Western Faces: The film that reveals Australia’s epic backcountry skiing

By Justin Walker 16 July 2020
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Australian mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape, free-skier Anna Segal and Freeride World Tour rookie Michaela Davis-Meehan, are set to explore some of the steepest faces in their backyard inthe film, Western Faces. With New Zealand free-skiers Fraser McDougall and Hank Bilous along for the ride, they’re slogging deep into the Snowy Mountains backcountry to find free-ride terrain that will have their Kiwi counterparts doing a double-take.

When most avid ski-hounds think of backcountry skiing, it is rare that Australia is mentioned. The global perception of Oz as flat and dry is at odds with a country that can – and does – contain truly epic backcountry ski lines. 

This is the basis for the awesome new film, Western Faces, from filmmakers Lachlan Humphreys (Clean Line Productions) and Rob Norman (Knack Studios), and which the idea for started innocuously on the other side of the world.

Anna Segal, Michaela Davis-Meehan, Hank Bilous and Fraser McDougall line up for another epic day in the Main Range.

“I was living in Chamonix, France, a mecca for climbing and freeride skiing, when I started to get into freeride snowboarding,” Lachlan explains. “The accessibility of steep runs means you very quickly learn how to manage fast, difficult descents, and before you know it you are climbing up with ice axes to get into more technical terrain.”

The last thing Lachlan expected was to find similar challenging terrain back in Australia, but he was happy to be surprised at the quality of backcountry skiing that the Snowy Mountains offered.

“During my time overseas, some Australian friends were on their own missions in our backyard Down Under,” he says. “I first heard about the Western Faces from them, and started searching for information. When I returned to Australia, I did a few backcountry trips with my uncles, one who wears leather boots with toe clamps and another who lives for the winter and loves a tour. My expectations for powder and steep terrain were low and at first it was a novelty – more about having a good time with family.”

The team spent many days exploring this wild, untamed region, searching for those perfect lines to run.

This soon changed when he saw the Western Faces for the first time. 

“… I was gobsmacked. It’s a view you don’t expect to see in Australia. There is some crazy looking terrain out there; not only are the runs steep, but when you peer over the edge you often can’t see the bottom, let alone the next three metres that lays ahead. While it obviously can’t be compared to France or Canada, having terrain like this at home in Australia was a complete surprise. It was something special and right away, I knew I wanted to capture it on film.”

This led Lachlan to spend around five years “chasing Watson’s Crags” and dreaming of tackling those zones himself before finally doing so with a friend – and becoming even more pumped to tell the story of this relatively unknown (globally) area. This, plus memories of his father’s stories of the area and a connection to Australia’ hidden backcountry saw him draft a film pitch and approach supporters. The North Face jumped on board straight away, and then Lachlan was joined by Rob Norman and the ‘big idea’ started to take shape, with the goal of educating visitors – and Australians – to the amazing winter adventures on tap in the world’s second-driest continent.

“Australia is known for its beautiful beaches, deserts and idyllic summer conditions, with blue skies and vivid marine life,” Lachlan says. “Most people don’t travel to Australia for the skiing, however many people in the snow sports industry, chasing endless winters, come here to work as it is the off-season to the Northern Hemisphere winter. 

“To these people, the beauty and the rugged terrain of the Australian backcountry will not be foreign. However, the Western Faces are hard to reach and require good preparation and a certain skill set. The film therefore hopes to amaze even those more familiar with Australian skiing, as it showcases a perspective not often seen to those visiting Australian ski resorts.”

Tim Macartney-Snape was pumped to showcase his ‘backyard’ to his fellow Aussies and the Kiwi contingent of the team.

To do full justice to the story they wished to create, the duo called on The North Face’s stable of athletes and Aussie mountaineering/ski legend, Tim Macartney-Snape, to make their vision a reality. As well as Tim, the skiing talent captured on film includes free-skier Anna Segal and Freeride World Tour rookie, Michaela Davis-Meehan. Joining them from across the ditch were NZ free-skiers Fraser McDougall and Hank Bilous. 

For the Aussie skiers, it was the perfect chance to show their Kiwi mates that the Snowy Mountains Main Range – and its Western Faces – offered just as amazing a backcountry ski adventure as the NZ Southern Alps. Tim Macartney-Snape was, initially, brought in for consultation, but his involvement soon escalated.

“Lachlan and Rob had been wanting to do a doco on skiing backcountry on the Western Faces of the Main Range and pitched the idea to The North Face,” says Macartney-Snape. “Sarah Hunt [Marketing Manager, The North Face] then asked me if I’d like to be involved and I said I would be happy to help with the planning and logistics… Then I just got sucked into the story as well!” he laughs.

For Macartney-Snape, it was also a great chance to show off his ‘backyard’.

“When you know a place well and love it, it’s always very satisfying to show it off to people who can appreciate and make the most of it,” he says. “It was so good to ski out there with world-class skiers – I learned heaps from them! It will always strike me as a miracle that we have good skiing in Australia.”

Another day skiing those amazing lines comes to an end, with a solo party-member making the most of the day’s last light.

To see just how awesome the the backcountry skiing in Oz can be, check the Facebook premiere of Western Faces tonight at 6pm