When the client brief includes the phrases ‘own the alpine walking market’ and ‘think outside the box’, plus mentions ideas of creating a walk with a working title including the word ‘heaven’, you know there’s a heady task ahead.

With that context in mind, TRC Tourism / TRC Trails consultants Lachy Mackay-Wiggins and Chris Ord travelled to the Victorian alpine resort Mount Hotham to complete an initial trail audit for resort management while scoping out trail development opportunities that might just meet the objective to deliver a walking heaven.

An initial phase in creating a trails development masterplan, the trails audit required the pair to assess existing trails while eyeing off how these and potential new alignments could work to position Mount Hotham at the centre of the State’s alpine walking tourism.

“Hotham is unique in the way the resort village is situated on an exposed and long ridgeline affording it some of the best all-round mountain vistas of any resort,” says TRC Trails’ consultant, Lachy Mackay-Wiggins.

“But therein lies the challenge ahead, as the topography drops away sharply either side, into mostly inaccessible (for walking trails) territory. This means the current walk offering on resort is limited and somewhat disconnected,” says Lachy.

“At the same time several of Australia’s most iconic walks – the Falls to Hotham, which is undergoing redevelopment, the Australian Alps Walking Track, and the famous Razorback Walk – all lead into Hotham, plus it has the Huts Walk and Cobungra Walk which are of some significance. So, it’s already a central hub for bigger, multiday, remote walking experiences. The trick is to develop the trail network on mountain to deliver all of multiday, single day and enough shorter walks that collectively encourage a ‘stay on mountain’ visitor approach rather than passing through visitation.”

Following four days on the mountain, Lachy and Chris report that with some ‘out of the box’ thinking as briefed, and a serious appetite to ‘own the alpine walking market’ there is indeed plentiful opportunity to upgrade and develop the resort’s network into a leading-edge alpine walking experience.

 “It’s about working with the topography and the features it hosts, be that views of Feathertop and the iconic Razorback, or back south over the impressive Dargo Valley, along with less dramatic but no less important drawcards from the many high country huts, pioneering and goldmining history, First Nations connection to country, unique flora and fauna, and geographical beauty spots such as waterfalls, hanging meadows and outcrops – all of which Hotham has in spades,” says Chris.

“And on first inspection, we believe they can all be linked together in a corridor trail network that hops between points of interest, delivers diverse environments, view and experiences, all while maintaining environmental and sustainability integrity.”

 In assessing the trails and opportunities, TRC Tourism’s consultants not only need to take into account biodiversity, cultural and environmental sensitivities, but also input from stakeholders, from the local community and residents, to trail users.

“And to justify what will be a significant investment, the product needs to be able to deliver to different profiles of the walking market, from casual walkers with little alpine or wilderness walking experience, to those seeking a more rugged, natural and even challenging walk. That could be short walks of a few hours, to full day walks to journeys that take multiple days,” says Chris.

“The key is to focus on the quality of the experience at every step of the walkers’ journey – expectations of quality in terms of feature ratios, trail footing quality and infrastructure are much higher than they have ever been in line with the boom in popularity of recreational walking. At the same time a trail section, loop or network must be ‘iterative’, meaning it must be attractive to as many segments of the market and used in different capacities, delivering on different needs simultaneously, which is where strategic trail design and planning comes to the fore.”

With the initial trail audit complete, TRC Tourism will now analyse its data and work with management to distil ideas, assess feasibility and market demand profiles and consult with stakeholders in developing a final trail masterplan.

“From what we have seen to date, and from the very early  – somewhat embryonic – ideas inspired by our explorations, our feedback from the trail audit has Hotham well placed to deliver on its objective to offer a slice of walking heaven,” says Chris.