). He's been writing about skiing and the mountains for decades and has learned enough about it all to stop scratching his head and wondering why snowboarders like Tansley have such a good time. Each to their own.

Craig Tansley, a freelance travel writer for Traveller, began his snowboarding career as a Speed Bump, then dabbled with the Park Rat lifestyle before a torn knee ligament incurred on an extremely low-risk trick on a small jump made him concur his best chances at snow excellence were as a 4pm Hero. He's been writing about ski resorts around the world long enough to know he'll never, ever ski.

By Jim Darby and Craig Tansley

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