Let’s face it, when many Australians dream of a decadent ski holiday it’s Europe or the USA that materialises. Can any Australian snow hotel compete with those in Aspen and St. Moritz? Forty-eight hours at one of Australia’s best ski-resort hotels, QT Falls Creek, should answer that one (words: Steve Madgwick)…
Why QT Falls Creek?
Australian ski accommodation used to be just a mixture of private lodges, small-scale luxury options and hotels and resorts miles from the slopes. And then in 2013, five-star-fun specialist and serious makeover artist QT took over Quay West Falls Creek Resort, creating a somewhat un-Australian Australian ski resort experience: ski in ski out accommodation, (well, there is a flight of stairs and a lift ride to negotiate) that offers an energetic, new-world take on the all-in-one luxury ski holiday, akin to some high-end European and US resorts.
QT’s one, two, three-bedroom (managed) apartments and the expansive penthouses certainly can’t be accused of being cookie cutter clones. Floor-to-ceiling windows suck in plenty of winter light into the angular multi-bathroomed spaces, illuminating understated modern Scandi-style furnishings complete with playful splashes of contrasting stripes and block colours, and highlighting funky, vintage-esque trimmings such as ceramic moose wall hangings and faux-fur throws. An elegant marble-topped kitchen island on the outskirts of the generous living space begs you to entertain even after a day on the slopes has pilfered your energy.
The big ticks: You’ll want to lie flat on the heated tile floor after a hard day’s schussing. There are also complimentary (and fast) Wi-Fi and daily room servicing.
The could-do-betters: the bedrooms in our (three bedroom, two bathroom) apartment were a touch snug if you like to ‘spread out’ instead of putting everything away in the wardrobes. Could use more walls hooks to sling up jackets et al. The bath nozzle also slightly impedes the rainforest shower experience.
Concierge versus the rental-shop shuffle
Waiting in line with screaming kids, awkwardly juggling boots, poles and boards while you wait to get suited and booted is the bane of any equipment-needing skier or snowboarder. So what’s different at QT Falls? Well, until August this year nothing, really, except that the Falls Creek Ski Shop is located on the ground floor of the building. However, QT (from August) offers a US-style ski concierge service, where gear hire, lift passes and lessons can be arranged when you book your room. Answer a few size-related questions during the reservation and in theory your rental dockets, lessons vouchers and lift tickets should be ready to pick up at check in (the service wasn’t available at time of writing, so let us know how it goes if you try it out).
But wait!: You do, however, still have to brave the boot-fitting process in person, but those who have lost toenails to ill-fitting ski boots will understand how crucial this is.
Energy saver: store your skis/boards in the ski locker next to the ground-floor reception instead of dragging them up in the lifts.
The Bazaar un-buffet buffet
Is a buffet restaurant a lazy option for a five-star hotel (particularly for dinner service)? Not in the case of QT’s Bazaar (which is in the brands other resorts too). With almost every dish, the “interactive marketplace” resists the clichés of mass-produced, bland, tepid fare of old-school hotel buffets. The Bazaar chefs produce inventive takes on classics, from pumpkin, chilli, and feta risotto to snowboard-shaped (and QT-branded) raspberry cheesecake, and cook dishes to order within reason. The breakfast spreads in particular are artfully and thoughtfully presented in the likes of hue-filled Chasseur cookware. The service is Apple-store energetic and friendly.
Culinary negotiations: When we pointed out that the dangerously delicious apple-rhubarb crumble could do with a little sauce, crème anglaise was promised (and delivered) the very next evening.
You have to try: The dumplings are to die for (and mucho filling).
Spa treatments that taunt you
Is it possible to spend a weekend in the snow and not be dragged in by the promise of post-ski bliss in a warm relaxation cave that you walk past every day? SpaQ is worth giving in to. Its therapists are happy to cherry pick elements from the comprehensive ‘designer spa’ treatment menu. And why go for the predictable post-ski massage? Try a pre-ski warm-up instead: The Thermal Massage ($155, one hour) involves faintly spicy (almost Deep Heat-like) red pepper oil and cooling essential oils to force reluctant legs into action.
Tuned in: My masseuse was a hands-down gentle professional who seemed to float above me, but there was one small blip – U2’s Sweetest Thing popped up on my massage soundtrack between the calming, earnest pan flutes and whalesong.
Hot tub party on your balcony
Demand one of the apartments with a freestanding wooden Jacuzzi on the balcony either snow or valley side. The couple of metres between the balcony door and the hot tub may be invigoratingly challenging when the wind is whipping and the snow falling, but there’s something about the freezing-warm outdoor dichotomy that makes this QT Falls Creek’s signature experience. Even more so when you look down on the masses skiing (weather permitting) or down the splendid Keiwa Valley as the day-trippers struggle to pack their cars and flee for the day – beverage in hand, of course. For the full après-ski ritual, head downstairs to the smallish pool and sauna, and then rinse off under your rainforest shower, lathering up in Malin and Goetz treats.
Those bars?: Some balconies have metals struts that partially obscure your view from the hot tub. Not a game-changer but why, oh why, are they there?
Nightlife in Falls Creek is as low-key as you’d expect of a resort this size, but without QT’s Stingray it would cater mainly to the young whipper-snappers. Stingray opts for an energetic ski lodge vibe and mostly succeeds, but flits between cosy and crowded, a legacy of being the best option for drinks at the tail end of Falls Creeks main ski lift. There are a slew of comfy couch spaces and more purposeful (and upright) high tables plus a selection of hearty bar grub to refill you at lunch.
Finding your poison: Go for one of the twisted cocktail classics: Falls Old Fashion, Mountain Mai Tai or perhaps a Bloody Mary in the morning to start the heart.
A ski lesson in private versus public
Private ski and snowboard lessons at Falls Creek range between $119 and $147 per hour (depending on the time of day) which can seem a little excessive until you weigh up the benefits of them compared with standing in a snowy line of equally inept skiers for $68 as part of a group lesson (that’s so last season, dah-ling). Even a one-hour lesson of one-on-one attention can diagnose and improve your technique, whatever your level (yes, you ‘experts’ too). It’s also a great way to discover the best runs for your ability and get a better overview of Falls Creek terrain, Victoria’s largest ski area.
Buyer beware: Your instructor will likely be chiselled jawed, windswept and impossibly athletic so concentrating on your skiing will need your full attention.
Getting there in style
Yes, you could take the bus or drive yourself … but Falls Creek Coach Service offers a more luxe option: a private transfer in swanky white Range Rover (so new that the ‘how to look after your upholstery’ tag was still on the seat). Besides having your bum on sweet fawn leather, the best part is being able to drink in every kilometre of the exquisite scenery of the Keiwa Valley (green hills, black and white Friesian cows) and the alpine ash, peppermint trees, and lyrebirds scratching of the Alpine National Park.
How much?: $1200 from Melbourne and $750 (return) from Albury airport (max 4 passengers), but if the road gets snowy it won’t be you putting on those dastardly chains and the hassle of finding parking vaporises into the misty mountain air.