Winter Olympian Steve Lee takes his sisters, Tracy and Kerry, into Australia’s backcountry. We tag along for the ride.
“He’s the wizard” says Kerry Lee Dodd while waiting for her brother to arrive with his skidoo and backcountry sled to take us for fresh turns out the back of Falls Creek in Victoria.
“Wizards are never late they just arrive in wizard time and everything falls into place.”
She’s talking about Steve Lee, Winter Olympian, World Cup gold medalist, Olympic commentator and Australian icon of the snow sports industry who lives to his own beat, the only boy in a family of three kids, a sister on either side and eighty year old matriarch Noelene at the helm.
Steve’s The Wizard because everything turns out all right, Kerry’s The Guru (she has been a ski instructor since a teenager) and Tracy’s The Provider who likes to cook and nurture and get her siblings out of trouble when needed.
The Wizard has done his magic and provided a bluebird day after four snow storms that have created the best July in Australia in decades. The snow is plentiful and dry and the backcountry is serving up untracked light powder.
Skiing with Steve Lee Backcountry Tours were founded by the Wizard five years ago. Prior to this you could skidoo out to Mt McKay if you knew the right people and take a track or two or hike or ski out to the good stuff.
Steve offers a true adventure on a self designed sled that seats four and is towed by a skidoo with Steve and a second guide. The skidoo drops skiers and boarders off to a chosen run, the guide leads the way back down and the skidoo relocates to meet the group at the bottom of the run.
Not dissimilar to heli or cat skiing, only a fraction of the price at only $159 for a half day.
You know it is going to be a good day when the family is involved. You can’t offer the worst terrain to those who share your blood and today my blood is pumping for Lee family time. Steve doesn’t disappoint taking us down runs that haven’t been skied in years, including the tree laden and thigh burning Echidna Ridge.
It is a big call but I’m calling it. Some of the snow conditions I skied over two days (I also went out with the crew from Three Blue Ducks in Sydney) with Steve were the best I’ve skied in both Australia and New Zealand, and that includes heli skiing.
I’m also calling it the best commercial adventure skiing you will get in Australia. Trailing behind the skidoo holding on to an exposed sled that bumps and swings on the powder snow is adrenaline enducing in itself. Add simply stunning views, snow laden gum trees, powder skiing and the chance to ski or snowboard alongside a legend.
Kerry calls one run down through some roll overs and trees past a creek onto the road “Mickey’s Creek.” None of us know the run’s real name but she tells a story of Tracy’s husband, Michael, falling into the creek below and hence dubbing the run.
The Lees grew up with Falls Creek as their back yard. Kerry was five and Steve three when their parents moved to Falls Creek to run Ripparoo Lodge.
Tracy was born after the first winter and the family went on to own Attunga Lodge. Kerry went on to rule the ski school as an instructor, Tracy became a national alpine and freestyle champion and Steve went on to represent his country at the Winter Olympics not once, not twice but three times in 1984, 1988 and 1992. He also worked as a stunt man for Jackie Chan and Willy Bogner.
Both Tracy and Kerry now call Port Elliott home in South Australia and visit Falls during school holidays to pass their love for Falls Creek on to their own offspring who do the spruking for ‘Uncle Steve’ and his backcountry tours, showcasing the promo video on their iPad to the local school.
They are a tight knit group. Steve the silent one, the girls do all the talking and mum Noelene who we later meet at Milch for the local trivia night (I’m invited to join the Lee clan’s trivia team under various provisos that I suspect I broke within the first half hour) rules the roost, clearly loved by all in her circle and beyond.
The girls adore their brother. Kerry has been guiding for him while she has been at Falls during the school holidays and together with Tracy are constantly offering little tips and ideas to help improve his business.
There is talk of expanding the Backcountry Ski Tours with Steve Lee into New South Wales but it will all come down to National Parks. Let’s just say we all have everything crossed for that one and I hope the sisters get to guide.
In the meantime make the most of this season, I’ve done these tours a couple of times in the past and this year has the absolute premium conditions I’ve seen. So ‘primo’ that we stumble upon two unnamed (let’s keep it that way) skiers hitting the Mt McKay hydro pipeline.
That never happens.
For more information on Steve Lee’s Backcountry Tours visit www.facebook.com/skiingwithstevelee
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Rachael Oakes-Ash was hosted by Falls Creek Ski Lift company