Victorian Backcountry Festival

Free grass-roots event for Victoria's backcountry community.

Victoria is getting its first backcountry festival thanks to a guy called Cam Walker. Cam is a telemark skier, climber, mountain-bike rider and activist. He's the driving force behind the 2018 Victorian Backcountry Festival, which is being held at Falls Creek over the first weekend of September. It's going to be a grass-roots, locally supported event for the backcountry community. And, it's free and everyone's welcome – whether you've been shredding for decades or put on your first pair of skis this season.

To find out more about how the festival transpired, what you can expect and who's behind it, we've interviewed festival organiser Cam Walker.

Cam Walker.

First up, can you introduce yourself?

I’m an environmental activist and I live in Central Victoria. I’m 54. I’m very lucky in that my day job is my passion. I’m the campaigns co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth. This means that I get to work across all sorts of campaigns, and I spend a lot of time in regional Victoria. Although I love climbing, both rock and alpine, I find that at present I mostly do multiday walking trips and skiing. I’m fairly obsessed with backcountry skiing. Also, living in Central Victoria, it's almost obligatory to ride if you like the outdoors, so I’ve also gotten into mountain bike riding in recent years.

My job is very demanding and stressful, and I need to be available 24/7. Walking, climbing and skiing is the main counter balance that keeps me sane.


So, what inspired you to organise a backcountry festival in Victoria?

For the last few years, I've organised a World Telemark Day (WTD) gathering at Mt Hotham. WTD for the southern hemisphere falls on the first Saturday in September. Last year this attracted about 40 people. Normally we do a mix of things, with one group resort skiing and others going out to tour or find some steeper terrain. A few people had been asking for the event to come over to Falls Creek. Once I settled on shifting the location, the idea quickly morphed into an ‘all things backcountry’ event, and then into a festival. So, the event will have a social gathering vibe as well as an opportunity for skiing and riding.


Is it the first of its kind?

Yes, as far as I know. There is the annual Splitfest (a splitboarding festival, held each August in the Snowy Mountains) and big organised events for cross-country races (like the Kangaroo Hoppet), but this is the first full gathering for the backcountry community.


Can you tell us a bit about the program?

When I first thought about doing the event at Falls Creek, I approached Falls Creek Cross Country, who run the Nordic centre at Windy Corner. Sally and the team there were enthusiastic and offered a range of clinics and workshops for free. They have been very generous in their support for the idea of a BC festival.

I put the call-out through the backcountry community for people to offer tours and skill shares. We've ended up with a great program and all the events are free. I'm assuming that the more experienced people will do the tours, and people newer to everything will do the clinics or the skills workshops. These will include things like navigation, snow safety and the basics of snow camping. There are also free Intro to Telemark clinics and a snow shoe tour. There are a series of two-day avalanche safety courses running before and during the festival (offering the Canadian AST level 1 training), which are being run by Adam West from Snow Safety Australia.

There will also be an outdoor bar in the afternoon and a film festival in the evening. This will feature only films made in the Australian backcountry. Most are very ‘home grown’ rather than professionally made, but there are some great stories and wonderful images.

It seems to me that a lot of the backcountry ski and riding media is very male-dominated. While this is slowly changing, I wanted the program to have strong women’s voices and am delighted that former Olympian skier Katya Crema and Tamara Hutchins from Melbourne Girls Outside (one of the fastest growing female adventure groups in the country) will be speaking about breaking down barriers to adventure, and empowering women in the outdoors.


The festival based in Falls Creek. Why did you choose that location?

Largely because of the requests from several people. But Falls Creek Resort has great terrain for telemark skiing, the locals were very supportive, and the Bogong High Plains are so accessible from the resort.


Who's funding the festival?

Me. This is a grassroots volunteer effort, and I’m covering the costs myself. Falls Creek Alpine Resort and Falls Creek Cross Country have helped with venues and publicity. The only funds we have received so far are from Bogong Equipment (thanks!). The film festival itself is a fundraiser for Mountain Critter Cause, which supports a breeding program for Mountain Pygmy Possums and the Friends of the Earth climate change campaign. Through the support of Peter Hull from Sweetwater Brewery we also hope to raise funds for Disabled Wintersport Australia.


I see on your poster that MSC (Mountain Sports Collective) is a partner. Can you tell us a bit about them?

A group of us decided that backcountry users needed their own members group. Our vision was influenced by organisations like the alpine clubs you find in North America and Europe. We organise events and forums and do a backcountry travel advisory, which provides regular updates on conditions in the backcountry in winter, including avalanche risk on the steeper terrain.

Eventually we hope to be able to take on an advocacy role for the human powered backcountry community. New members are most welcome: http://mountainsportscollective.org/pay-it-forward-2018/


What are you hoping to achieve by creating the Victorian Backcountry Festival?

This is simply a gathering of the backcountry community. Often you meet people out on the mountain or maybe in a hut, or at a campsite, and our fellow backcountry adventurers are usually great people and good company. This is a chance take it a step further: for us to gather as a community, to have a ski together and maybe a drink, see some great films and inspiring speakers, and possibly make some new buddies for our next trip to the mountains.


How many people are you hoping will attend?

We already have 140 registrations. I’m hoping we will get about 200.

You can register for free here: https://backcountry-festival.com/register-for-the-festival/
The program is here: https://backcountry-festival.com/whats-on/

Victorian alps photo by Cam Walker

One of Cam's many beautiful images of the Victorian High Country. See more photos on Cam's instagram profile: @cam_walker_foe



More Articles