An entire region is getting behind mountain biking and linking its singletrack hubs into one giant network. Start planning your summer holiday in the Snowys now… it’s going to be big.
An entire region is getting behind mountain biking and linking its singletrack hubs into one giant network. Start planning your summer holiday in the Snowys now… it’s going to be big.
Photos: Robert Conroy and Tim Bardsley-Smith
Fifteen years ago, the Snowy Mountains area was pretty famous for mountain biking. In 2002 Jindabyne, at the foot of the mountains, hosted the world’s first ever Red Bull Ride. A local built a trail between Tyrolean Village east of Jindabyne to town so he could ride in, then other locals started adding to his work. Way up at Thredbo, meanwhile, was the only lift-assisted downhill run in Australia, the Cannonball run, a purely DH mass of rocks, drops and berms that towered above a cross country track that hosted rounds of MTBA’s National Series.
Looking at the Red Bull Ride footage today, it’s still a crazy undertaking. Riders like Andrew Mills and Wade Simmons picked their way down the side of a hill so steep that at times it was nearly vertical. Dropping 300 metres over the one kilometre course, they tackled ultra-technical obstacles like elevated seesaws and drops bigger than anyone had ever seen before. If you know where to look (like AMB does) you can still see the scar the event left on the side of one of the big hills off the highway as you drive into Jindabyne.
A lot’s changed in the area since then, but mountain biking has too, becoming an attractive sport for families and people of all ages. Trails that were once built in secrecy and ridden at risk of breaking the law are now publicised as major regional drawcards and built using large government grants. While Jindabyne has always bred mountain bikers (2014 junior World Champion Tegan Molloy hails from Jindy), and Thredbo’s main lift has always run year-round, in the last ten years alpine resorts like Mt Buller, Mt Baw Baw and Falls Creek in Victoria began to catch up, and even overtake the Snowys as high country mountain bike destinations of choice.
This was a bad time to fall behind. Bikes and riding styles evolved rapidly away from a simple XC/DH divide, and while casual mountain bikers were happy to do a few laps of a cross-country style course or ride up and down alpine fire roads on their 26-inch hardtails a few years ago, these days they’re looking for long, gravity-fed flow trails to satisfy a thirst for challenge made all the more attainable by big-wheeled dual-suspension trail bikes that are light enough to pedal uphill.
Now the Snowys are coming back. A few years ago some motivated locals tied to different parts of the region – Jindabyne, Lake Crackenback, and Thredbo – each started work on trail-building projects. The real leap forward came when they realised that the unique advantage of the long valley running from mountains to lake was that they could join their trail networks together… and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
The jewel in the crown is the brand new Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT). Several years in the making, this 20-kilometre trail is pure joy for riders of all abilities. Snaking down the hidden valley between Thredbo and Lake Crackenback, the TVT undulates through gorgeous sub-alpine forest, crossing back and forth over the Thredbo River on purpose-built suspension bridges. Although it’s a multi-use trail for walkers and riders, it’s perfectly designed for bikes with smooth, bermed corners and plenty of technical elements, and riders make up a huge percentage of users. Apart from the fact that it’s rapidly proving to be one of Australia’s most beautiful, accessible rides, the TVT’s big advantage is that it links two fabulously different trail networks – Thredbo’s alpine gravity playground and Lake Crackenback’s gorgeously scenic singletrack – together. The trail came about when National Parks made a commitment to improve mountain biking in Kosciusko National Park, and was funded by a park entry fee levy introduced five years ago.
Further down the valley, the technical Tyrolean Village trails, including Jindabyne’s original singletrack cut into native bush on the side of the lake, were joined with the town by a smooth, scenic shared-use pathway a couple of years ago.
A quick pedal south of Jindabyne, Bungarra Alpine Centre’s privately-owned mountain bike trails have evolved from rutted four-wheel drive tracks to a growing mountain bike hub with several gravity trails in the pipeline, as well as the inevitable off-road link to Jindabyne.
Trailbuilder Craig Stonestreet was involved in all these projects and managed the TVT’s construction for Jindabyne Landscaping. He explains how the Thredbo Valley Trail has inspired the region.
‘Now we’re developing a regional destination. The Snowys are unique in that we’ve got great trails at Thredbo, Crackenback, Jindabyne, Bungarra, and another area that may be developed [near Bungarra]. Between those places, we’ll have a trail that links everywhere together. It’s all become about linking communities and trail areas around town.’
Stonestreet says he has already seen an increase in riders of all abilities, especially tourists, using the trails around Jindabyne since development kicked off.
‘These days it’s 50 per cent women using the tracks. It’s all walks of life, local riders and families and more and more tourists,’ he says.
‘In the last 12 months the focus has been on the TVT. Now the big focus is extending the TVT so riders can travel all the way from Thredbo to Jindabyne. If the money comes through we should have the first stage in by winter 2015,’ says Stonestreet.
Linking Thredbo to Jindabyne would yield over sixty kilometres of trail connecting the best singletrack networks in the region, but the long term vision is that Lake Jindabyne’s ‘Community Trail’ will form a complete circuit around the lake itself, and applications are already underway for funding to get construction started east of town. While the length of the trail will depend on where it crosses the Eucumbene, Snowy and Thredbo Rivers, it’s estimated that riders and walkers could gain between 75 and 100 kilometres of scenic tracks to enjoy, ranging from simple recreational riding near the lake’s community hubs, to technical singletrack in the more isolated areas.
One of the keys to the Snowy region’s success in growing mountain biking lies in the widespread support from the community, a pro-mountain biking attitude that spans local businesses, landowners, and residents. The town’s population is about 2,000, and the mountain bike club has about 350 members. Mountain bikers here have the backing to dream big.
Up the Alpine Way at Thredbo, the last few years have seen just as much activity. Our visit gave us plenty of reasons to come back when the snow melts this year…
Three years ago Stuart Diver took on the role of Operations Manager at Thredbo and reclaimed the Cannonball Run from private operators. He’s instituted an aggressive program for growth, taking best advantage of the fact that Thredbo Village sits at the bottom of a really big hill, rather than at the top, as all Victoria’s ski resorts do. No matter what their skill level, every rider loves a downhill finish, and Diver wants to give them more and more ways to do so.
‘We understood that we needed to cater not just for the three per cent who enjoy the Cannonball Run, but for everyone else,’ says Stu.
The Kosciusko Flow Trail opened a couple of years ago, the first element of Diver’s push to make Thredbo the place to ride each summer. It feeds off the Cannonball Run and covers similar terrain, but if you take the B lines its entire length is rollable. Starting with magnificent views all the way to Dead Horse Gap, riders can let go between switchback traverses that take the sting out of Thredbo’s steep slopes, and provide plenty of high-bermed corners that get more technical the harder you take them.
‘But we’d still classify the Flow Trail as intermediate difficulty,’ says Diver.
‘We’ve looked at what we could do given that we’ve got a 600 metre drop in altitude, but a lot of it is quite steep terrain. The challenge was making that accessible to more riders at a range of skill levels,’ he says.
‘World Trail got involved and did an overall masterplan, from gravity stuff all the way through to cross country, and we picked out the best bits of that.’
Thredbo’s most exciting project is opening now, and will be well-worth the drive from Sydney or Canberra for a summer break. An 11-kilometre all-mountain trail starting at the top of the resort’s longest lift – the Kosciusko Express – will wind its way into the valley and link up to the TVT, yielding a 28-kilometre descent that the resort plans to shuttle back to the top. The all-mountain trail will suit all intermediate riders and even advanced beginners, and promises epic views, alpine flora, and a big day out.
‘That will be our signature ride,’ says Diver.
And while this has been in the planning, more trails have sprung up around the village – many are perfect for families or for any rider looking for an easy roll, or even an XC-style hit out. Then there’s plans for a six-kilometre Olympic cross country course, more downhill runs, perhaps even a World Cup track, and more flow trails, up to five or six – suited to all levels of rider.
Putting new trails in what was once Australia’s most closely protected National Park has become easier, and not just because National Parks have begun to accept that mountain biking can boost visitor numbers to wilderness areas. A new breed of professional trail-builders with IMBA credentials have given all kinds of land managers and funding bodies the confidence to back mountain biking as a sustainable outdoor activity.
‘With the sustainable trail building techniques available to us now, we believe we’ll be able to get the new trails approved,’ says Stu.
‘We’ve mapped our new all-mountain trail very well to make sure we’re not going through any endangered habitats. We’re track hardening with lots of elevated platforms so grasses can still grow underneath… they’re 600 millimetres wide, 900 at the very most, so it’s not a huge footprint,’ he says.
‘For us, being inside the National Park is about sharing the beauty of this place, so if all the runs were just below the alpine area, you’d be missing the key bits. The exposure of the new trail will be just magnificent: you will see the whole way down the valley in both directions. To give visitors that experience of getting riiiight up the very top – it’s just phenomenal, that’s the experience we want to provide.’
As second in charge at one of Australia’s leading ski resorts, Diver is firmly focused on how every facet of the resort can be mobilised to grow mountain biking – key to summer tourism.
Visitors to Thredbo have always benefitted from the village’s proud tradition of keeping its lift open year-round, and that lift was fitted with bike racks in 2014. While seasoned downhillers will be perfectly comfortable swinging in an open chair 30 metres above the ground with a 20 kilogram bike on their laps, the rest of us aren’t. Visitors can also expect lodges equipped with bike racks and bike washing stations, and a range of accommodation options, from self-contained apartments to camping.
With the Village ready to welcome riders, Diver believes it’s just a matter of time.
‘I believe, as they say, if you build the trails they will come. Right now, on a peak day we lift 250 riders, I’d like to get that to about 750 riders a day in the next five years. My aim is that we’ll get to the point where we’ll have run out of capacity for the [main lift] Kosciusko Express and we’ll have to run other chairs.’
You can expect more events at Thredbo in future, too, but Diver’s adamant that trails will stay open for everyone, which means limiting racing on the mountain.
‘The events are good, but we’ve limited it to one event a month because we want the mountain to be open for guests to ride on,’ he says.
‘We’re looking at bringing in the new all-mountain trail, along with the Cannonball downhill and the Flow Trail and doing a really unique six-hour enduro.’
In the near future, it’s likely that the NSW Snowys will climb the podium as one Australia’s top MTB destinations. It’s also likely that you won’t need a car to take in a huge variety of singletrack in vastly different natural settings. You’ll be able to start at 1900 metres above sea level on Thredbo’s alpine gravity trails and finish 1,000 metres below at Jindabyne. You can begin with the spectacular new all-mountain trail at Thredbo and on the way down take in the rare beauty of the Thredbo Valley Trail, maybe stopping for lunch at Lake Crackenback’s superb restaurants and rolling through its peaceful riverside trails. Then you could head down to Jindabyne and cruise out to Bungarra’s 20 kilometres of dry, twisty race track and after a rest stop in town, you could head east around Lake Jindabyne to the impressive dam wall and hit up the place where it all started, Tyrolean Village’s steep and technical hand-built singletrack. Then, in future years, there’s the possibility of looping back around the entire lake, experiencing sunset over the water, abundant bird and native wildlife. If this sounds exhausting, that’s because you’d cover at least 300 kilometres of purpose-built trail. And you’ll probably want to ride most of it more than once.
KNOW YOUR TRAIL CENTRES
Thredbo combines the hardcore DH riding of the lift-assisted Cannonball Run with the Kosciusko Flow Trail that’s perfect for intermediate riders. A new, signature all-mountain trail is hotly anticipated for summer 2015.
There’s plenty of riding to increase your fitness, and the village’s elevation at about 1350 metres is a big help for riders looking for a boost from altitude training. From intermediate to beginner level, Thredbo’s 12 to 15 kilometre network of XC trails include staircases, rock drops and rollovers, and bermed corners, while others offer smooth tracks with magnificent views, and can be joined with the TVT for a day-long adventure.
Riders with good fitness looking for an unforgettable backcountry experience can ride to Cascade Hut via Dead Horse Gap, taking in breathtaking scenery, epic climbs, and heartstopping descents.
The village also boasts a skills park, a new jump park, and pump track suited to riders of different ages and abilities.
The TVT links Thredbo Village with Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa with 20 kilometres of relaxing, undulating trail. At Lake Crackenback there’s an impressive network of 20 kilometres of purpose-built singletrack around the Little Thredbo River and the resort’s lake that will satisfy riders of all abilities, including rocky climbs and descents, smooth flowing corners, native alpine flora and fauna – including the odd wombat hole. The resort trails are open to everyone and riders are always welcome.
Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa also boasts a comprehensive skills park including log rides, see saw, corners and ramps, perfect for testing yourself before heading out for a ride. There’s a BMX-style jump circuit too, for those looking to gain some air time.
A lot’s going on at privately-owned Bungarra, with Rolling Ground’s Director Paul Gardner planning to expand up. At the moment there’s the enduro-style Copperhead Flow trail and a couple of kilometres of advanced trails.
Bungarra has plenty of IMBA-rated green and blue trails to ride, nearly 20 kilometres. Those looking for a workout can download the Centre’s race track map from the Rolling Ground website (below) and take it from there.
The Centre includes a jumps line, pump track, and skills park with features that will challenge beginner to expert riders.
*Bungarra’s trails are very generously kept open to the public by its owners. Riders using the trails must follow the centre’s guidelines.
Tyrolean Village and Mill Creek
These trails are mostly flat with the occasional steep pinch, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to challenge riders with high skill levels – as long as they’re happy to pedal. There’s plenty of riding for beginners, including the incredibly fun, flowing, and flat Copper Tom and Mill Creek trails that link the town with the eastern trail network, and a great progression of several intermediate and expert level trails. The Tyrolean Village and Mill Creek network is the perfect place to explore and find more and more challenges to push your skill level, and links seamlessly back to town.
Jump area and plenty of techy trails to explore.
The Lake Jindabyne Shared Pathway starts at the caravan park at the base of the Alpine Way (from Thredbo) and winds its way around the lake, and (via a couple of quiet roads) feeds into Copper Tom and Mill Creek trails that head out to Tyrolean Village. This trail is the perfect way to take in some lovely views while giving your legs a break, or for families or kids to get out on the bike. It may soon form part of a link with the TVT, and the planned Lake Jindabyne Community Trail, which will circumnavigate the entire lake, yielding up to 100 kilometres of trail.
Events to kick off your summer holiday in the Snowys
Making great use of the nest of trail networks boasted by the Snowys region, riders tackle three different cross country tracks over three days in November, riding a time trial at the Tyrolean Village tracks, a short cross country race at Bungarra, and a long cross country race on Lake Crackenback’s singletrack. The perfect introduction to mountain biking in the area, and a bargain at $129 for three days’ racing.
The Cannonball Festival launches mountain bike season in Thredbo each year. Usually held around the first weekend in December, you can watch the stars do their thing on the Cannonball Run, in the Whip Wars Big Air Bonanza and the Pump Track Challenge, or get involved yourself in the Flow Motion Cup, a gravity event on the Flow Trail suited to all riders.
Finish this year as you mean to live the next one… mountain biking! The Wicked Wombat is the last mountain bike race in Australia every year, held on the 31st of December over 12 hours. The unusual (and very relaxed) race format allows all riders in teams to ride the course at a time and is also open to solo riders. Check the Rolling Ground website for specials for groups, including race entry and accommodation.
Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa also regularly hold MTB skills weekends where you can revel in the luxurious accommodation and food the resort offers while honing your bike handling and singletrack speed on the Snowys’ best trails.
Eat and sleep the Snowys
Thredbo has special deals for MTBers looking for a summer escape, including accommodation in one of the village’s iconic lodges including breakfast from around $85 per night. Lift passes and bike hire prices vary, but are cheaper mid-week.
Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa is the region’s iconic mountain biker’s getaway, with trails at your door, a gourmet breakfast buffet, and plenty of ways to relax. The Alpine Larder at the resort is also a top spot for a tasty, well-priced lunch or dinner. www.lakecrackenback.com.au