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Snowy Classic Countdown: Cycling The Snowies

Virtually the moment lockdown lifted, Editor Nat Bromhead packed the van and made a beeline for the  Snowy Mountains to experience some of Australia’s best road, MTB and gravel cycling.

It’s the Aussie equivalent of Bourg Oisans, Bormio or Banyoles, the French, Italian and Spanish feeder towns, accommodation centres and entry points to some of the world’s most celebrated cycling regions.

Comfortably nestled alongside the south-eastern side of the magnificent lake bearing the town’s name, Jindabyne is a quintessential and picture-perfect mountain town. 

A quick stop between the tiny village of Dalgety and the mighty Beloka climb.

And much like its exotic European sister towns mentioned in the intro above, Jindabyne plays a crucial year-round role in supporting Australia’s adventure playground, the Snowy Mountains. It’s also an entrance point to the Kosciuszko National Park, a 7000sq km wilderness destination and home of the nation’s five highest peaks. 

Jindabyne is the hub of the Aussie alpine wheel, and it was the place we made an absolute beeline for the moment lockdown lifted, borders opened and travel resumed.

After months of planning and many nights of dreaming, the campervan was loaded with gear and bikes as we left Sydney on a warm and windy Friday afternoon. 

The road from Charlotte Pass back to Jindabyne offers truly memorable cycling.

Following months of lockdown, we were finally heading to Jindabyne for a week of cycling, exploring and simply getting out of the lovely (but semi-stale) LGA. The thought of conquering alpine passes or seeing the view from Mt Kosciuszko was a lot more appealing than climbing the walls at home during lockdown.

It was also a reconnaissance mission of types, the opportunity for a first-hand look at the home region of this title’s fifth regional Gran Fondo event, the Snowy Classic scheduled for March 2022.

The warm wind blew hard as we slowly snaked our way out of Sydney on that 36-degree day. A few hours later we were marvelling at the country colours of last light while enjoying a classic pub meal in historic Goulburn. An hour later we pulled into the quaint village of Collector for a night in the van. 

Dawn delivered a temperature of 1.7 degrees – a far cry from the high 30’s just 12 hours before. In the cocoon of the warm Kombi we planned the day prior to heading to Cooma for a perfect cafe breakfast.

At 459km, the Sydney to Jindabyne trip is easily doable in a day – but for those with the time, or more interested in the full getaway experience – making an overnighter of it really adds to the experience. 

After an hour of being teased and amazed by the fascinating landscape and quaint country villages and outposts, Lake Jindabyne came into view as the road snaked and skirted it’s way toward our final destination. 

Typically the thriving hub of the region, upon arrival it was obvious that Jindabyne had been doing it particularly hard during the past 18 or so months. A tourist town, the visitors had been effectively locked out during the Covid crisis – a winter, summer and second winter without the tens of thousands of people who keep the region going. But there were signs of brighter days ahead – doors were re-opening, retailers re-stocking, and a strong sense of post-civid positivity prevailed.

The dream destination reached, the van was unloaded, bikes checked and adjusted, and gear prepared for what was to be the cycling trip of the year. 

Home for the week, the self contained and off-grid Touchdown Cottages just out of Jindabyne.

Very similarly to those European feeder towns mentioned earlier, there are plenty of options when comes to cycling in and around Jindabyne. It’s the gateway to the region, the centre of an expansive adventure playground with legitimate world-class riding options in almost every direction. 

The region features some of Australia’s best road cycling including Euro quality climbs and descents. Then there’s the world-class mountain biking along with absolutely endless gravel options. Single trail, bike paths and tracks are visible in many places our the town, with BMX being popular for the juniors. 

Track cycling is also catered for, with the proactive Jindabyne Cycling Club hosting their 100-lap track night at the local Sport and Recreation Centre on Wednesday nights. The club also hosts a weekly bunch ride at the civilised (and holiday-friendly) time of 9am each Sunday. Full details at www.JindabyneCycling.com.au 

So with the fun compass spinning in all directions, it was difficult to decide on a first destination. Keen on a climb and long-lost altitude, we left ‘Touchdown Cottages’, rolled down Barry Way, turned left, and gently pedalled towards Kosciuszko Road the mountains. 

Kosciuszko Road, one of the region’s absoloute must-ride routes and a part of the inaugural Snowy Classic in March 2022.

The ride to the ski resorts of Perisher and Charlotte Pass initially follows the shoreline of Lake Jindabyne and is ‘pinch yourself’ cycling. Within minutes you are on the edge of town and passing into the wide-open spaces of sheep farms, rich, lush pastures, and the trout hatchery. As you warm-up, begin to find your rhythm and really start getting into the ride the undulating hills and descents morph into a gentle but consistent climb. 

The gradients steadily ramp up as occasional glimpses of distant snow-capped peaks keep you focused, motivated and intent on reaching the top. You start to feel the chill of the cooler mountain air, but that is counterbalanced by your core temperature increasing. Gentle reprieves seem to come at just the right time, a short descent or even a drop of just a few per cent of gradient can do wonders during a long climb. 

Occasional roadside signs display the ever-increasing elevation, you glance at your GPS and enjoy seeing the numbers steadily rise and next 100 metres of elevation tick over.

The view from the main walking track above Charlotte Pass.

The views open up and – depending upon time of year – more and more snow starts to appear. Eventually, you close in on 1650 meters elevation and through the stunning alpine vista see the resort of Perisher – the top of the KOM / QOM and turnaround point of the 170km Snowy Classic course. At this point, you’ve climbed for almost 22km and gained close to 1000m of elevation since leaving Jindabyne. 

But this is a reccy ride, the opportunity to really explore the region, so we push on. Just 10km from the historic ski resort of Charlotte Pass, the balance of this iconic out and back ride has been broken. Considerably easier, the road is now more undulating and even includes some gentle and enjoyable descents. 

“…The region features some of Australia’s best road cycling, mountain biking and endless gravel options…”

The scenery is simply breathtaking, with snow, crystal clear streams, wildflowers, birdlife and spectacular rock formations. Eventually you come to a short final rise then it’s the end of the road. But here at Charlotte Pass, just like many roads across the incredible Snowy Mountain region, the end of the road is just the beginning.

Ahead is the start of gravel and mountain bikers paradise – some of the most thrilling off-road riding imaginable. 

But that will have to wait till tomorrow when we return with one of the other bikes waiting for us back at the lodge. For now it’s time for one of the nation’s best descents – from Charlotte Pass at 1850m back to Jindabyne at 900.

Snowy Classic Facts 

The 2022 Snowy Classic will be held on Saturday, March 26. It features the 110km Challenge Classic and 170km Maxi Classic over fully closed roads. A special 170km race category is fully sanctioned by AusCycling and is expected to attract A grade and Elite riders from around Australia. 

The event starts on Kosciuszko Rd, Jindabyne at 8am and finishes at the event village in Banjo Patterson Park by the lake. 

For full details including course maps visit the event website at www.snowyclassic.com.au 

Region’s Top Rides – Beloka

The region is littered with sensational climbs and made up of predominantly undulating country, it’s not unusual to accumulate 500m of elevation in just 20 or 30km of riding. That said, the ‘must do’ climb of the Snowy Mountain region is the mighty Beloka.

The feared and revered Beloka climb.

Short, sharp and brutal, Beloka is one of Australia’s most feared and revered cycling climbs. Around 30km out of Jindabyne and 10km from the charming village of Dalgety, Beloka is a pass between flattish farmlands and the main range. A QOM / KOM of the Challenge and Maxi events at the Snowy Classic, there’s around 300m of elevation in just 3km.

“…Short, sharp and brutal, Beloka is one of Australia’s most feared and revered cycling climbs…”

The worst of the climbing is right at the start. After a gentle right hand sweeper the base of the climb appears. Soon after you hit it you’ll be seeing 12, 14, 16, then up to 18 per cent on the computer! 

The secret here is to pace yourself, climb to your own ability, and do your best to settle in and maintain a steady rhythm. The good news is that the climb levels out, to a degree, it’s midsection. There’s a reprieve in the form of ‘only’ 6 or 7 percent for around 600 metres or so, before the road starts to angle up for more 14 and 15 percent craziness.

Riders from the Jindabyne Cycling Club on the road to Dalgety after descending Beloka. ‘We try not to ride up it too often,’ they said with a laugh.

Again, pace yourself, focus on your breathing and smooth cadence, and if it’s your first ascent just think about getting to the top without walking. That PB can come on later attempts – today it is all about ticking one of Australia’s toughest climbs off the list.

Where We Stayed

Located around 2km from Jindabyne, higher on the hill and overlooking the lake, Touchdown Cottages (pictured below) would have to be the ultimate accommodation for visiting cyclists. The expansive property is owned by Gary Pearson, President of the Jindabyne Cycling Club, a strong rider and passionate local.

The cottages are privately scattered through the 30 acre grounds. Totally off-grid, each are solar-powered, have tank water, a gas-fuelled BBQ, combustion heater, and full cooking facilities. Wildlife abounds (literally) with kangaroos, sheep, a myriad of birdlife, the occasional emu or echidna, and even lazy lizards sunning themselves on the deck each day. 

One of the 2-bedroom off-grid cottages at Touchdown.

Perfect for cyclists – the property is located along Barry Way, somewhat of a gateway to the roads of the region. Turn left to head to the high country climbs of Thredbo or Charlotte Pass, or turn right to head to Beloka or the endless gravel trails that start just 5km away. We’d happily stay forever! Full details at www.touchdowncottages.com

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