EARLY season snowfall and a sneaky day out of the office made for an epic day of snow driving north-east of Melbourne this week.
With a cold front dumping snow in the alpine areas more than a week out from the June long weekend, which marks the official start of the ski season and also the seasonal track closures for much of the Victorian High Country, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The team at Marks 4WD put the call out to its ever-growing group of portal axle-equipped Land Cruiser owners to see who was keen for a mid-week escape, and we ended up with a trio of portal-equipped LC79 double-cabs on the day.
The Marks 4WD portal axles give the 70 Series Land Cruiser an additional 150mm of ground clearance under the diffs, which is just the thing needed for driving in deep snow. The engineering process also makes the vehicles legal on 35-inch tyres in all states, which is another huge bonus for off-road exploring.
Once the snow started to appear on the logging tracks, the high-riding trio stopped to air down those 35-inch tyres to increase the tyre footprint across the light, fluffy snow that continued to fall throughout the day. There was more snow on the tracks the higher into the hills we climbed, and it soon became evident that a vehicle had travelled along the same route earlier that day. When that vehicle passed on its way back down the driver said the snow was too deep and the track too steep for him, so it was all virgin snow from then on.
HOW TO: Drive on snow
Driving through snow provides a unique experience that can be hard to encounter in Australia, where only a small part of the country receives snowfall over a short part of each year. Add to that, that many of the tracks are closed during winter and that good snow driving can be hard to find. When you find it, the experience is a bit like driving in deep, soft sand with the added challenge of low traction ice to further add to the fun.
For South Australian, Wayne, the owner of the ‘DUAL79’ Cruiser, it was the first time he’d experienced snow at all. Wayne was in Melbourne to have the portals fitted to his 79 as well as a fresh tune at Power Torque, Victoria. His timing was perfect and he had a ball driving through the wintery mountains with a couple of locals. It was the perfect way to get a feel for the new axles and wheels on his Cruiser.
Even on 35s and portals there were sections of track that were too steep to climb in the slippery conditions. With the tyre pressures dropped even further, the lead car pushed on in to the deepening snow but winches had to eventually be used. A large tree blocked the track and had to be by-passed, and this also required winches to be used to get off the road and around it.
A pair of Nissan Patrols eventually caught up and helped direct the winching and, once the high point on the track was breached, the convoy caught up with some cross-country skiers, also out enjoying the early blast of snow.
4X4 ADVENTURE SERIES: Victorian High Country
The early snowfall has prompted the authorities to close some tracks earlier than usual, while some of the ski resorts are opening a week earlier. If you’re planning any trips to the High Country or other areas that experience snowfall, it’s best to check the road conditions before you head out. The 4WD Victoria website has up-to-date information on these closures, and always adhere to road closures as they are there to protect both the tracks and you.
You also need to be well-prepared before you head out in these conditions. A well-maintained and capable vehicle is essential, as are the skills to drive in such terrain. Reliable communications beyond a mobile phone are a must-have should you get stuck and need rescuing. Additional warm and dry clothing is also needed, as you might be stuck for a while or even overnight, as one group of four-wheel drivers discovered earlier in the same week.
Marks 4WD: www.marks4wd.com
4WD Victoria: www.4wdvictoria.org.au