Mountain biking hot spot Mt Buller

By Chris Ord 16 September 2014
Reading Time: 4 Minutes Print this page
Mt Buller is Australia’s undisputed go-to hot spot for mountain-bikers of all skill levels and experience

MOUNTAIN BIKING’S HALLOWED turf is only a few kilometres north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Mount Tamalpais in Marin County is where mountain biking’s version of the Big Bang occurred. In 1976 a foolhardy few, led by Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze, dragged their town bikes up to the peak and hurtled down for the thrill of it, and an off-road sport was born.

The popularity of tackling dirt trails on two wheels grew rapidly, and bike designs evolved to suit the landscapes being traversed. It wasn’t long before trail riders became trail builders, transforming nature’s best rideable features into berms, drop-offs, jumps and rock gardens.

Mostly it was illegal trail-building, until the MTB movement had grown so big that it was too difficult for park rangers and governments to ignore them or move them on. Wheeled warriors were demanding stadiums of nature to play in.

World-class mountain biking

Fast-forward to the present day: huge sums of cash are being invested in MTB facilities and trails around the world. Such is the lure of purpose-built biking trails that Canada’s Whistler Resort now attracts more visitors in summer than it does during its ski season.

Southern Scotland’s 7Stanes, as well as Rotorua and Queenstown in New Zealand, and a bunch dotted around the US, including Park City, Utah, swiftly followed.

On the home front, our alpine resorts and country towns have realised that mountain-biking has huge potential to attract tourism dollars. Think Forrest in Victoria, Melrose in South Oz, Thredbo in NSW and the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland.

But Victoria’s Mount Buller has always been the leader of the Aussie bunch. Along with sister peak Mount Stirling, Mount Buller has 12 cross-country trails, one ‘flow down’ trail, four downhill trails and two skills parks.

Together, they represent 100km of dedicated singletrack to which the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) awarded Buller bronze status.

The area is now an accredited IMBA Ride Center, one of only 12 (gold, silver and bronze) worldwide, and one of only three outside of the US.

It’s a well-deserved title for those who first flung a wheel down Buller’s flanks in the name of fun.

“It started in the ’80s as a bit of a thing to do after work for lifties and other resort employees who had stayed on over summer,” says Louise Perrin, Mount Buller’s Environmental Services Manager. “We used what was essentially (the) Abom trail, ridden down the fall line. But it was just locals in our backyard having a bit of a play.”

In fact, the Buller work crew spearheaded mountain-biking’s introduction to Australia. Nick Reeves, working for the Mount Buller Ski Lift Company at the time, imported one of the first early-model mountain-bikes to the country from Canada.

“I’ve still got that bike,” Nick says. “The first mountain bike race was down the north side of the mountain on Summit Road, but we found that it was way too hairy, and too fast, so we built some tracks in the bush down the Dam Run. Then we built (trails) International and Abom.”

It wasn’t long before these pioneers cast eyes further up and down the flanks of their mountain.

“We were some of the first to ride down the Delatite River trail, which is now pretty iconic for riders,” Louise says. “It was so full of blackberries that it took us hours [a blast down Delatite now takes about 30 minutes]… I remember having to loofah the thorns out of my skin in the shower afterwards – that’s how bad it was.”

Big business at Mt Buller

A lot has changed since, with recognised trail-building gurus, World Trail, bringing their refined design expertise to the mix, backed by a resort board and local businesses that were confident in the vision Nick, Louise and other die-hard bush cyclists had for generating green-season tourism.

Another integral factor in Buller’s growth as a biking destination was Gerard McHugh, who back then worked in an environmental-management capacity for Mount Buller, then the state government, and has since taken up station as General Manager, World Trail.

Gerard witnessed first-hand the explosion of sustainable recreational riding in wilderness areas – and since then has had a significant role in its development. He puts the Buller experience into a worldwide context.

“To me, the beauty is in its difference. I spent plenty of time working here and in the USA, and to me one of the best things about our mountain resorts is that they don’t look like anything else in the world,” he says. “In summer, the combination of snow gum woodlands, alpine meadows and wildflowers are the defining feature of the high country – that’s what makes it so unique.

“Specifically in terms of mountain-biking, the Buller experience is iconic. It has some of the highest vertical drops of any trails in the country – Delatite Trail drops about 1000m over 16km; Klingsporn Trail drops the same over 6km.

“The environment is stunning and unique and changeable … And the variety is incredible, from short, fast blasts around the village, to epic back-country trips outside the formal trail network, to lift-accessed descending, to top-to-bottom all mountain routes.”

His favourite is Stonefly.

“Stonefly is unique and amazing – it’s possibly the highest (it starts around 1400m and climbs to 1660m) and hardest dedicated 10km cross-country loop in the country and passes through the most beautiful montane alpine ash forests and sub-alpine snow gum woodlands. It has been referred to as the best trail in Australia and I think it’s a reasonable claim. It alone is worth the trip to Buller.”

But Buller offers more than just finely-tuned dirt, according to Gerard.  

“There’s festivals and events, good coffee, good food, wine and beer, sunsets on the summit, swims in the Delatite and Howqua Rivers and temperatures that never top 28°C, even when its 40°C down below”.

Gerard also believes the planned new 40km ‘Epic’ trail development, due for completion in the summer of 2014/15, will raise the bar.

“The trail will pass through some amazing and remote country in an area that not many people have ever even set foot in,” says Gerard, who tells stories of crawling hands and knees through dense thicket to scout the new line.

“It will include an 8km singletrack descent with an average gradient of about 5-6%, which is the perfect gradient for ‘flow’ riding: minimal pedaling, minimal braking, just pure fun.”

Where Gerard once crawled, others will soon fly over on two wheels, and the result will cement Buller’s reputation as Australia’s most iconic riding destination.

The essentials

Bike hire: All Terrain Cycles in Mansfield and Mt Buller and The Corner Store MTB Buller at Mt Buller stock a great range of high-quality bikes for all levels of riders.

Tours & clinics: All Terrain Cycles and The Corner Store MTB Buller offer guided tours and clinics.

Accommodation: Mt Buller offers a variety of accommodation.

Email [email protected] for info.