I used to dread winter. For decades I had a calendar on my fridge where'd I'd cross off the days until summer. I'd escape for short trips to anywhere warmer. The coast, the outback, anywhere. Heck, I even visited Adelaide one July.
However, with the addition of each grey hair, I've warmed more and more to Canberra winters. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it's because of our increasingly harsh summers, or maybe it was moving to a house with a cosy open fire.
These days, I actually want it to be cold. My neighbours now know when a southerly change blows in without even peering out through their curtains. They hear me cheer. If the water in the bird bath doesn't freeze solid overnight, I'm disappointed. As for those mornings when the fog doesn't burn off until lunch time, if at all, they are the best.
Winter is now a time I celebrate being indoors, a time to catch up on that pile of books and for some serious TV watching, a highlight of which is the Tour De France. It's an evening ritual. Light the fire, turn on SBS, attempt to whip-up Guillaume Brahimi's (yes, I still miss Gabriel Gaté too) Plat De Tour, then join the couch peloton as the riders wind their way through the vineyards, past the castles and best of all, over the alps.
One of the only interruptions I allow to my glorious winter hibernations is to answer the annual call to our own mountains, where for over 30 years I've been enticed by the prospect of a celebratory dinner at Eagles Nest, Australia's highest restaurant, located at Thredbo Top Station.
However, every time I tried to book, these marquee events were either sold-out or cancelled due to bad weather. Every single time. A few years ago, I gave up trying.
That was until last weekend. With the slopes devoid of lock-downed Sydneysiders, now was my chance to strike. Bingo! Tickets booked for the Yowie clan. Sure, the Eagles Nest experience has now been replaced by a Bavarian-inspired feast at the slightly lower Merritts Mountain Haus. But, hey, what's 300 metres difference in altitude between friends.
We pack the Yowie mobile and hit the Monaro Highway. I've booked on the add-on snowcat tour which is for adults only so bid farewell to Mrs Yowie and the kids late afternoon. They'll meet me later for the German feast. Can't wait to see the kids try a bowl of sauerkraut.
"Welcome to the inaugural snowcat tour" says our driver as he helps me up the stairs of his bright red Pisten Bully. Although Thredbo has a dozen similarly branded snow grooming machines this is the only one converted to take passengers, and tonight it's got a near full payload of 15.
Well insulated, it's surprisingly quiet inside the cabin and for about 10 minutes we chug effortlessly up the steep slopes enthralled by our driver's commentary and captivated by the scenery. Then without warning the cat stops abruptly. "Sorry folks, we have an unexpected mechanical failure", crackles the announcement through the speakers in our cabin.
But no one minds, the impromptu break adds to the adventure. We clamber back down the stairs just as the last of the sun dips behind the main range. What a view. With the lifts having stopped spinning over an hour ago, it feels like we are the only ones left on the mountain. "I guess that's because we are" quips one of my fellow passengers.
But we are far from stranded. In less than five minutes a fleet of snowmobiles arrive, and in scenes akin to the opening of a James Bond film we are whisked away to Kareela Hutte, a mountain-top daytime noshery for well-heeled snow bunnies.
Still plucking snow from our hair we are handed a glass of champers and on cue about 50 skiers emerge from behind the hutte, each holding two red flares (did I mention James Bond?!). At first, like a bunch of out-of-control fireflies they jostle for positions but then they effortlessly slip into a perfect formation, and with flares held aloft, ski gracefully down the mountain. Truly mesmerising.
Before long they disappear from view, and there's just time for another drink (or two) before the sky explodes with a kaleidoscope of fireworks to herald their safe arrival at the bottom of the flare run.
The top of the mountain is ours again. How good is this. But we can't stay up here all night so it's off to Merritts where I'm reunited with the rest of the Yowie clan who are already munching on giant pretzels. What else?!
We hardly make a dent in the four-course German feast, but we're mainly here for the experience; the firepit, the lederhosen and the yodelling. Ok, and the roasted pork knuckles. Yes, yes alright, the apple strudel too.
We linger as long as we can for with no international travel on the horizon, I tell Mrs Yowie this is as exotic as it gets for now.
So, was it worth the 30 year-wait?
At $250 for the snowcat tour, gondola ride and mountain feast it's not cheap, but to mark a special occasion or to finally tick something off a lifelong bucket list, it's worth every cent.
Now all I need to do is get home to watch the peloton ride down the Champs-Élysées and my winter will be complete.
Last week's exposé on the 1956 Kunama Hutte avalanche which took the life of Roslyn Wesche resulted in a bulging mailbag.
"For years when I've walked or skied the back country, I've wondered about the history of that hutte, with scarcely a trace now visible," reports Jack Palmer of Watson, adding "it's great to finally read the full history and understand what happened".
For Gary Poile of Collector, who was one of the many SES volunteers that helped with the Thredbo landslide disaster rescue in 1997, it brought back sad memories.
"We set up a control base in Roslyn Lodge, just 50 metres from the landslide," reports Gary adding, "it was late one night when I came in after a long shift on a rubble line that I saw the photo of Roslyn on the wall and read the story about the avalanche".
"Considering why we were there it was a very emotional moment," recalls Gary. "It was as if Roslyn was there watching over us. It still sends a shiver, even after all this time." I bet.
Meanwhile, several readers asked how many people have died in Australian avalanches. In the absence of any authoritative list, according to my files there has been five deaths across four different avalanches. Let's hope the list never needs to be added to.
- Roslyn Wesche, Kunama Hutte, NSW, 1956
- John Davis, Mt Mawson Ski resort, Tasmania, 1979
- Tom Kneen, Mt Feathertop, Victoria, 1985
- Tom Carr-Boyd, Mt Twynam/Blue Lake NSW 2008
- Martie Buckland and Daniel Kerr, Mt Bogong, Victoria 2014
Hot chocolate controversy
On a less morbid, but equally wintry note, I've recently twice been served hot chocolate made on hot water, with a splash of milk. Surely real hot chocolate is made on full milk, isn't it?
WHERE IN CANBERRA
Clue: Where the bells toll
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Susan Henderson of Isaacs who was first to correctly identify last week's photo sent in by Joceyln Plovits as a 'Merlion' hanging on the wall at the entrance to the Village Centre at the National Arboretum Canberra.
Susan just beat Roger Shelton of Spence and Leigh Palmer of Isaacs, the latter of whom reports "the Merlion is the official mascot of the Republic of Singapore who are the diplomatic partner to the Warm Trees installation this year.
The Merlion, which boasts the head of a lion and the body of a fish, is a mythical creature where the lion represents the city state and the fish represent the original fishing village in the area."
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 17 July, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
Why the recent proliferation of antique snowshoes? You can hardly go into a ski lodge or high country café these days and not find a pair tacked on the wall. There can't have been that many of these used in Australia where snow shoeing has only gained any significant level of popularity in the last decade or so. Are all those on display genuine pre-loved wooden snowshoes or is someone profiteering from manufacturing them en masse?
Several readers have confirmed the curious concrete object located near the Cotter Dam is a relic from when the original dam wall was raised.
"The device was apparently used to fill a hopper with concrete which was delivered to the dam wall via flying fox" says Lesley Moore.
"There are also rusted bits and pieces nearby as well of metal objects just left around," reports Louise of Uriarra who "rides her mountain bike past it every weekend".