Skiing in Poetry and the Snowy Alps

Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

"Down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise their torn and rugged battlements on high--where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze. . . . "

Banjo Patterson published "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" in 1895. His poetry about Mt. Kosciusko, the Snowy River and the Snowy Mountains became an enduring classic of Australian literature, luring travelers to these Australian Alps.

When my wife and I returned to the Snowy Mountains, more than a dozen years had passed since we had come here to ski in the mountain range of Banjo Patterson's poetry.

Now it's springtime Down Under, and the pine-clad ridges are ready for summer visitors during Australia's bicentennial in 1988.

In Thredbo we are within Kosciusko National Park in the Snowy Mountains. Mt. Kosciusko rises to 7,316 feet behind the Thredbo ski slopes and is the country's highest mountain.

From the winter season, June through mid-September, there are slopes above Thredbo that can challenge the expert skier.

sh Kind to the Beginner

But there are also slopes kind to the beginner and the intermediate skier. The new Supertrail has a $6.5-million snow-making system designed by the Canadian firm that installed snow-making facilities for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

The skiing is being marketed as "wide and easy, giving intermediate skiers a relaxing run on slopes almost as smooth as a golf course fairway."

Four chairlifts, seven T-bars and four beginner tows rise above Thredbo Alpine Village. Now that skiing has given way to warm weather, the longest lift up the Crackenback slopes between the village and Mt. Kosciusko will continue to run daily for "summer walks on the rooftop of Australia."

When we arrived there was still snow on what will soon again be one of Australia's most popular walking trails, offering what locals call "a healthy stroll" to the summit of Mt. Kosciusko.

Flowers and blossoming trees are covering the slopes and valley with a canopy of colors. Melting snows near the summit create tumbling whitewater in the Thredbo River, also called the Crackenback River, beside the green fairways of Australia's highest golf course.

This is a nine-hole course that would challenge Banjo Patterson's "Man from Snowy River" if he returned with a set of golf clubs. The first hole is a testing 460-meter (about 503 yards) par five.

sh Out-of-Bounds Hazards

Golfers ready to tee off are comfortingly reminded by the "Local Rules" on their score cards that all ponds as well as "the Crackenback River and the streams behind Greens 2, 5 and 7" are deemed out-of-bounds water hazards.

The fee for playing the course helps to pay for balls that may disappear into a water hazard or the flowering rough. It's only $7 Australian, or less than $5 U.S at the current rate of exchange.

The golf course is at one side of the sports center at the base of the chairlifts. Four tennis courts are on the other side, and there are two more courts close to the golf course pro shop. A small bridge arches across the river from the Sports Centre to the village.

Thredbo Alpine Hotel, where we stayed on our first visit here, is directly across the bridge and in the heart of the village. It has grown to a four-star resort, complete with sauna, spa, a pool and fine dining.

Rooms look out at the surrounding mountains, with doubles starting at $76 Australian during the warm weather tourist season. The adjacent one- to three-bedroom Thredbo Alpine Apartments are managed by the hotel and begin at $80 Australian a night.

Thredbo has as many hotels and lodges as a village in the Swiss Alps, and driving into the village up the Alpine Way highway makes it seem as if you have somehow managed to drive all the way to Switzerland.

Names like Alpenhorn, Winterhaus, Black Bear, Silver Brumby, Candlelight, Bursill's and Bernti's are invitations to step inside. Several lodges are noted for their Australian and European cuisine.

Nine self-contained apartment complexes are equally tempting, with nightly summer rates starting as low as $35. All accommodation rates tend to go up during the summer peak periods of Christmas and Easter weeks.

We drove here from Canberra, about a 2 1/2-hour drive. The historic town of Cooma on the Monaro Highway, a little more than halfway to Thredbo, is another tempting stop that makes it difficult to be in a hurry.

sh A Step Back in Time

Lambie Street walk is like taking a step back into the 19th Century; its Raglan Art Gallery is housed in the old Lord Raglan Inn, built in 1854. Hansel and Gretel sit beside their cottage in Alpenthaler Park, along with nearly life-size figures that tell of legends and folk stories from the Black Forest of Germany.

A statue of "The Man from Snowy River" sits astride his horse in Centennial Park. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority directed one of the southern hemisphere's greatest engineering projects from Cooma, creating in the process lakes that are enchanting discoveries for visitors to the Snowies. The Grosvenor and Kunama Galleries feature internationally known Snowy Mountains artists.

Lake Jindabyne is about a half-hour drive beyond Cooma and is at the beginning of the Alpine Way up to Thredbo. The village of Jindabyne, with its lodges, guest houses and caravan parks, is a resort destination for lake cruising, windsurfing, water skiing, catamaran sailing, canoeing, fishing and gliding.

Take a right at the Thredbo turnoff in Jindabyne and you'll find one of Australia's famed Paddy Pallin centers for winter cross-country skiing, summer bush walks, canoeing and mountain bike cycling, with all necessary outdoor adventure equipment to rent or buy. The center has just opened a lodge to accommodate 16 bush walkers or cross-country skiers on a hillside six miles up Alpine Way, with a spectacular view of Lake Jindabyne.

From Thredbo there are a dozen self-guided walks. There's a fitness track of one kilometer with nine exercise stations, to limber up around the village. A walking tour to study the alpine architecture takes about an hour. A walk around the golf course and along the riverside trout pools is about two kilometers.

sh Spectacular Scenery

Short walks are suggested as a conditioner for the change of altitude from sea level before taking off from the top of Crackenback Chairlift. It's a round trip of about five hours to the summit of Mt. Kosciusko, looking out at mountain lakes and the spectacular scenery. The trail leads into the headwaters of the Snowy River.

Kosciusko horse treks, four-wheel drive adventure safaris and white-water rafting experiences are other options of summer in the Snowy Mountains, rounding out a range of activities beyond even the imagination of Banjo Patterson.

For help in planning a trip to the Snowy Mountains, write to Thredbo Resort Centre, P.O. Box 7, Thredbo Alpine Village, New South Wales 2627, Australia, or phone the Australian Tourist Commission in Los Angeles at (213) 552-1988.

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