The trip to Thredbo is more than just a commute across some of Australia’s most beautiful countryside; it’s a chance to reflect on life.
I've made this Thredbo drive - this long, meandering drive that arcs and weaves down and across New South Wales's Southern Highlands from Wollongong, saying a quick hello to the ACT en route - 50 or 60 times, maybe more, in every condition you can imagine.
It's easier for sure now, with bypasses around Goulburn and Canberra, and smooth two-lane tarmac for long stretches. It rises and falls, bends and sways. It skirts the landscape, and doesn't barrel through it.
Wide, rolling plains stretch to the horizon on both sides, broken by natural oddities like Lake George – for most part a dry bed that stretches for 25km in one direction. At either end of the day, the light that plays across the plains is mesmerising.
The trips started out as adventures, escapes, before they slowly but surely morphed into work, routine. Like too much dark chocolate ganache, even the sweetest of treats can pall.
Now, after a decade of life getting in the way, I'm back on the ribbon, passing by familiar names like Marulan and Goulburn, on my way back to the town of Thredbo, nestled in the shade of Australia’s tallest mountain. And I have a new travel buddy.
My son is 15, tall, clear-eyed and strong, with a gentle spirit and a curious mind. He can make me laugh, he can irritate, and he can be bloody funny. No idea how we got this lucky.
And, like me, he loves cars and mountain bikes. Combining the two, then, is logical - and easy, too.
A young life spent racing BMX at a competitive level came to an end recently for Max, after a pretty savage mountain bike crash broke five vertebrae and threatened to curtail his riding future before it had really even started.
With the end of the structured lifestyle of competition, though, came new challenges – how to maintain focus, and how to set goals. Max’s recovery complete, we decide to give mountain bike racing a try. Yeah… his mum wasn’t thrilled.
Along with the fun and adrenaline of racing comes the less fun bit – packing the gear and making sure nothing gets left behind. The beauty of BMX racing was that it required a single bike, a box of tools and a bag of clothes – mountain biking easily triples those basic requirements, so a versatile all-rounder like the Tiguan is a blessing.
Roof racks move the bikes out of the cabin, and the sizable cargo area swallows the rest of our junk – just.
To be honest, though, thanks to improved roads and the influx of SUVs, a weekend dash to Thredbo is no longer as onerous a task. Pack up Friday arvo, dash to the hills, play all weekend and be back at the desk on Monday. “Hey, let’s go to Thredbo for the weekend!” isn’t just heard in July and August any more.
Thredbo, in truth, has lagged behind some of the Victorian parks when it comes to turning its resort into a summer must-do for mountain bikers. The place has been welcoming riders for more than 25 years, but it’s only in the last two or three seasons that genuine progress has been made.
More trails for all abilities – including rookies – as well as chairlifts that are modified for bikes are just two of the changes that are slowly but surely turning the New South Wales resort into an all-year proposition, and there’s a lot more in store.
The Flow Trail race is the main item on our agenda – and it doesn’t go so well for Max, who crashes in practice. A quick pit stop for repairs and he’s back up on the hill – only to crash in exactly the same place during his race run!
The Flow Trail isn’t as relaxed as it sounds; you can carry immense speed into the turns and over the jumps, and before you know it, you’re really getting in touch with nature with all parts of your body. If you’re keen to try it, we can’t recommend a full complement of body armour enough, and the Thredbo store has everything for sale and for hire.
Competitive mode over, Max and I decide to tackle the Thredbo Valley Track, booking a shuttle to take us back up the hill from the finishing point at the Lake Crackenback resort. It’s some 20km of winding, relatively easy and flowing trails that take riders through a spectacular vista of Alpine terrain.
With plans to extend the trail as far as Jindabyne, it’s a fantastic way to be immersed in the riverside terrain that makes up so much of this part of the park.
After a brief stop for new gear and lunch – having a hotel room 100m from the base of the chairlift pays dividends here – it’s time to explore the gravity side of mountain biking. The new All Mountain Trail is designed to offer the thrills of a downhill descent without the heart-stopping drops and insane speeds that would scare off the average rider.
Again, I find myself absolutely astounded at just how capable and talented my son is on a bike. Clearing every double jump and negotiating the tougher ‘A-line’ sections on his very first try, I feel amazingly privileged to see it first-hand.
Rock-strewn drops are punctuated with huge jumps, tight switchback turns and high-speed sections where you’ll touch 70km/h – if you dare. It’s exhausting and exhilarating, and thoroughly addictive.
Our two-day odyssey ends on the balcony of the Thredbo Pub, sharing beers and soft drinks with fellow riders who, in just 48 hours, have become more than just mountain bikers to us. Again, I’m quietly impressed to see my son easily mix it with the adults, morphing into a young man, right before my eyes.
The next trip can’t come soon enough.
After a 20-year career in consumer magazines, Tim has moved into the online space, where he's found his happy place combining his two passions - cars and bicycles - to create 032media. Happily married with three kids, he's based in Wollongong on the NSW south coast.