Back Country Awareness Please read the following articles before considering going back country and research widely. Do not use information provided here as textbook accuracy as anyone can edit it. Double check anything found here and consult with experts before heading beyond the resort boundaries. People die in the back country every year, don't add your name to the list.
- Backcountry Run Rating - variable, depending on the weather and snow conditions
- RATING: Approach Steepness – often brutal!
Access and Trip
Cradle Mountain National Park
Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair national park sits in the centre west of the state and is world famous for its walking. Given the vagaries of snow in Tasmania and hard access in getting to most good skiable areas, it is not about to become a major skiing destination any time soon. But it does have some incredible mountain country and you can access the park from north, south and east.
The various (and most obvious) ski areas are listed from north to south.
Overview Cradle Mountain & surrounding peaks
Cradle Mountain offers some of the most accessible and impressive skiing in Tassie. The hike in from Dove Lake is only about 4 hours (best option is over the Marion plateau, which can have great snow cover in many years, past Kitchen hut and then on straight up the rocky face of the mountain). Marion plateau is wildly exposed, often the snow is piled up in heaps due to wind and this can make for choppy conditions. There is usually a nice descent down the top of the Horse Track back to the road (this is protected from the worst weather so good when conditions are intense and it tends to collect snow nicely). The more direct walking route straight up to Marions Lookout is a bit rockier and doesn't hold the snow so well. The extension of the Horse Track, out along Riggs Pass track, can also be worth a check. None of these areas are anywhere as exciting as Cradle itself.
When you are there its all fairly obvious – especially the many steep gullies and chutes on the northward facing side of Cradle Mountain - these are visible from the Lake Dove car park and offer some exciting skiing. Check the image of Cradle at: http://www.thesarvo.com/confluence/display/thesarvo/Backcountry+Skiing for a sense of whats on offer.
The south and eastern sides (which collect more snow) is steeper and a bit more serious again, although of less height as there is a big bench half way down. It’s really worth scoping these areas out before dropping off into some gullies as they can end in cliffs. There is a less intense bowl out towards Benson Peak that has some excellent runs. There are some lovely tarns down here (Lyndon and Flynns) with the impressive cliffs of Cradle as a backdrop.
For extended skiing trips, Waterfall Valley hut makes a great base, even though it is at least an hours walk back up to the mountain each day.
Another peak which requires a relatively short walk in is Mt Campbell, on the east side of Lake Dove. You access this via a steep climb up from the lake but once on top you get a lovely, rounded peak that offers some good runs, especially on the south. Unlike most other higher areas in the northern end of the park, this summit is not very rocky, making it better in marginal snow conditions.
If the conditions are good, a trip up Barn Bluff is highly recommended. It can be quite icy, so take care on ascent. The south facing slopes above Lake Wills have less cliffs but there is still a lot of rock so skiing on the upper parts of the mountain requires good control and lots of sharp turns. Once below the steep summit area, in excellent conditions you can head out along the lefthand (eastern) ridge that surrounds Lake Will and then cut out to the walking track that then rejoins the Overland rather than re-climbing the mountain or skirting the cliffline. Note that the gully systems around Barn Bluff are mostly boulderfields so you need really decent cover to even try them (apart from trashing your skis, there is a real danger of dropping into a slot/ gap between rocks and coming to grief).
To climb the mountain, follow the marked trail/ boardwalk to the base of the rocky section. Parts of this are usually exposed even in heavy snow conditions because of the wind. There are a number of cairned routes up through the gully systems above you to get to the summit. In winter the best bet may be to sidle out right as you hit the cliffs, then follow the next obvious weakness/ gully system above. There is a fantastic ledge half way up the rocky section where you can build a ledge for a camp: it looks straight across to both the northern ranges and the main face of Cradle, and is sheltered from prevailing weather, a true alpine experience.
For moderate skiers, another option is just to climb to the base of the cliffs and then skirt either to the left or the right until you see something you want to ski, it tends to hold the snow nicely on the far (or south western) side. There is the ridge mentioned above which drops down to the left of Lake Will, or a ridge that goes further to the right of the lake (on the west side) - note that you would need to climb back up onto the mountain if you go this way as the trail back from the far (southern) end of the lake is generally impassible in winter conditions as the stream is too high).
The overland track - northern end
On rare occasions you can ski all the way through the park. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare week when its been dumping, then go for it. Highlights are Mount Ossa’s gullies, the passes – especially Pelion Gap, and the moors between Lake Windemere and Barn Bluff.
Pelion West is a big bulky mountain that obviously has some good lines on it when its in good nick, but honestly, the whole place is incredible at all times and when there’s lots of snow, you’re just in heaven: you really can’t go wrong. Pelion West would be an obvious side trip for people in need of some deeper snow while on the track. If you have come this far lugging all your gear, then the mountains further out behind Pelion West would be worth a visit (see also Mt Thetis, below). Mt Achilles and Perrins Bluff are elements of some higher ridges that will hold snow after it burns off on the plains below where the Overland Track is. Perrins has some nice lines off its summit onto the access ridge from Achilles.
Many people tend to take snow shoes rather than skis as they are easier to carry on the hard slog walking sections you are more likely to have in a 'normal' winter.
If you find that the trip starts as a ski but turns into a walk (it can burn off very quickly after a good snowfall, especially in the long haul from Windemere to the gap near Mount Ossa) it may be worth making a trip up onto Mount Oakleigh (perhaps spending 2 nights at Pelion hut). Oakleigh has a nice high summit plateau above 1200 metres which stretches across to Tarn of Islands. Access is via a well marked but very steep climb through a south facing gully system, take care, it can be very icy.
Another fantastic side trip is to check out Mt Thetis. Best way is to try it in good conditions and ski around the north side of Pelion West, then climbing onto the ridge behind it, then down to Leonards Tarn and up to Thetis. The summit itself is a narrow and long ridge, with cliffs on both sides, you just need to follow one of the gullies up through the cliffs to gain the plateau. My memory of this is that you would have to be a good skier to get off the plateau - with steep and narrow drops through the cliff line. If you plan to continue on to Mt Ossa, there is a steep descent through rocky country towards Paddy Nut (possibly requiring a down climb rather than ski because of the rocky country), then sidle up the western flanks Ossa to its summit plateau (this whole side is one enormous boulder field so would be really hard and potentially dangerous work in semi covered conditions where you can't really see whats going on with the rocks below, and particularly with a heavy pack).
The Ossa plateau usually holds snow well. Surrounding ridges are very rocky even where they aren't too steep so make sure theres enough cover over those boulders before taking off. The steep access gully from Pelion Gap is an obvious high point. There is a great descent off Ossa if you travel to the southern end of the summit plateau (towards Mt Massif). At the end of the obvious cliffs on your left you simply drop down into a nice basin-type slope towards Kia Ora hut.
One benefit of winter walking/ skiing/ snow shoeing is that there are a lot fewer people on the track.
Overland track - southern end
This tends to be more forested so even in skiable conditions it offers less back country options (although beech forest in snow is completely magical, and where the valley narrows down under Castle Crag and Cathedral Mountain it is just stunning - not unlike sections of NZ South Island).
For a bit of high elevation fun, best bet is probably the Traveller Range - a nasty climb of maybe an hour from Ducane Gap on the Overland (through one rocky cliff section - be careful) takes you to lovely open plains that stretch off into an amazing tangle of lakes, with scattered open forest of pencil pine and deciduous beech.
It could easily get gnarly up on the Traveller range as you need to descend into the weather to get out (ie, if there is a storm coming through) and if you aren't following your ski trail from the way up the tendency is to veer left as you drop into the big broad valley/ plain below the Gatepost and heading to Ducane Gap. Once the open plain ends you get into nasty scrub - not recommended at all. Instead, remember to stay hard right when you are heading into the valley: you need to cross the prominent ridge in front and slightly on your right to pick up the cairned trail down to Ducane Gap. Note that the other main access route to the range (along Stoney creek) would be horrible if you were carrying skis and gear - its steep in the top sections and scrubby, especially up high and before you drop into the rainforest.
The one bit of the southern end of the Overland thats especially fun in winter is through Ducane Gap - with waist or chest deep snow not uncommon and astounding views (weather permitting) of Geryon in winter garb.
Ducane Range/ Mount Gould region
This range of wonderfully glaciated country is generally reached from the south during winter. You can either walk in from the road at Lake St Clair/ Leeawuleena (allow at least half a day), or catch a ferry in (NB: minimum rates will apply to actually book the boat as opposed to the regular summer schedule where you pay by the person). For details, contact the company that runs the boat - phone (03) 6289 1137 or email email@example.com for details of cost and running times.
From Narcissus River, where the ferry will drop you at the northern end of the lake, it is a cruisey 3 hour walk in to Pine Valley hut, and from there about 1.5 hours up onto the plateau above.
From the saddle where you finally hit the ridgeline there are two main options, both take you into great skiing terrain when the snow is right:
- Either follow the rock cairns right, under the Parthenon to the wonderful tangle of lakes that make up the Labyrinth. This is ringed by rocky hills. Head northwards and you climb a narrow ridge directly north of Pool of Memories and through a short gully system onto the Ducane Range, and eventually the peaks of Geryon and Hyperion.
The range contains some of the higher continuous country in this part of the state and is just stunning in winter. It is, of course, very exposed and you have to retreat into the weather to get off the range, so factor this in in terms of selecting a site.
In really bad weather, once you get off the Ducane range and back to Pool of Memories, you can avoid the relatively exposed Labyrinth by instead turning hard left at the Pool and skirting around the edge of the lake to a small narrow but open glade. There is a low rocky bluff above you as you enter the glade: head up here (there should be cairns visible). In about 150 metres you come out onto an open rocky area with incredible views up to Mt Geryon. A trail starts here and descends very steeply straight into the valley below (sections of this would be a pain with skis as the forest is quite dense). At the bottom of the valley you exit via an obvious boulder field, then follow occasional yellow markers downriver for another 1 1/2 hours until you reach the trail to the Acropolis, just on Cephissis creek. Its a short walk from here to Pine Valley hut. Note that there can sometimes be snow in the valley and you do need at least reasonable navigation skills, and that the bottom of the valley can be very wet underfoot (make sure you have a headlamp just in case!).
- The other option from the saddle is to turn left and navigate under the right hand (western) slopes of the Minotaur towards Mt Gould (or then climbing right onto the Guardians plateau, an incredible high plateau overlooking Lake Marion). An alternative access into this area is via the Gould plateau, then up towards Mount Gould, thence to The Guardians, which are definitely a very special spot for skiing because of the altitude and atmospheric views. The Guardians are a nice high (read very exposed) ridge that offers fine skiing in normal conditions.
There is some great skiing on the Ducane Range and surrounding area, including lots of gullies: check out the massive gully system on the main face of Walled Mountain, in deep snow it would be amazing (not checked it out in winter - its an impressive place in summer). You can get out of the weather a bit and camp near Lake Helios (great views towards Mt Ossa) and walk/ scramble up Mt Geryon. Ducane is one of the most extensive high areas in this part of the state - with consistent patches of exposed country up to 1,500 metres, and it holds snow well. There is a lot of rock the minute you get off the top of the range (which is very plateau like) and some big and nasty cliffs below some obvious gullies and chutes, especially into the top of Pine valley - which faces south. Note that the normal walk/ scramble route up Geryon (from the north) can be quite dangerous in winter as it is often very icy. As you approach the peak from the Ducane Range, you head around right (over Pine Valley) and then up an obvious gully system to the summit ridge - a slip in this system would not be fun, with big air at the end of it. I have also heard that there can be a small cornice on the east side of the summit ridge (a kind of extensive ice rime rather than true snow cornice). Key thing to remember is that there is a 400 metre-ish drop on that side. While the trail is very obvious in summer and marked by cairns, these tend to disappear in winter so take things slowly if you don't know the mountain, especially on the climb onto Geryon itself.
In excellent conditions, the most incredible traverse would be from the Ducane Range, over Mt Massif to Castle Crag and Ducane Gap. Relatively sheltered camping is available in the big basin on the summit of Massif. However, this is very rocky country, pretty much boulder fields the whole way and there are some gnarly sections (climbing on the Massif ridge from Big Gun Pass, then descending off Massif towards Castle Crag (take the gully system on the left rather than staying on the ridgeline, which would be very dangerous in icy conditions), then as you climb the next hill along the ridge heading towards Castle Crag there are big slots amongst the boulders, not much fun with heavy pack and skis. You would also need to think through the descent into Ducane Gap, some people sidle down to the right rather than climbing the actual peak (dropping below the obvious scar where the cliff has collapsed, called Falling Mountain on the maps, and thence to Ducane gap). Another way is to climb Castle Crag, turn right along the summit ridge until it gets really steep and then descend leftwards into the deep and open gully that presents itself as you hit the top of the main cliffs. The last section, from the base of the gully through moderate scrub to Ducane Gap is probably not much fun in mediocre snow conditions. In anything other than excellent conditions, this is probably a better option to do with snowshoes. It is a remarkably 'alpine' trip, providing impressive terrain and some difficult country in winter conditions. There is no way off the ridge between Ducane Range and Ducane Gap so make sure you either have a good weather forecast or lots of food. It is all above treeline until you drop into Ducane Gap.
Needless to say, this is remote country and subject to intense weather, especially mid winter. Zero viability and wild winds can make movement impossible. You can get dumps of snow of up to a metre, making retreat almost impossible in some circumstances. Much of the region is rocky, with big cliffs, and in marginal snow conditions the rocks can be a real hazard in terms of skis breaking through and catching. Slides/ small avalanches are possible in some gullies, especially after heavy falls and there is occasional loose rock in some gully systems. To make matters harder, Tasmanian weather can easily swing from snow to rain, making camping sometimes a miserable experience: in this sense synthetic sleeping gear and fleece are better options than down.
So, the short version of what you need to bear in mind is that you should not consider skiing in the region unless you are suitably experienced and have all the appropriate gear.
This whole area and the Labyrinth, in particular, is very heavily visited in summer and under considerable pressure, so please bear this in mind. In particular be careful about waste. When needing a toilet break it is imperative that you do so outside the catchments of the enclosed lakes on the Labyrinth (Ophion, Elysia, etc)– walk or ski out to the edge of the plateau, or consider taking 'poo tubes' with you. Some interesting research into the impacts of human waste on the Tasmanian high country can be found [here http://www.geog.utas.edu.au/faecalmatters/].
GPS References 
Mobile Phone Coverage
Is often quite good on the higher peaks as there is a relay station on the West Coast Range. It drops out in pretty much all valley areas.