Australia Victoria - Mt Hotham

The tele chute out

It was time to sort it out once and for all – who has the tele talent. It was time for the Chute Out At The Mount Hotham Corral. KEN ‘LONGDRAW’ HAWKINS has the story. *

The phone rang in Freeheel HQ. My secretary answered it. After all these years it still breaks my heart when she wears tight polypro.

“Hello?” She enquired.

She gave me that look. I knew what it meant; arching a “get lost pervert” eyebrow at me she stated, “Some Yank telemarker wants to talk to you.”

A Yank, I thought as she handed me the phone. They’re not specially liked in these parts.

“Yeah?” I asked, sounding cool, disinterested and menacing all at the same time.

“My name’s Steve Leeder,” said a voice. I was given your number by the editor of theSKImag, eh.”

“You’re a Canadian.” I stated.

“Yeah, something wrong with that?”

“We don’t specially like Canadians in these parts. But since you’re a telemarker I’ll give you five minutes of my time.”

Leeder talked fast. Told me he had modelled for Maurice Willar, the Tough Guy boys and Unparalleled Productions. I told him I didn’t give two hoots for them fancy boy film makers, wanted to know if he had shot stills because that’s where the real action is.

“Sure I have,” he said.

I didn’t believe him. Sounded like a Canuck liar to me.

“Alright” I said, I’ll see if I can hook you up with some tickets at Hotham. But remember, we don’t like Canadians much around here. I’m going to call some of the local posse, tell them you’re coming and tell them to get up here and kick your Canuck butt.”

I rang Sam Dunlop. “Yeah, Freeheel HQ here. Just got a call from some Canadian guy called Steve Leeder. Reckons he’s going to come to Hotham and kick some Australian ass. When can you get here?”

“Wednesday morning,” said Dunlop, deadpan as always.

Wednesday, clear as a bell, one of those days you could see your future in if you looked hard enough. Leeder flew in from the Falls Creek resort in the chopper: he’d been doing a few warm up turns. Scared I reckoned.

Dunlop arrived in a beat up 4WD, slung his gear onto the snow and flatly stated, “Let’s go, I’ve got to meet a girl at five and I don’t intend to be late.”

Suddenly, Dunlop tensed, I looked over my shoulder and saw Paul Fitzgerald striding toward us. Fitzgerald’s been around a while: since the days when real men wore leather and rode long sticks that were pointy at only one end. He’d driven up from Wangaratta; wanted in on the Telemark Chute Out. Said he wasn’t interested in what country anyone was from, just wanted to go faster than Leeder or Dunlop.

I scratched my woolly toque (the one I stole from Christian Begin at Red Mountain in ’91), and told Fitzgerald he could ski for the camera if he thought he still had what it takes.

We went out to Dargo Bowl. None of the Chute Out Gang impressed me. Sure, they all made long turns, but any fresh faced boy riding fat planks and wearing  big boots can do that. I told ‘em straight up, “You boys are gonna have to ride better if I’m gonna shoot you.”

Leeder said the terrain was for pansies; his demeanour was aggressive, a little like a man looking for a fight but not sure if the fella he was going up against might be hiding a Swiss Army knife in his sleeve. I figured we’d move into H Gully, let their skis do the talking.

H Gully once took a man out in a big slide. Didn’t kill him, but busted him up plenty. I always get a little nervous traversing across the top, just in case that mean mother’s got an itchy trigger finger.

The Chute Out Gang dropped in from the top; drew out long turns across windpack that’d make a dull edge blush, then dropped into a gully full of powder that’d make a virgin bride dance. I shot them with a big lens.

Leeder wanted to up the ante, talking about taking air off a boulder on the other side of H Gully. Dunlop and Fitzgerald figured it was crazy talk. The take off was the shape of an alcoholic’s nose and the landing was rock hard,  “No worse’n the park,” Leeder drawled, and traversed across.

He took the air, stomped the landing and skied back. The Canuck had a gleam in his eye, the gauntlet had been thrown down. But the day was drawing long and we retired to the General Store for a whisky or two and strange tales of fights won and love lost.

Next morning, before the sun was proper risen, I was out of my swag and checking the dawn. Looked like another good one.

Fitzgerald had taken off for the lowlands, said he had some “commitments”. I have to ask the question, what sort of man puts commitments ahead of skiing?

It was just Dunlop and Leeder and we skied to the top of Mount Little Higginbotham. Don’t laugh at the name. A man doesn’t laugh at a name until he knows the meaning of the thing.

The skiing had a nastiness to it: icy as your wife’s mamma’s kiss up high and dry as her whip windblown powder down low. Second run of the morning, Dunlop took a fall. Doesn’t fall much. I saw Leeder’s eyes gleam. He’d spotted a weakness and figured on moving in for the kill.

But next run, Leeder’s skis hit hardpack under the fresh, front ski powered out from under him and he fell heavy: twisting legs, buckled knees. Nasty. For a moment it looked like two snapped cruciates, not to mention sore Canuck butt. In the background I heard Dunlop let out a low level chuckle. 

Leeder picked himself up, dusted himself off, just like any real telemarker would. Said he was okay. For a moment, I thought maybe Canadians weren’t so bad after all. Then I remembered the Kokanee Glacier incident of 1994 and closed my mind to the thought.

I looked at Dunlop; was meaning to make a joke at the Canadian’s expense when suddenly my steely gaze focused on a shape sitting on a snow gum right in front of us.

Not many men would’ve noticed that shape – takes a lifetime of living hard in the mountains to know it. A Tawny Frogmouth Nightjar was sitting there, had been the whole time, still and quiet, holding secrets of the mountains in its head. It was an omen. That was for sure. But just what the omen meant I didn’t yet know.

We skied away, ruminating on the omen of the bird, when from behind us there came a howl of pain. Looking around, Leeder was scrabbling bare handed in the powder.


“All my coin fell out of my pocket!” he yelled. We hooted at him, watched his hand quickly whitening from the cold of the snow.

“You’ll never find it in that deep Australian powder,” said Dunlop.

Just then he held up two gleaming gold coins. “Four dollars! That’s enough for a real ski bum to live on for a week.” First true thing we’d heard him say.

Pocketing his coin, Leeder looked up and spotted the rocks we were about to traverse under. He wanted to huck them. I thought it was a bad idea: the landing was solid and covered in sastrugi.

But hey, if some 25 year old punk wants to blow his knees apart why should I care. Leeder boot packed up, took the air, landed it in the back seat, skis flapping across the sastrugi and out into the windblown powder. He wasn’t happy, missed the grab. Started stomping back up.

I could see Dunlop’s 30 year old patellas were quivering; he was thinking about backing off. After all that heavy negotiating for a big fat fee it looked like he didn’t have what it takes.

“You’re a yellow dog, Dunlop,” I said. “Are you gonna let this Canuck beat you in a throw down?” Dunlop’s always had a raw ego; I knew he’d have to go after being challenged. The landing beat him up even worse than Leeder.

Leeder again, grizzlin’ again. Not getting the pop or something. Then Dunlop. Whoah! Grabbed some air and a fat handful of mute. “Fuck off! yelled Leeder. “That’s it, I’ve had enough of you smart arse Aussies. I’m coming up there to go big.”

This time he plugged it with a sweet tail grab. The big air show down off the rocks and onto the sastrugi landing was a draw.

I figured that’d be it, the Telemark Chute Out At The Mount Hotham Corral was all over. But the boys weren’t happy. Didn’t want no draw. They wanted blood, smashed teeth and broken bones. Something more radical, a little crazy. I grinned to myself and real casual mentioned the Old Quarry Log Slide To Road Runout.

Been wanting to shoot that log slide for years, but never able to con even a snowboarder into doing it. Turned out these telemarkers were stoopider even than snowboarders and fell for my sweet talk.

The log slide’s a mess: big splinters sticking outta it, cracking up on the end, a landing nowhere near steep and a run out that ends on a road. Mess any of it up and you get hurt.

Those two fool freeheelers got some clean airs off it; don’t know how, must have been luck ‘cos they sure didn’t know much about skiing. Told them so myself.

I packed my camera bag while Dunlop and Leeder headed off in the beat up 4WD. Rang my secretary. “Hey, I said. “Big success, plan went smoother than expected. Worked their freeheelin’ asses off. They fell for the whole con; the old ego in the hole two card trick; the who’s crazier than who, the Kodak courage lunacy. Nice work all round.”

“That’s good to hear baby,” purred my secretary, “come back to the office, I’m wearing my tightest polypro.”

*Ken ‘Longdraw’ Hawkins is also known as Andrew Barnes who says some of the above might be fiction (except maybe the bits about the bird and Leeder dropping his money, and some other stuff).


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