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Snowed Inn

Snowed Inn

Travel
By Simon Richmond
posted: 01/11/2005

Once you check into the historic Kosciusko Chalet, you can't easily leave. There are no roads up here, no train tracks, no flights touching down at this snowbound, 5,774-foot-high village in the Snowy Mountains of southeastern Australia. But then, with a spa, a gourmet dining room and bowl skiing right out your front door, there are few better places to be a prisoner.

The Kosciusko Chalet, the heart of Charlotte Pass ski resort, was built in 1930 at the behest of Australian ski pioneers of the early 20th century. The building burned down in 1938, the same year the area christened Australia's first ski lift. One year later, the New South Wales government erected the present chalet. Though the lodge has only 34 simple rooms, its public spaces, such as the original Japanese oak staircase and a log fireplace, provide skiers respite from the snow-whipped environs. Vintage black-and-white photos hang throughout, so guests can see how little the chalet has changed over 65 years. In fact, the bedrooms still forgo modern diversions such as telephones or TVs.

Thankfully, the resort has made some advances. Back in the early 1900s, diehard sliders skinned or cross-country skied five miles in from Perisher Valley, the nearest town and home to Perisher Blue and Thredbo ski resorts. Today, those bound for Charlotte Pass still have a haul, but it's less muscle, more motor. From the edge of Kosciusko National Park-125 miles south of Canberra, the Australian capital-skiers catch the tube, an underground railway that burrows a half-mile up to Perisher Valley. (Ignore the ski-toting patrons gearing up for the slopes-there's still a ways to go.) From there, pile into a snowcat for the 45-minute trundle across the wide expanse of Spencers Creek to the pass named for Charlotte Adams, the first white woman to climb 7,310-foot Mount Kosciusko, Australia's highest peak.

Though it would be fitting if Ms. Adams' ghost roamed Kosciusko's halls, guests proclaim the hotel spirit-free. And with precious little distraction to keep them off the mountain, skiers find a resort that's largely the same as it was in the '30s-snowgum forests, off-piste chutes and wide bowls, now served by five lifts. But Charlotte Pass' biggest lure, thanks to its geography, is a lack of crowds-the village accommodates just 607 people in 11 small lodges, plus the Kosciusko Chalet.

And the chalet still plays a starring role-sustaining and entertaining weary skiers until they get back on the hill. Throughout the week, guests saunter to the dining room for dishes such as seared quail with a zingy citrus salad or char-grilled Scotch filet with wild mushrooms. And since "town" is a snowcat ride away, there's always live music in the pub, along with a list of fine ports and sherries to get you through the night. A nice place to be held captive, indeed.

NOVEMBER 2004

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