Words: Sebastian Jayne                                                              Images: Tim Bardsley-Smith

Epic trails, epic views of mountains stretching to the sky, and did I mention epic trails? The Alpine resort of Mt Buller in the Victorian Alps is well deserving of the title of an epic mountain bike destination for Australians. Snow covers the mountain during the winter months and Mt Buller is solely a skier’s paradise. But only a few feet below the skiers, as they glide down their black and blue runs, are the ribbons of dirt that fill mountain biker’s dreams. Lying in wait for the snow to melt and summer to open the door and let the shredding begin.

Building Buller

Mt Buller’s expansive World Trail built network has seen some use and abuse over its lifetime with most trails being a few seasons old, and even their latest IMBA certified Epic trail is coming on two years old. Time can do mean things to poorly designed trails especially when you pile layers of snow on them for months on end. But Buller’s trails aren’t simple lines scratched into the soil. They are purpose built trails, and like a good apple crumble, a bit of ice cream has done wonders to the track. That is, a bit of snow has crumbled the ‘simple’ and ‘man-made’ trails, making them rough and raw - what many consider to be true mountain biking. 

That may seem an odd thing to say, that a good trail has crumbled into a great trail. But when Buller’s trails were just starting to be scratched into the soil with their 1.5m benches, and smooth rollers and berms, people were dismayed: “That’s not mountain biking!” “It’s just dumbed down trail for beginners!” The same was said about the trails around Mt Stromlo in Canberra, but as the Stromlo trails have aged and weathered so has Buller’s. The benches remain, although grass now covers their verges, and the rollers and berms still punctuate the trail, but now there’s rocks, there’s roots, there’s character.

It is an individual character as well. Buller’s famous black soil not only looks distinct but feels distinct. Stromlo’s gravel crunches and slides your tyres, but Buller’s black dirt grips, and when it does let go it feels like you’re drifting on silk. It’s not better or worse, it’s just distinct. If you’re going to travel, potentially halfway across the country, you want your experience to be unique. These differences do not pertain exclusively to the trail, but also to the experience. Mt Buller’s village is at the peak of the mountain. When you’re in your accommodation or at the café, you’re on top of the world, and you really feel it. Looking out over the Alpine National Park for the first time at its awesome expanse is an incredible moment and you wonder when the green screen will come down. “Is that a trail over there?”, “Where?”, “Over there on that ridge”, “Oh yeah, how awesome would it be to go and explore that?”

How a trail rides is a huge part of a mountain bike experience and equally as important, to some, is where it takes you. The act of exploring and the art of discovering. At Mt Buller this is a major part of the adventure with most trails and specific loops taking you to a new part of the mountain.  

Around Town in Mt Buller

These adventures don’t need to be all day slogs thanks to the clever design of Buller’s trails that allow loops to be made out of the available trail to be completed individually or together. The trails around town tend to be on the tamer side and aimed more at entry level riders while still offering plenty of things to huck for those willing. Gang Gangs is certainly the pick of the bunch with its awesome berms, natural kickers and views out over Mt Stirling making it an easily accessible highlight of the network. If you’re keen to head back to the village after the Gang Gangs descent it’s onto the great, but tough, Split Rock climb. You have to earn the descent somehow!

Corn Hill 

Getting a little more adventurous is the jaunt out to the 1630-metre-high Corn Hill summit. Covering the Corn Hill area are some of the best known trails at Buller. The climb up Medusa is relatively easy and the views on offer are simply ridiculous, in a really good way. Misty Twist is also a highlight among highlights with its narrow and tight singletrack offering a good challenge for those wanting to open the throttle. Clancy’s Run brings you back to the Picnic Table intersection that acts as a midpoint trailhead for multiple trails and then it’s time to decide what’s next.     

Stonefly 

Stonefly - a 10km loop of demanding and rewarding singletrack that captures the essence of riding at Mt Buller. Traversing the steep alpine terrain between Howqua Gap and Mt Stirling and back, Stonefly is an adventure all to itself. The loop is predominantly made up of flowing singletrack and requires both high endurance and technical ability. But don’t the best things in life require the most effort? Linking all three loops together in one large loop will surely make your trip to Mt Buller worthwhile, and as it will take the best part of a day to complete, you will definitely earn your schnitty and beer at the pub afterwards.    

Australian Alpine Epic Trail 

So is that it? Two years ago it was, but then along came something truly epic. The Australian Alpine Epic Trail, an IMBA certified ride that has set Mt Buller apart from the rest. To be certified as an IMBA Epic, the trail needs to portray a pure backcountry riding experience. It needs to be technically and physically challenging and at least 32km of which 80% needs to be singletrack. At 40km and made up of mostly descending trail, the Epic ticks those boxes and tops the list of IMBA rides. The list is in alphabetical order but we can gloss over that. As far as backcountry trails go in Australia, the Alpine Epic certainly tops that list and with two years of riders and weather pounding its fragile crust into a caricature of radness, the Epic is ready for you to explore. The trail is carved through the forest and offers an extended descent longer than many in Australia. It has been shaped through the alpine forest around and between features, opening up for views down the valley, but sending riders into steeply banked berms and through fast sections when the gradient allows. The Epic finishes down in Mirimbah at the base of Mt Buller where you can hit up the Mirimbah Café for some fuel before tackling the Mt Buller road climb back up to the village. Or you can catch a shuttle run by the café or Blue Dirt shuttles if your legs aren’t too keen on a 15km road climb.

Be prepared for adventure 

Going on an epic adventure does come with its risks, which do not dissipate just because you’re in a well-known trail network. The trails in the thick undergrowth have you feeling lost and insignificant. It’s not unnerving though as littered through the countryside is trail signage that has recently been upgraded to include details that can help ‘000’ emergency services to pinpoint your exact location in the event of an emergency. This award winning design is a portion of the designated mountain bike area that sets purpose-built trail networks apart from random trails and backroads. You can head out all day and get ‘lost’ but always know where you are.

Going further at Buller

If you’re feeling truly adventurous and want to experience the real backcountry, there are plenty of roads and old fire trails that are waiting to be explored. The most famous being the Delatite River Trail that covers 12km of mostly descending fire trail and includes short sections of singletrack. Out further in the wilderness there are a number of alpine huts to stay in to make your trip a multi-day adventure, which could create an awesome weekend away with mates. Weather can bring out character in tracks and it can also destroy them. Before heading out, it’s always best to check the trail report on the Bike Buller website and official channels, and heed any advice or trail closures.   

Along with trail closures, the Bike Buller website also has trail advice so you can plan your adventure according to your ability with the green, blue, black system in place. The majority of the trails around Buller are categorised as Blue, or Intermediate, and are best for someone with a reasonable ability to shred. The intermediate nature of the trails makes them best tackled on an intermediate bike such as a 120mm full suspension trail bike. If you find your bike not quite adequate on day one, fear not, All Terrain Cycles in the main square have a fleet of rental bikes that include downhill bikes if you want to start really hucking things on one of the downhill tracks.

Rest your head

After a full day exploring the trails, it’s time to sleep and Buller has some great bike friendly accommodation options to choose from. The Alberg Hotel at the very top of the town is a popular choice with trails starting right out of the front door and a variety of motel and kitchenette equipped rooms available.       

If adventuring isn’t your thing and you want to open the throttle through Buller’s trails in a race, the Bike Buller Festival is for you. With individual stages taking in the best parts of Buller it is a great way to see the network of trails in a short space of time. The festival also has gravity enduro and downhill races that let you smash runs down some of Buller’s best, such as the ABOM downhill track. 

So, if you can hear an epic alpine adventure calling your name, head over to the Bike Buller website and get the low down on what’s open and what’s on. Then grab some mates, grab a bike and go get lost!