Grant Houniet’s background as a snowshoe racer and environmentalist makes him an ideal guide for spectacular alpine walks around Victoria’s Mt Buller.
Story By Terri Cowley
Grant Houniet was once one of the fastest snowshoe runners in the world. But these days he travels at a much slower pace as he takes walkers on his guided snowshoe tours in the high country of Victoria. “It’s an alternative way to see the snow beyond the ski runs,” Grant says. “Skiing is about the activity itself, with the environment as a backdrop. Our focus is the environment.”
Grant, known as ‘the Snowshoe Guru’, and his partner Rebekah McLeod operate their walks out of Mt Buller and offer a variety of activities, from full-day expeditions to the summit of nearby Mt Stirling to shorter walks around the Mt Buller ski resort.
To the uninitiated (as almost all Australians are), snowshoes look a bit like tennis racquets strapped onto your feet. As Grant explains in a short video on his website: “Modern snowshoes are lightweight and easy to use. They stop you falling through the snow and they give you grip to stop you sliding around.”
Grant grew up in Mansfield, Vic, the nearest large town to Mt Buller, and the mountain was his playground. He was always more into hiking through the snow than the fly-by pace of downhill skiing or snowboarding. “I like getting away from the crowds,” he says. “I’m environmentally based in all things I do. I find that with an activity like snowshoeing, people learn to respect the environment more.”
Grant was a keen runner and this inevitably led to snow running. In Colorado, USA, in the 1990s he discovered snowshoe racing and was so good he attracted sponsorship in the sport for three years. His highest ranking was a very impressive ninth in the world. At the age of 37, he still runs in the snow most mornings and if athletes are in the village at Mt Buller, he’ll often take them out for a jog. He can still maintain about 10km/h.
Grant’s Snowshoe Guru business is in its sixth year on Mt Buller, which officially opens its snow season on June 12 – the Queen’s Birthday long weekend – and stays open for an average of 128 days. When Grant and Rebekah aren’t employed on Mt Buller, they work as hiking guides for Cradle Mountain Huts in Tasmania. Grant has a degree in leisure management, majoring in nature-based tourism, and is part-way through a veterinary science degree, so he has plenty of knowledge to share about local flora and fauna during the walks.
Snowshoe Guru’s tours for 2010 are yet to be finalised but are likely to include the popular walk to the summit of Mt Stirling. The return walk is an active but thoroughly rewarding day, including panoramic views across the upper Howqua Valley, high-country huts, towering alpine-ash forests, majestic snowgum woodlands and exposed alpine summits. Energy reserves are replenished with homemade snacks and a tasty gourmet lunch.
This story excerpt is from Issue #71
Outback Magazine: June/July 2010