Saturday, 17 November 2018

Mount Hotham - a snowy work weekend

A couple of months ago at the start of September, I went to Mount Hotham with my work group for a weekend away.  For those not living in these parts, people in Melbourne go "to the snow" because the snow never comes to us.  We were very lucky to get a snowy weekend of skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing as well as lots of great food and fun.

The weekend away is a group tradition at my workplace.  Everyone goes away together to relax and bond.  This year we had the perfect organisational team.  Being in a multicultural team, we brought the best of our countries: German efficiency and Scottish frugality in organising cheap accommodation for a big group ($120 for three nights at a big house in Harrietville at the bottom of the mountain) and generous discounts on car hire, equipment hire, skiing and snowboard lessons, and lift passes.  We had Iranian generosity in food organisation aided by the quiet but hard work of the Chinese.  It was amazing to see how well over 20 people were organised to drive there, get our gear, get to lessons, keep well fed and keep in touch when we did our own thing.

The first day involved everyone getting their bags together, hiring cars, making sure everyone was in them and over 4 hours of driving.  It was well planned that we went out for dinner.  Bright Brewery on the Alpine Highway is a short drive from our accommodation and did pretty decent pub grub.

I had the vegetarian vegie burger - on the current website it is a "quinoa veggie burger with sundried tomato and macadamia nut pesto, mushroom, rocket, beetroot and hummus dip served with fries".  I think mine was pretty similar.  I also had some mulled cider with it.  That is my sort of drink when it is cold outside.  Unfortunately it was not included in the deal where you got a free beer with a burger or pizza.

Our food organisers brought a lot of food.  However, we were a hungry lot, given that people were pretty active in the snow and it was cold outside.  Here is breakfast on the first day.  Lots of bread, cereal, yoghurt, spreads and my favourite was the large fluffy pancakes that one of the group made each morning (thanks CR).

We left early and drove up to Mount Hotham.  As we drove we had moody foggy views of snow that gradually got deeper and deeper.  First stop was to get all the gear sorted at the ski hire shop.  This weekend was quite an eye opener to me.  While I have been to the snow a few times, I have never skiied before and had not seen how much special waterproof clothing was worn, how much gear was needed with skis and snowboards, and how much those ski boots seemed to hurt.  It was like walking into a different world to any I'd ever known.

Everything was different, even the buses with their special ski holders on the outside.  I had decided not to go skiing.  However I was glad I had been advised to hire snow boots because it was so cold and wet that street shoes would have struggled and I would have slipped over a lot more than I did (it was very embarrassing slipping over outside the door of the ski hire shop on the second morning).

Our first day was bitterly cold and grey (see the picture of the ski lifts above).  I had planned to stand and watch the skiing but it was so windy and foggy with just some small pin pricks of snow that were most unpleasant on my face.  It made me wish for those face scarves (one of the items of clothing seen at the snow that would never been seen in Melbourne - watching the snow fashions was quite fun).  I was glad I had brought along some warm layers of clothes.  I wore a cotton long sleeved top, a fleece, a down jacket and my trusty goretek jacket that I have had for over 20 years.  I had borrowed good snow mittens from my sister-in-law and did not need a scarf. 

I had hoped to watch some skiing.  We watched a lot of our group who did skiing or snowboarding lessons.  The more experienced skiiers and snowboarders went off far far away on the mountains.

Another of our group also was not skiing or snowboarding so we went to The Bird for a drink.  Here is a photo of Mount Hotham Central from the cafe.  I'll write about the cafe in another post.  Mt Hotham Central was the place for lessons, information, pubs and cafes and lockers.

We had plenty of food for making lunch - sandwiches, apples, energy mixes, chocolate bars, chips etc - back at our accommodation.  So each day we met for a quick catch up and lunch at the table and chairs and Mt Hotham Central. 

As well as watching skiing lessons and sitting in cafes, we wandered around Hotham Central and watched the skiiers.  It was very cute to see the tiny kids clad in their bulky ski suits and getting around on skis very naturally.  But when you checked the shopping, it was quite gobsmacking how expensive that place is.

In the afternoon I spent some time reading my book, a rare afternoon treat.  I was glad not to have the logistical challenge of carrying around skis and walking in ski boots.  That bit did not look fun, even if it looked amazing to be whizzing down the mountains.  There were lots of places to park your skis and snowboards outside Hotham Central.

Some people just stuck their skis in the snow in what looked like a random place.  We met up in the snow hire shop to return gear at the end of the day to avoid having to take it down the mountain.  When we got back to our accommodation, there were some very tired and sore people coming home and lots of hunger. 

We had a BBQ that night with lots of salads, as well as a great cheese platter.  It was great to sit and chat to everyone about how they fared during the day.  I had chatted to a few people at work about making my overnight sourdough bread while we were away.  It all started off well, I had worked out the measurements, taken my tins and sourdough, checked the oven was heating up and put together the dough to rise in the morning.  But in the evenings I found that the oven only started heating but never got really hot.  ARGH!  I tried frying my dough but it didn't really work.  Too doughy.  I could have made flatbreads but they are best fresh and I wanted the bread for the next day.  At least we had plenty of other food.  And my other contribution of coleslaw was far better than my failed bread.

The next day less of us set out for Mt Hotham.  A few went sightseeing around Bright and relaxed in the house.  Unlike the previous day, we were stopped midway up the mountain and asked to put chains on.  It looked like hard work.  The Germans were amused at those of us who took photos because it was unusual but they told their families back home about it because it seemed odd to them that there would be enough snow in Australia to warrant it.  I have never seen cars with chains on before, so I was fascinated.

Soon after we stopped for chains, it got much icier and snowier.  Again it was spectacular driving up the mountain. Apparently we were lucky to get so much snow.  The skiiers were delighted and those who had had lessons were off to "Big D", while the more experienced were over at "The Orchard".  I had decided I needed to get out more into the snow. 

I didn't want the palaver of skiing so I decided to hire show shoes.  I don't think this is a common thing to do because in my day of going around with snow shoes I did not see anyone else with them.  To be honest, I was quite unsure of myself.  But I spoke to people at information and the hire shop and worked out that Wonderland Trail was a nice easy walk to start with.  I took the bus there and was shocked at how desserted it was when I alighted.

After the frenetic pace of Hotham Central, I was surprised just how quiet it was on the cross country trails.  I found it really peaceful and beautiful.  I hadn't been sure how I would work out where to go, but there were lots of markers to keep me on track.  Once I got the hang of my snow shoes it was a really nice way to get about, and they made a very satisfying crunch on the snow.

While walking in this very quiet area, I stopped and asked one of the few people I saw to take a photo.  I got talking about being with my work group and was astounded to find that the guy knows my boss.  (Even more startling was that I told a family friend this story soon after and with the few details I told him in the story, I found that he knows my boss too.)  When I went back to Hotham Central at lunchtime to meet up with colleagues, I told my boss he is so famous that even in the quietest areas of the mountain, he is known!

The Wonderland trail was really easy.  I decided to go to one of the lookouts and chose the Christmas lookout.  Even though it was on one of the harder trails, it was fairly short.  I really enjoyed being able to see Hotham Central from the lookout.  All that activity reduced to a tiny mountain top.

And because Sylvia didn't come with me, I made a little snowman to photograph and send back to her.  He was very small and pretty cute but I wanted to make sure I got the bus back to our meeting point in time to get back to our accommodation so I didn't hang around long.  It was a far nicer day with lots of blue skies and sunshine on the second day and with all my walking, I found all my layers of clothes began to be stripped off.  I was glad of our little snacks and my water bottle in my rucksack.  We were all glad to get back on the second day.  There were more sore muscles and one colleague had had a bad fall off her snowboard but luckily was much better after a good sleep.

When we got back that evening, there was already a lot of preparation for dinner.  We had been asked to make something from our own country.  We walked in to find some of my Chinese colleagues frying dumplings and they were so delicious and welcome after an active day.  A cheese platter was also set up.

Here is the dinner table which was pretty crowded with delicious dishes.  I am sorry not to remember them all but there was Chinese fried tofu, a tomato egg dish, braised greens (sadly the pulled noodles meal was meat so I didn't get to taste but I did get to watch some noodle pulling), Iranian rice with crispy bits, German potato salad and more salads and stews.

Dessert was a boozy affair.  It was such a treat to have mulled wine from Germany and a Scottish cranachan that was very generous with the whisky.  I made some hedgehog as my Aussie contribution.  I am sure I have forgotten some dishes but I didn't take many notes!  We were all well sated and then got into teams for The Quiz that is an annual feature of these weekends away.  My boss organised the quiz and boy did he find some tough questions!  But it was lots of fun.

It was a really nice weekend and so well organised that we thanked the organisers for also making sure there was lots of snow.  I really loved going away and having so little to think about with logistics and food.  You can see I have some amazing colleagues and I really appreciated all their work that went into the weekend and that they are a lovely bunch of people to spend time with. (Having said that, I was really pleased to be home to my own space as we were living in close quarters.)  It was also a great opportunity to have a little experience of snow culture and found it fascinating.


  1. It looks like you had a lovely weekend. I have never been near snow so it scares me a bit, but it is certainly very pretty. Your snowman is cute.

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - snow isn't as cute as in the movies but not as scary either - although it is embarrassingly easy to slip over on. Big fluffy snowflakes and a pleasing crunch underfoot as well as the peacefulnees of undisturbed snow are great pleasures in life!

  2. I think snow is best enjoyed when you have to go to it - that means it's not lining the streets at home, and you can go do fun things without worrying about how you're going to get the car out and such like. I think it's amazing that you have work mates that you're able to spend a whole weekend with too - that must be a good team to work with.

    1. Thanks Joey - I think it was nice we stayed at the bottom of the mountain - I don't know how cars can cope in the very cold nights - we really had perfect snow on the second day. And it was fun to be away with work mates but also challenging at times but we made it. I have a good boss who treats his team like people rather than KPIs.

  3. What a lovely weekend getaway! I also loved going snowshoeing in Canadia - it's quite a popular activity there but also as you saw once you get away from the crowds you can find such serenity. I do adore mulled things in winter too.. so warming!

    1. Thanks Vegetarian Dreams - I'd never heard of snowshoeing but would do it again - I can imagine it would help you get about in canada where it is really snowy. And I am with you on mulled-any-drink.

  4. Aww that looks like so much fun! Have you written about this before? I don't think I've read about it before on your blog.

    1. Hi Lorraine - it has taken a while to write about the trip (and this was my first work weekend away like this as I missed out last year because of home commitments)


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