Snowy Mountains travel guide: 20 reasons to visit the NSW Snowy Mountains

1. GET FIRST TRACKS AT BLUE COW

The early birds get the turns; from 7.30am on Sundays, skiers and boarders who can handle the terrain on Blue Cow's Ridge Chair (intermediate and above) can get first go on the fresh or freshly groomed snow until 9am. Register before 5pm on the Saturday before.  Cost is $32 or free for season pass-holders, but all have to register and attend a safety briefing before they ride. See www.perisher.com.au

2. EAT AT CRACKENBACK FARM

Rustic and rural, this venue comes with a deep connection to NSW viticulture. The chef-owner  is Jodie Evans, daughter of the late Len Evans, a wine writer, producer and promoter who in many ways put Australian wine on the world map. At Crackenback Farm, the menu has a seasonal take and changes regularly to give house guests some variety. The wine list is also good, as you might expect: "You have only so many bottles in your life," Len Evans would say. "Never drink a bad one." There is some excellent advice. See www.Crackenback.com

**3. TOUR TO DEAD HORSE GAP

This is an adventure for accomplished or confident intermediate level and above skiers. Best done with someone who knows the way, leave a car at Dead Horse Gap, a few kilometres upriver from Thredbo. Back at the resort, ride the lifts to the top of Karels T-bar, Australia's highest lifted point. Walk a little then ski the long run over the wide open slopes below the Ramshead Range and finish off skiing through the snow gums towards the Thredbo River. Pack a picnic to make the most of it.

4. NIGHT SKI AT PERISHER

On Tuesdays and Saturdays from 6pm to 9pm the Front Valley slopes of Perisher light up for night skiing and boarding and that includes the terrain park. The lights put a false ceiling above the slopes, so it's like being in a massive, but mighty cold, indoor park. On Wednesday nights, the lights go on at Smiggin Holes for kids' skiing from 6pm to 8pm. There are also fireworks with the Tuesday and Wednesday night skiing sessions. Cost $31 adults, $13 children, but it's included on a season pass or kids' day ticket. See www.perisher.com.au

5. WALK THROUGH THREDBO

Not enough snow or had enough of the snow? Thredbo's self-guided art walk and heritage walk reveal the cultural depth of this enchanting alpine village. At one turn is Ramshead Hut, a ski lodge created from a prefabricated Norwegian hut originally used in the Snowy Mountains scheme; at another is Seidler Lodge, an award-winner from the 1960s designed by the legendary Harry Seidler (over a weekend, it is said). The art walk includes paintings, prints and sculptures  bought by Thredbo as part of an annual arts festival. See www.thredbo.com.au

6. EAT AT CUISINE RESTAURANT, LAKE CRACKENBACK

Jean-Michel Gerst has moved down the valley from Thredbo, where the French-born and trained chef was in charge of the kitchens, first at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and then the Knickerbocker  Restaurant. As food director at Lake Crackenback he is applying his classic training with some innovative dishes and the best in seasonal produce. Gerst's goat's cheese salad with roasted beets, caramelised walnuts and gingerbread crumble has to be eaten to be believed. See www.lakecrackenback.com.au

7. BRUSH UP ON YOUR SNOW TECHNIQUE

Few sports lend themselves to teaching like snow sports and even old hands can exchange bad habits for good with a capable instructor. At Perisher, the Snowsports School has class (up to six) or private (one-on-one) lessons to introduce the basics or polish your established performance on skis or boards. Beginners should check out the "buy early and save" deals: if they bundle lifts and equipment hire, lessons are free. See www.perisher.com.au

8. EAT AT WILD BRUMBY

On the road between Jindabyne and Thredbo, this quirky, quality venue is part sculpture park, part art gallery, part restaurant and part distillery. It reflects the Austrian alpine inclinations of its owners, Brad and Monika Spalding, but it's all happening in a very Australian setting. You can drop by for breakfast if you're a late starter (10am-11.30am) or linger over lunch and dream of the Alps over your Farmer's Pfandl of meat and sauerkraut. See www.wildbrumby.com

9. DRINK AT THE WILD BRUMBY DISTILLERY

The loosening of Australia's spirit distilling laws have liberated some great talents. After lunch at the Wild Brumby Cafe, settle in for a schnapps tasting and find a favourite flavour. It might be apple, pear or berry, all of the fruit sourced from the region or it might be the well-named Devil's Tongue,  that wakes you up from your Farmer's Pfandl, with its chilli aftershock. A recent addition to the line-up is Wild Brumby Gin, which took gold at the 2016 Melbourne International Spirits Competition. They're saying it's a big win for Gindabyne. Get it? See www.wildbrumby.com

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10. CLIMB THE RAMSHEAD RANGE

Thought ice was just for your gin and tonic? Think again. K7 Adventures will take you ice climbing, complete with ropes, crampons and ice axes, all the way out near Australia's summit. Conditions put our trip closer to Thredbo, climbing packed snow on a steep face of the Signature Rocks of the Ramshead Range, but it was no less invigorating. K7 also runs ski or snow-shoe tours to  Mount Kosciuszko and even kite skiing if you want the wind to do the work. See www.k7adventures.com

** 11. FLY FISH THE LAKES AND RIVERS

If it seems a sport of millionaires on private rivers, cast that aside and learn how to cast with an expert like Matt Tripet on the waters of Lake Crackenback. He makes the complex task of spooling out and casting the fly simple and in three hours has us hunting fish. "Focus on the process, just keep up the rhythm," he'll say, pointing out that even though the sport is dominated by men, women are far better at adopting the technique. The lakes are fair game all year but the streams are closed for the trout to breed from mid-June to early October.  See www.lakecrackenback.com.au

12. WATCH THE THREDBO FLARE RUN

With the village on one side of the valley and the slopes stretching way up high on the other, few places match Thredbo for mountain views from accommodation or some of the bars and public areas. The flare run and fireworks are a Saturday-night tradition during winter and they light up the night skies. If you would prefer to be a part of the flare run, you can try out at 4pm – there is a $15 donation which all goes to charity. See www.thredbo.com.au/activities

13. SKI THE THREDBO T-BARS

In spring, the best snow is always on the higher ground, where cooler temperatures maintain the quality in conditions and cover. Unlike a chairlift, where you're up in the wind, riding a surface lift keeps you on the ground and warmer for most of the trip. The terrain off Thredbo's T-bars – the Basin, Sponars and Antons – is wide open at the top but winds back to base through the snow gums for some entertaining skiing and boarding.

14. THREDBO SPRING DEALS

September traditionally has the deepest snow cover, the best weather and the smallest crowds. Take the family on a mountain escape with seven-night packages, including seven-day lift passes from $551  a family  a night at Thredbo (two adults and two children) for stays between September 4 and September 30. Phone the Thredbo Resort Centre, 1 300 020 589.

**15. SKI THE GUTHEGA SLOPES

If the slopes are busy in Perisher or Blue Cow, then make your way over here; the installation of the Freedom chairlift in 2014 changed the way Guthega skis, unlocking terrain that was previously choked by long queues on the T-bars (and Australia's only J-bar, a T-bar for one; possibly the oddest lift we had). Runs like Karl's and Schnaxl are well-groomed for smooth, fast turns. Take the Norwegian Trail to access Guthega Village and its Alpine Inn. 

** 16. EAT LUNCH AT THE GUTHEGA ALPINE INN

This has to be the best location for lunch in the Australian mountains, with the most spectacular views of the Guthega Dam – the highest in the Snowy Mountains Scheme – and the peaks of the Main Range, like Kosciuszko and Twynam. On the western fringe of the Perisher ski area (but inside its lift network, so it's easy to ski to) if the sun's out, so should you be – on the terrace outside the Alpine Inn where lunch is served from 11am to 2pm – soups, curries, schnitzels; hearty alpine-style dishes from the blackboard menu. See www.Guthega.com

** 17. STAY AT LAKE CRACKENBACK RESORT

With views through the snow gums up to the snow-capped Crackenback mountain range, this village of chalets and apartments is cunningly well located. An easy drive to Thredbo or an even easier drive or shuttle ride to the Skitube and on to Perisher, puts the skiing and boarding in easy reach. If some in the group don't ski or board but like to wander the creek and river-side walking tracks, this is the perfect place. Three-night September bed and breakfast packages from $303  a person; see www.lakecrackenback.com.au/specials

18. WALK, RIDE AND REJUVENATE

You could open a sports institute at Lake Crackenback – with archery, trampolines, tennis courts, an indoor pool, a small golf course, riverside walking trails and, when they dry out, mountain bike trails. Throw in the skiing and boarding nearby and you might need some recovery – head for the Spa and Wellness centre for massage and beauty treatments to get those stiff muscles supple again and ready for the next round. See www.lakecrackenback.com.au

19. BUY YOUR 2017 SNOW PASS

If you ski or board for more than about eight days each season and might add a northern hemisphere trip into the mix, then buy a season's pass. The 2017 passes will go on sale this spring and steadily rise in price the longer you leave the purchase. Perisher's season passes come with access to major US destinations owned by its parent, Vail Resorts (with restrictions over key holiday periods) and for 2017-18 should include the recently   bought Whistler Blackcomb. Thredbo's ticket puts you in the Mountain Collective, giving two days free skiing at its member  New Zealand and North American destinations, then 50   per cent off lift tickets. See www.perisher.com.au, www.thredbo.com.au

20. CYCLE BACK IN SUMMER

There is no end to the fishing, walking and relaxing in the mountains through summer, but it's the pedal-power enthusiasts who are heading to the area by the peloton.  This summer, that includes L'Etape Australia, a road cycling event based in Jindabyne for amateurs with professionals alongside as mentors (including Tour de France winner Chris Froome). Another local landmark is the opening of a mountain bike trail this summer from the top of Thredbo's Kosciuszko Express chairlift,  along the resort's highest ground, then down into the Thredbo River valley, finishing  five kilometres past Lake Crackenback. This trail should be  completed through to Jindabyne by the 2017-18 summer. See www.thredbo.com.au, www.letapeaustralia.com 

* Traveller top picks

Jim Darby travelled as a guest of Destination NSW

Traveller's top 5 picks

  1. Tour to Dead Horse Gap
  2. Fly fish the lakes and rivers
  3. Ski Guthega
  4. Eat lunch at the Guthega Hotel
  5. Stay at Lake Crackenback Resort

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