Larissa Dubecki made the most of a spectacular snow season at FALLS CREEK.
Falls Creek is one of Victoria's major alpine resorts and, with its serious investment in terrain parks and halfpipes, is a spiritual home for snowboarding and freeskiing. With more than 60 kilometres of trails, it's also big for cross-country skiers and hosts Australia's cross-country ski team. Whatever your snow-sport bent, it's been a bumper season.
Lodges all tend to look the same under cover of snow but Astra gives good front to Sitzmark Street with its three tiers of wood, glass and stone hugged by a balcony. Slightly dated but perfectly comfortable, there's the added cachet of a heated swimming pool with spa and sauna looking out on to the snow.
But the really good news for Astra is that the Three Blue Ducks Cafe in Sydney, which also happens to run The Gully restaurant next door, has taken over the management contract. As well as adding a massive street art mural (a snowboarding waiter pulled by elephants) and jalapeno-can lightshades, the tariff now includes breakfast at The Gully.
The rooms are small although they managed to squeeze in a small mattress for our young daughter to sleep on at no extra cost and there's the obligatory heated boot room on the first floor to store ski gear. An oil heater goes up to 11, figuratively speaking, which means it easily wins the battle against the sub-zero chill at this time of year. There's a wall-mounted TV, but no coffee or tea-making equipment in the standard rooms. It's a crash pad rather than a place to chill, although the penthouse is a different story. And, despite the bar downstairs, it's quiet - the only overnight disturbance was the thud of snow cascading off the roof.
It's important to pay attention to the wording: Astra is a lodge, not a hotel, and it is best approached in the spirit that there will be no concierge, daily room sprucing or other luxuries. The big drawcard is the lounge, a massive timber-lined space with a wealth of comfortable couches and an open fire that gets cranking about 5pm each day. Apres-skiing is ridiculously easy with chilled-out bartenders and a Mexican-slanted snack menu courtesy of Three Blue Ducks with things such as grilled corn, tortillas and southern-fried chicken.
Skiing or boarding are, of course, your activities of choice. Sitzmark Street is a short walk or ski from the shops of Slalom Plaza, where you can buy everything from a newspaper to a lift pass, and hop on board the Falls Express ski lift that accesses most runs. Check out the Falls Creek website (fallscreek.com.au) for information on activities and lessons and events such as night skiing.
Astra bucks the ski fields' inflationary trend. It's a comfortable and affordable option with lovely staff and an interesting future thanks to the change of management.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Falls Creek website will tell you the ski resort is 4½ hours' drive from Melbourne although the 390-kilometre journey can easily take an extra hour. Take the Hume Freeway out of Melbourne and turn for Milawa and the Snow Road just after the Glenrowan West service centre; this route will take you through Myrtleford and Mount Beauty, both of which offer ski-gear hire and snow chains for cars, which are a legal requirement at this time of year. There is no parking in the village in winter and, depending on its location, you might need over-snow transport to get to your accommodation. See fallscreek.com.au/resortparking.
Astra Alpine Lodge, 5 Sitzmark Street, Falls Creek costs from $480 a night in the ski season, cheaper in summer. Phone 03 5758 3496. See astralodge.com.au.
The writer paid for her stay at Astra Lodge.