A winter wonderland
IF YOUR idea of winter sports is watching rugby league with a Maroons scarf around your neck, then you've probably never heard of Falls Creek.
And if you've never seen snow, let alone hurtled down a slippery mountain with a huge grin on your face, then Australia's only purpose-built European-style alpine village is the perfect place to learn why a freezing cold winter can be so life-enhancing.
Conditions are the best for years after huge falls earlier this month.
Hotels, lodges, cafes and bars have a thick coating, guaranteeing a magical experience whether visitors are novices or experts.
The opportunity to ski out of your accommodation in the morning and back again in the evening should not be taken lightly because it is rare, not just in Australia but also around the world's leading ski locations.
You can't do this anywhere in New Zealand, for example.
For beginners, teachers will have you negotiating the gentle nursery slopes in just a few hours.
And with a network of 14 lifts and more than 92 trails to thrill starters, experienced and expert skiers and boarders, you should be able to find plenty of space to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
As an enthusiastic but irregular skier, I found plenty to challenge me – especially when the temperature plummeted to -10C and the 110kmh winds whipped snow into my face. But when the sun shone and the sky was blue, a more perfect setting is hard to imagine.
Before a massive cold front dumped 1.5 metres of pristine snow in a series of blizzards, we were able to enjoy expertly groomed pistes formed from artificial snow. Falls Creek has one of the most extensive snow-making systems in the world so you can ski constantly through a season which lasts until at least the end of September.
I'd skied on artificial snow in Europe, but the quality of this product took me by surprise.
You can also ski at night. Twice a week, a 2.2-kilometre descent called Wombats Ramble is illuminated, allowing skiers and boarders of all abilities to enjoy the rare delight of swooshing from the top of the mountain to the heart of the village under the stars.
For good skiers who relish a unique challenge, former Olympic downhill competitor and Falls Creek resident Steve Lee can take you by snowmobile to the back-country where you make your own trails through the virgin powder, guided by an Aussie icon who knows the mountain environment better than anyone. But when you go skiing, you don't just go skiing. A big part of the attraction is the change of climate, the chance to wrap up warmly against the cold and breathe the icy mountain air.
Falls Creek has plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants – all within walking or sliding distance of all the village accommodation – that ensure you can immerse yourself in the après-ski experience. In total, Falls Creek has 25 commercial lodges and a competitive selection of hotels and apartments.
My family and I shared a well-appointed apartment in the Falls Creek Country Club, just a minute from one of the main lifts.
The club has a heated pool, bar and restaurant, drying rooms for your equipment and a warm welcome that makes a home from home. The spa bath (room for two) is a fantastic way to massage aching muscles and the full kitchen provides an opportunity to take a break from the waist-extending restaurant dinners.
The village caters well for families, and some of the youngsters negotiating the slopes were so young they were still in nappies.
When the little ones get tired of one activity, plenty of others are available to hold their attention.
Kids love tobogganing, snowball fights, building snowmen and the experience of being able to fall over without hurting themselves.
It's not a cheap holiday. To hire equipment and buy lift passes and lessons will cost a family of four about $3500 for six days on the slopes. And getting to Falls Creek from Queensland is fairly costly.
Until the end of August, children aged six to 14 receive free lift passes and accommodation, while other packages offer either free or half-price accommodation for kids.
Falls Creek is high in the Australian Alps in north-east Victoria. The nearest airport is Albury, NSW, about 90 minutes by road.
Australia's only purpose-built, European-style ski village
One of the world's most extensive artificial snow- making facilities
Best snow record in Australia. The only ski-in, ski-out resort
Offers all-inclusive packages comprising accommodation, all meals, lift passes and equipment hire
Night skiing twice a week
Seven nights lodge with breakfast and seven-day lift and rental from $1850 per adult