The only Australian resort to regularly host a Winter World Cup event, Mt. Buller (1804m) is located 250km north-east of Melbourne and forms part of Australia's most beautiful Alpine Range. It is the most popular ski resort in Victoria.
HISTORY: Like other Australian resorts before it, the fledgling village at Buller was originally founded, in part, by the Austrian and Polish migrants who first began to ski in the region in the 1940's. The Ski Club of Victoria built its first hut on the mountain by 1933, and other small clubs, such as the University Ski Club, founded at Melbourne University in the twenties, soon followed. The very existence of 'Buller' today owes much to the hard work and dedication of these early pioneers, many of whom had to scale the mountain on foot, with their supplies and building materials on their backs. The first road to the village was constructed in 1946; today Buller is a modern and international resort. It boasts 25 lifts and 180ha of skiing terrain.
GETTING THERE: Mount Buller is approximately a 3 hour drive from Melbourne. Other travel alternatives include transfers from Melbourne via luxury limousine, helicopter and The Buller Bullet - a five-star coach.
If driving, you can either take the Hume Highway, which is the most direct route, or the Melba Highway, which is more picturesque, and winds through the Yarra Valley, home to many of Victoria's best-known vineyards. Having passed through the town of Mansfield, you will find the entrance to the resort at Mirimbah, which is situated at the base of the mountain. There is a somewhat extortionate fee to enter the resort, (approx. AU$28. ) and a further fee is charged for car parking ($6 for weeknights, $12 on weekends). You ascend the mountain along a typically winding mountain road, through some spectacularly tall Eucalypts, finally reaching the carparks, which are located about a kilometre from the actual village. From here it is virtually compulsory to take a taxi to the resort itself, another costly exercise, about $13 one-way for what ought to be a 5 minute trip.
The so-called 'taxi's', are in fact rattly 4WD vehicles, seating about 8 people, and they have certain disadvantages. Firstly, it will frequently prove necessary to stand about shivering in the snow waiting for one, then waiting for enough people to come along and fill it, waiting for the driver to load on their miscellaneous luggage, ski equipment, snowboards, cardboard boxes full of groceries etc etc. Finally, once aboard, the taxi will then frequently meander all over the resort depositing the passengers at their various lodges etc en route. I only mention this in such detail because it's an annoying & time-consuming exercise and one which I haven't encountered at any other resort around the world...
ACCOMMODATION:I've always stayed at a private lodge on Buller, which my parents joined when they were at University in the 1960's. It's a fabulous place, with a very friendly, club-like atmosphere and very reasonable rates. Although there are 7000 beds on the mountain in total, a large percentage of the accommodation in the village (as in most other Australian resorts) still consists of these private chalets and lodges, many belonging to clubs of various sorts. This is gradually changing as the sport becomes more commercialised, with more people expecting 4-5star hotel facilities, saunas, spas and the like when they stay on the slopes. There are a number of hotels and appartments available. ABOM, or the 'Abominable Snowman', which is situated to the right of Bourke St, is one of the largest and best known, and also has a very pleasant little pizzeria in an upstairs Bistro. One of the most charming hotels is the boutique, Austrian-style Pension Grimus, which is located in a fantastic ski -in/out position right on the slopes, and also has an award-winning restaurant upstairs. Finally, it is also possible to stay in Mansfield & commute to the mountain daily.
WHEN TO GO:The Ski season opens officially on the weekend of the Queens Birthday public holiday at the beginning of June, and ends at the end of September. Whilst there are snow-making facilities on many of the main runs, snow conditions will vary enormously from year to year. Night skiing is also available on Bourke St, Buller's most famous run, aptly named after the busiest & most crowded street in Melbourne's CBD.
Being the closest ski resort to Melbourne, Buller attracts a large number of day-trippers, who descend by the coach-load, especially on weekends. For this reason, it is generally best to visit the resort mid-week if possible, also taking care to avoid the school holiday period!
SUMMARY: Buller is an attractive and friendly resort, and especially suitable for families. It has a good and varied mix of runs to suit skiiers/snowboarders of all abilities. The slopes below the treeline are the most attractive, with snow-laden eucalypts (the snowgums) at either side. On the higher slopes, especially the summit, there are some fabulous views in all directions, provided, that is, that it is a clear day! Buller is unfortunately a little notorious for it's inclement weather & poor visibility, especially in August. The weather in early spring is much more reliable, however.
Buller's signature run for the more advanced skiier is probably Federation, which has a number of treacherous boulders at either side, and has caused a number of fatalities over the years. If snow conditions and visibility are good, however, it is a first-clas slope on a delightful mountain.