The Hobart

A Century Long Obsession with Tasmanian Skiing

by Peta Hen
A Century Long Obsession with Tasmanian Skiing

It’s the time of year when the dark, low clouds in the evening look less ominous and looming, instead sparking hope and excitement. Will it snow? Will it be low enough? Can we go skiing?!

Seventeen-year-old me certainly thought so when an inch-worth of the white stuff dusted the hills of Lachlan in 2005. Although, snowboarding on an old boogie board left a lot to be desired – and me covered in more sheep poo than snow. And while a once-in-a-generation event such as the ‘Big Snow of Hobart’ in 1986 saw many people grab their gear and hit the slopes of Elizabeth Street and the Tasman Bridge, Tasmania has more ‘appropriate’ ski fields, along with a rich history and obsession with the winter activity.

Officially, Tasmania has two ski fields, Mount Mawson in the south of the state and Ben Lomond in the north. However, the first recorded skiing took place at Cradle Mountain in 1914. The tough, cross-country terrain attracted many ski enthusiasts who would trek up to the treacherous snow-covered peaks to partake in the sport. By the 1920s, Tasmania was known as a sought-after skiing destination. When conditions allow, Cradle Mountain offers some of the most scenic backcountry skiing in Tasmania, but head out there prepared and experienced.

The first man to ski across Tasman Bridge. Pic: Tasmanian Archives

Mount Field National Park, an hour out of Hobart and home to Mount Mawson, was Tasmania’s first official centre for winter sports. The Ski Club of Tasmania built its first ski hut at Twilight Tarn in 1926-27, which took a day to reach along the old Pack Track. In 1936, a seven-mile ski race was held at Lake Newdegate as part of the State Championship meeting.

The long-distance event provided highstakes skiing as the weather had turned bad the days prior, leaving conditions wet and misty. Today, while pristine powder snow is rare at Mount Mawson due its lower altitude, the southern Tasmanian ski fields are popular with local winter sports enthusiasts, and luckily for us, also offer the most affordable ski passes in Australia.

Winter skiing in Mt Field National Park. Pic: Tasmanian Archives

While Mt Field may offer the cheapest skiing, Ben Lomond, east of Launceston, offers the most reliable skiing conditions, being at a higher elevation. It was established in 1929 after Frederick Smithies, an avid Launceston bushwalker and skier, proposed a motion to form a winter sports club. The Northern Tasmanian Alpine Club (NTAC) was formed and initially focused on the Pine Lake and Cradle Mountain areas, however, after an excursion to Ben Lomond in 1931, the NTAC decided to shift their efforts to Ben Lomond and build the Carr Villa Chalet in 1932. During this time, skiers had to trek by foot to the slopes – it wouldn’t be until 1963 and the construction of Jacob’s Ladder that a road would connect the villa and growing ski village with the ski fields. In 1971, the club built the ‘Frederick Smithies’ lodge in honour of their founder, but sadly this was lost in a fire in 1996. The present-day lodge is the sixth built by the club and provides avid snow lovers all the creature comforts they need after long days traversing the slopes. The powder of the Ben Lomond plateau may hold Tasmania’s premier alpine ski fields, but there is one final ski destination that the most avid, extreme ski lover used to traverse when the conditions were just right.

Ben Lomond. Pic: Thomas Carpenter

Rising at almost 1300 metres above Tasmania’s capital, the old ski tracks of kunanyi/Mt Wellington were not for the faint of heart. Popular with skiers in the 1930s, kunanyi/Mt Wellington provided some incredible scenic skiing for those who could pick the tracks out from between the boulders and rock formations. It’s important to note that not there are no dedicated ski fields on kunanyi/Mt Wellington. The mountain can be extremely dangerous at any time of year, especially in winter.

Tasmania has a solid ski season and it’s evident throughout history that people are determined to ski here – even if it’s down Hobart’s main street during a freak snowstorm. For me, I’m happy enough skidding down a hill on a tarp at Collinsvale. Secretly, I do hold out hope that another 1986 will happen any winter now and I can hit the slopes of Elizabeth Street. My fingers and toes are crossed.

Love this

Cold Water Wake Up Call
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
A Short Geelong Getaway
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
February 2024

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!