Mt Buller

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R.A.N. (Navy) Ski Club, ‘Breathtaker Lodge’, Mount Buller

Mount Buller is one of Australia’s premier ski resorts. It has over 300 hectares of skiable terrain serviced by 22 lifts. The adjacent Mount Stirling is linked with Buller and provides trails for back-country adventure and cross country skiing.

Buller has all the standard facilities of a modern ski resort including sales and rentals of snow equipment & clothing and a comprehensive Ski & Snowboard School. Other facilities include a supermarket, cinema, church and day spas. Over 30 bars and restaurants provide a wide choice of dining experiences.

Go to the Mount Buller website for further resort information:

http://www.mtbuller.com.au

The Navy Ski Club lodge at Mount Buller stands on the foundations of the original lodge which was built in the mid 1950s. The ‘Breathtaker lodge’, so named as it is located on a piece of land known as Breathtaker Point, has been renovated and modernised over the years, and now accommodates up to 60 people.

The Lodge provides ski-in / ski-out access to intermediate runs or a short walk to the beginner areas. Free shuttle buses provide intra village transport and a bus stop is located directly outside the Lodge.

Getting to the Mt Buller

 From Melbourne, the best routes are via Yarra Glen or Whittlesea to Yea, then onto Mansfield and Mirimbah; driving time approximately three hours. From Sydney or Canberra, take the Hume Highway and turn left to Mansfield from the Benalla by-pass.

On arrival at the entry point to Mt Buller, you pay an entry fee and any overnight parking fees.   At the gate you will be advised as to whether snow chains need to be fitted at the chain fitting bays located up the mountain. Chains must be carried in all vehicles from the season opening on Queen’s Birthday weekend until the end of the season. You proceed up the mountain until you reach a point where you will be directed by mountain staff where to park. There is roadside parking as well as large car parks (take note of which car park you’re in).

Leave your car in gear.  Never apply the handbrake! If required, don’t forget anti-freeze in the radiator before you leave home and lift windscreen wipers clear of the windscreen once parked. If you are driving a diesel vehicle it is advisable that your tank be topped up with alpine diesel in Mansfield or a diesel anti freeze additive added to your tank to prevent your diesel fuel from spoiling due to freezing.

Having parked and unloaded your car, unless directed otherwise, you wait by your car for a four wheel drive taxi transport to transfer you to the Lodge. The Lodge, known locally as Navy Ski Club, is situated at the end of The Avenue. The taxi service is very efficient and will be there almost as soon as you park.

Alternatively, you can catch the bus from either Melbourne or Mansfield which will drop you off in the village and qualify you for an immediate four wheel taxi to the Lodge. Four wheel drive taxis meet all the Mansfield Mt Buller Bus Line buses.

Arrival at the Lodge

On first arrival, you can ring the doorbell at the front entrance. From then on, the winter entrance is through the lower ground floor door to the right of the building and the door has a combination lock which is set for security reasons. It is up to you if you are arriving late to check with the Lodge Manager (03) 5777 6363 for the combination. Ski boots or outdoor boots must be left in the racks provided in the boot drying room before proceeding upstairs. The drying room also has a combination lock.

In the foyer near the front entrance you will find a notice board showing which cabin(s) have been allocated to you. The same board lists chores allocated to all members and guests staying in the Lodge. Cabins are generally available from 1pm on the first day of your booking.

If you are in doubt, ask any member for help.  The Lodge is a friendly place! At an appropriate time, the Lodge Manager will also provide a Welcome Briefing which will outline much of the guidance contained in this article.

House Rules

The Manager will allocate chores to ensure the smooth running of the Lodge. These are not onerous and should only take each group or individual a maximum of 5 – 10 minutes per day. Such chores include emptying rubbish bins, vacuuming communal areas or setting the fire. On the whole, it is expected that everyone cleans up after themselves and is respectful of others in terms of their behaviour.

It is a Navy tradition that headwear is not to be worn in the communal areas of the Lodge, i.e. in the lounges and dining room. Indoor footwear or socks are also to worn at all times in communal areas. No bare feet!

Cabins

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Lodge accommodation is made up of two, three and four berth cabins (rooms) with beds being a combination of single beds and bunks.

All beds have doonas and pillows so you need to bring only sheets and pillowcases. Extra blankets are provided in the cabins. Even if using a sleeping bag, a bottom sheet and pillowcase is a mandatory requirement for health and hygiene reasons. Also bring personal toiletries and towels. The Lodge Manager has a small supply of sheets and pillowcases for hire at a nominal fee (though this is only intended for emergencies such as when someone has forgotten their sheets).

Other Facilities

Basement:  Drying room for clothing and footwear, laundry, ski / snowboard racks and sauna.

Ground Floor:  Main lounge with open fire place and bar, dining room, large well equipped galley (kitchen), bathrooms, toilets, cabins and the Manager’s flat.

First Floor:  TV lounges and games rooms, cabins, bathrooms and toilets.

Food Storage:  There is a large well equipped kitchen opening from the dining room in which you will find a cupboard marked with your cabin number. Store your non-perishable food here. There are refrigerators throughout the kitchen and dining room for your use to store perishables. Areas in the fridges are also allocated in accordance with cabin numbers. Drinks (alcoholic and soft) are to be stored in the large refrigerators in the lounge bar. (Your surname should be marked on all refrigerated items). Freezers are located in the basement for any requirement to store frozen foods.

Wi-fi:  Available free of charge but please no large downloads, movies, etc.

 

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What to Bring

Apart from bringing your own sheets, pillowcases and towels, you also bring your own food and refreshments. A range of condiments including tea and coffee are provided by the Club. There is a well stocked supermarket (Foodworks) on the mountain should you forget anything. Supplies from Mansfield IGA can also be ordered and delivered to the Lodge.

On Leaving

It is your responsibility to vacuum and clean your cabin and complete any assigned chores on the day of departure. Unused foodstuffs must be cleared from your allocated cupboard in the kitchen and the cupboard wiped out. Refrigerated items are to be either taken home, or put in the rubbish bins provided. You will need to book a taxi (you should already have return tickets). The phone number is on the noticeboard at the kitchen entrance.

Cabins need to be vacated by 12 noon on the day of departure. Some luggage storage is available in the foyer and basement areas if you wish to hit the slopes before departing later in the day.

Non-winter ‘Green Season’ Use of the Lodge

Mount Buller offers a range of non-winter activities including world class mountain bike trails. A Lodge Manager is not in residence outside of the main ski season, therefore, you have to ensure that arrangements are made to obtain keys, to familiarise yourself with opening and closing procedures and security requirements. The Lodge can be booked for out-of-season use individually (minimum charges apply), for a group or for conventions, seminars, etc. Catering arrangements are the responsibility of the booking party.

Recent Posts

Vasaloppet China 2019 – an Experience

by Martin Linsley

What follows is written to entertain, report, advise and hopefully stimulate your interest in the Vasaloppet China – one of the 20 international loppet long-distance ski races (that include Australia’s own Kangaroo Hoppet race) organised around the world.

Dave Michael, my long-time skiing buddy, and I are both ex-Navy, and are ever grateful that we were introduced to cross-country skiing and racing by the Service. After retirement we pursued the goal of becoming World Loppet Masters, a goal that requires completing 12 loppet races in 12 different countries. After achieving this we haven’t stopped. The Vasaloppet China was our sixteenth loppet event.

A major motivation for our entering loppet races is the need to develop and/or maintain enough fitness, fitness that is also good for health and quality of life. On this occasion, being sufficiently fit was a challenge, for summer’s heat discouraged outdoor activity. Had we done enough for the Chinese loppet? Had we overindulged over Christmas and New Year?

After a day or two of nervous anticipation and adrenalin accumulation Dave and I met at Sydney airport on 2 January, and we flew for 14.5 hrs first to Guangzhou (near Hong Kong) and then Changchun (the capital of China’s north eastern Jilin province, due north of Korea, with a 7 million + population). Wearing only a shirt was OK for Sydney’s 20-30° C, but alighting from the plane at Changchun at near midnight the temperature was about -18° C. Thankfully, we didn’t have to spend long outside.

Dave and I had paid for a package that covered the race and some sightseeing. It was offered by Nordic Ways, a small and specialised Norwegian company that operates through the Vasaloppet China organisation. Benefits of the package soon became apparent. We were met at the airport by a ‘race volunteer’ who drove us in his Honda Odyssey to the five-star Sheraton hotel where most of the international skiers (about 150) were staying.  At the hotel, the owner/manager of Nordic Ways met us and we were soon settling-in to our room.

Next morning we enjoyed a splendid buffet breakfast, with a large choice of mostly Chinese food spread over four buffets. By 1100 we were in our ski gear and boarding a coach that would take the Nordic Ways skiers to the nearby race location. The weather was normal for the area: clear, windless and cold (about -16C). There was practically no natural snow and, as anticipated, we found the race start/finish area and course (a 25 km loop) relied on man-made snow. Being consistently too cold to melt, the snow was good for skiing: dry, fast and firm. Tracks were being set, because the race was restricted to classical technique skiing.

The Chinese organisers work wonders to make their loppet event world class. A splendid feature is the massive ice sculptures adjacent to the start/finish area. This isn’t only for the race: the venue is a nature/recreation park centred on a lake, so in winter it’s a playground for the locals. Small motor vehicles can be hired for sliding on the frozen lake, short horse-sleigh or a dog sled rides are an option, as is hiring inflated truck tyre tubes for the frozen slopes.

Being concerned with saving energy, and somewhat uncertain about the grip wax on our skis, Dave and I spent just over an hour on our skis before returning to the hotel. This was enough, because the race course was being prepared and only a small section of it was accessible to skiers. We noted that at the start the course was wide enough for just four cut tracks. Three to four hundred metres along the course the snow-covered area narrowed to about three metres wide, allowing for two just classic tracks with just enough room for a third skier between them. (More on this later.) We learnt that the course meanders around the park following (sealed?) roadways and tracks. There’s a good mix of slightly undulating gradient (with no Aussie-standard steep grades) and flat areas, including a couple passing over frozen lakes.

Thursday afternoon Dave and I took our skis to a couple of young semi-professional Swedish guys who were waxing/preparing skis for the race in the hotel’s basement carpark. We needed them, as we don’t have the waxes for very cold temperatures and hadn’t brought waxing equipment. The Swedes were preparing 45 pairs of skis that afternoon and charged $80. We were later satisfied for the expensive aid, our skis gripped well for ‘the kick’ and glided well when needed.

By then we’d learned that four other Aussies were in Changchun for the race: a family of three from Sydney (Phil Cole, wife and daughter Alexandra) that presently reside in Hong Kong, and a younger guy from Melbourne.

Friday 4 Jan was race day. Nervous energy was at a high level. The ‘internationals’ from the Sheraton arrived at the course early, the hotel being just a 15-minute drive away. There were ‘rough and ready’ changing facilities in tents for ‘ordinary’ folk, but as we found ourselves closer to a small, heated building designated for elite international teams, we assumed an air of ‘belonging’ and walked past the security staff before establishing ourselves in a corner.

Further evidence of the efforts taken to make the China loppet world class was the pre-race entertainment – the best we’ve experienced anywhere. There would have been over 100 drummers, dancers and musicians performing for twenty minutes in front of the ice sculptures. It was a welcome distraction from the efforts ahead.

Conditions were good for skiing. Clear, windless and the air temperature for the 1000 start about -15C;  relatively warm for Changchun.

From her experience with the race in 2017 Marg Hayes had warned us about the start, and arrangements for it hadn’t changed. About 90 elite skiers lined-up at the front of the field (50:50 Chinese and other nations). Behind them were the remaining skiers in the 50 km race (around 100), and behind us were the near 300 folk entered for the 25 km distance. With there being just four tracks cut for all racers, and with many skiers squeezed between those tracks, the mass of competitors extended over 100 metres. This would have been less of a problem if the start of each group had been separated by a few minutes, but no … the gun fired and everyone started together. Consequently, our group of skiers was overrun by the 25 km ‘speedsters’ and the impetuous youths (anyone under 50?) who weren’t interested in pacing themselves and who felt the need to sprint to the front. Unsurprisingly, there were several falls, people pile-ups and a couple of broken poles. Dave and I, skiing separately, ‘went slow with the flow’, trying to avoid trouble.

The greatest issue became evident about 1.4 km into the race where, at the top of a long gentle rise, the course’s steepest descent on the narrow  track occurred. Many of the ‘speedsters’ and ‘youths’ hadn’t learned how to control cross country skis downhill, and these individuals fell, totally blocking the narrow track. Seeing the human debris, the skiers behind stopped at the top of the hill where an official tried to martial an orderly queue and progression by shouting and blowing a whistle. Dave and I ignored him, squeezed through the waiting, hesitant folk and easily negotiated the slope to continue the race.

As normal for a loppet, refreshment stations were located every 7-8 km, providing a choice of liquids and something to eat (bananas, bread, or a Cocopop-type bar). Being concerned about running-out of energy, I refuelled at all of them.

I progressed satisfactorily until completing 20.5 km. It was then that the leading bunch of 5-6 elite skiers caught me (they had completed 45.5 km). Being so close to their finish these athletes were close to sprinting at more than double my speed. The restricted course wasn’t conducive to a bunch of skiers overtaking an ‘old fella’ who was pottering along in one of the two tracks. A ski appeared between me and my planted pole, causing the elite skier to trip, fall, and bring down two others. I then fell over the three of them.

This crash probably affected the race podium positions, as less than 15 seconds separated the first ten race finishers. It certainly affected my result as, when I was able to return to a vertical position, one of my poles was broken in half. I therefore continued, greatly handicapped by the use of only one pole, but with some compensation in the form of a jazzy pair of sunglasses that one of my fellow fallers had abandoned in the snow. Four and a half kilometres further I completed my first lap at the start/finish area and was able to borrow a pole (albeit 5 cm shorter than my remaining one).

Completing half the 50 km had taken me not far short of three hours to complete. This was concerning, as the course was to be closed after six hours. I was careful not to overextend though, my energy reserves were clearly limited. Steady sustained effort was necessary. Steadily the course-side distance markers counted down and my confidence in finishing increased. So too did my natural competitiveness, probably too much so, because I overtook several skiers in that second lap (including Phil Cole) and invested more energy than was wise. By the time I crossed the line in 5 hrs 33 minutes, placed 161, I was near ‘totally bushed’. Dave provided a great welcome and support for me there. (He had joined a few other folk in withdrawing from the race at the 25 km mark when they agreed that they wouldn’t meet the time limit). The race commentator also announced my achievement over the public address system, noting that I was the second Australian to finish, my year of birth, and that I was one of the oldest people skiing that day.

As Dave and I gathered our gear dusk was settling-in and the race infrastructure being dismantled. We caught the last coach back to the hotel, where I had my Worldloppet Passport stamped: a goal achieved.

For reference: a Chinese skier won the race in 2 hrs 23 mins and 27 secs, followed by another native lad and then skiers from France, Norway, Norway, Czech, and the USA. The leading female, from Sweden, finished in 2 hrs 32 min and 50 secs.

That evening Dave and I attended the China Vasaloppet prize-giving and banquet that was held at our hotel. It was a magnificent highlight of the event, incomparably better than experienced at other loppet events. The massive hall held tables that seated 440 folk including a few for VIPs such as the city’s deputy mayor. At the front was a stage with decorations that served as a background for a sequence of light and video shows that would have done Hollywood proud. Professional comperes mc’d the evening and introduced speakers, musicians, dancers (adult and children), acrobats and a short video of the day’s race. Meanwhile the guests indulged in a 15-dish meal with unlimited wine or beer. At our table Dave and I enjoyed the company of a Russian, a couple of Americans, and a small group of Estonians.

We slept well that night.

The Nordic Ways Travel Package offers three inclusive packages for the event, one with only travel to/from Beijing and entry to the race, and the others with short or long sight-seeing extensions. Dave and I opted for the short package that included a fast train ride to Beijing and two days of tours. We then followed our own plan with a train to Shanghai and two days sightseeing before our return to Australia on 12 January.

What overseas skiing adventures next for Dave and me? None are planned, but there are only four loppet races that we have yet to attend.

Advice for Australians attending the Vasaloppet China

 Unless you’re a recognized elite skier who’ll be at the front of the field for the start of the race, don’t be too competitive. Whilst event organization is of the highest standard, race management has had flaws (notably the mass start and limited width race course). Using the event as an excuse to visit and see something of China (and gain a stamp in your Worldloppet passport, of course).

Choose between paying for the Travel Package offered by the Vasaloppet Organisation or saving money by managing independently. For us the package worked well, making it easy for travel within China, accommodation, sightseeing and visa requirements. It also enabled us to socialise with fellow international skiers. Other Australians have managed the language and bureaucratic challenges associated with making their own arrangements. They saved money, but probably experienced greater stress and marginally less shared experience.

Prepare for the cold. Over Christmas the average temperature range in Changchun was -24 C to -18 C. This does mean that snow (mostly man-made) is near 100% guaranteed, and the weather is usually clear and calm. Either have appropriate waxes and equipment or use the professional service available pre-race.

Ideally skiers organise some on-snow practise before arriving at Changchun. The options for this aren’t good are likely to involve spending New Year and possibly Christmas in Japan (the best option?). Regardless, the same endurance fitness is required as for any other loppet race, so be prepared.

The trains and subways of the major cities are easy to use (well signposted) and efficient.

Engage with locals, who are as friendly and helpful as elsewhere. Many are keen to practise their English. Others like to use the Mandarin-English voice recognition and translation aps on their mobile phones to answer your questions.

Take your own energy/snack food from Australia. Finding equivalents in China can be difficult.

Pharmacies aren’t clearly and commonly available in China. Pack whatever could possibly be needed for the trip.

If you have any questions about Vasaloppet China that Dave and I might answer, contact me using email: linsleys@iinet.net.au.

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