The Epic


Jon Miller visits Mt Buller to ride the first IMBA Epic trail in the southern hemisphere.

High country snow has melted but not a day too soon for the mountain bikers waiting for the Australian Alpine Epic to reopen. It’s a 40km flow masterpiece that descends 1,000 vertical metres from Mt Buller village into the surrounding valley and it is the first long­-distance trail to be set in the remarkable and rare environment of the Australian Alps. Since its launch last December, the project has generated a lot of excitement in the mountain bike community but what makes this trail particularly significant is that it comes with an epic measure of pedigree.

This track is the first and, at the time of writing, the only International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Epic trail in the southern hemisphere (there are rumours of another epic being constructed in Tasmania). But it’s more than that, it’s the first Epic outside North America and Europe.

Being endorsed as Epic by the IMBA means it joins a select group of less than 30 mountain biking destinations around the world that represent the association’s model trail recognition for large-­scale mountain bike facilities that denotes a true back-country riding experience—one that is technically and physically challenging—of at least 32km in length and made up of more than 80% of single-track.

The Epic’s conception can be traced to 2007 when Mt Buller’s Resort Management Board were looking for ways of bringing visitors to the mountain outside of the traditional snow season. Somebody suggested that they embrace mountain biking. Mountain bikers were already visiting Mt Buller, riding mainly on fire roads and some walking tracks but this was the first time that it was proposed to build a dedicated mountain bike trail system.

A representative, Louise Perrin, attended the IMBA conference at Whistler in Canada. From humble (and guerrilla) beginnings, Whistler is now reckoned as one of the biggest and best mountain bike destinations in the world. Louise returned to Australia full of ideas for the resort and convinced the board to invest in an Epic trail. Next came draft strategies and master plans with construction starting in 2009. Given the way mountain biking has grown and the number of mountain bike parks which have proliferated since then, it’s difficult to conceive of what a courageous and visionary decision that was.

Photo by Author Jon Miller

The launch in December 2014 marked the final stage in the Mt Buller Bike Park’s huge first phase of mountain bike trail development. There are now over 100km of premium trails in the region suiting all levels of riding and the facilities at Bike Buller’s Ride Centre including two dedicated skills parks, a modular pump track, shuttle buses and four downhill trails serviced seasonally by chairlifts.

Beyond the IMBA rules, the Resort Management Board needed to coordinate with five different land managers and meet their various demands including having no adverse impact to native flora and fauna and avoidance of sensitive areas.

In terms of pure numbers, in its first season, the Epic was a success with a 37% increase in people visiting the park than the previous summer. Surveys indicate that the majority of visitors came primarily to ride the new trail. But what’s it like to ride?

The Epic starts in the Mt Buller ski village at an elevation of about 1,600 metres and finishes 40km later and around 1,000 metres lower in Mirimbah at the bottom of the mountain. But don’t be fooled—it’s not all downhill, there are some significant climbs to negotiate. In fact there are 1,245 metres of climbing. Depending on your level of skill and your fitness, the Epic can take from four to seven hours to complete.

While there’s a café at the halfway point of Telephone Box Junction (TBJ), it’s important to carry your own food and water and note that it is only open during peak times. I didn’t have enough water but was able to fill up my bidons from mountain streams. However, these can’t be relied on in summer. Also carry a spare tube and a few tools. Remember too, that you’re in the mountains and Alpine weather changes quickly so ensure that you have adequate clothing. Mobile phone coverage is unreliable and even if you are able to get through to someone, there is no guarantee you will be in physical reach. You will also need to plan how you will get back up the mountain to Buller. There is a shuttle bus operating over weekends during the summer months, otherwise you will have to make your own arrangements.

Finding the trail-head isn’t as easy as it should be as most of the signs in the village are primarily aimed at skiers. But persistence paid off and I found it just off The Avenue, a little south of the main village. Once on the trail, I found it to be very well signed for its entire length with no chance of getting lost.

Photo by Author Jon Miller

The early part of the Epic uses some of the existing trails. It has received criticisms for this; they were expecting a wholly new trail. I see it differently. I view the other trails as a means of opening up some single track while the rest of the Epic was being built.

From the trail-head, the Epic follows the green rated (easy) Soul Revival and One Tree Hill trails. These are gently undulating trails skirting around the edge of the village. I’m told there are amazing views across the high country but it was foggy when I visited so I saw very little. The green trails are a fun warm up before the more technical blue trails of Gang Gangs, Wombat, Cornhill and Woolybutt. These are narrow single track with some more difficult rocky sections. More ups and downs with a fast descent down to Howqua Gap. There’s a replica high country loggers camp at Howqua Gap which is worth a look and also an opportunity to top up with water from the rainwater tank.

After which is the famous Stonefly, a 10km black diamond rated circuit. The Epic follows this for 6km and it’s uphill for most of that. Steep, technical uphill it was too—I needed to walk big chunks of it. An alternative route if you’re concerned about the climb is to follow Circuit Road out to TBJ.

From the top of Stonefly, the Mount Stirling summit and Stonefly descent is to the right. Many riders take a short detour to the summit for the views but I had no energy left for that. Instead, I continued on the trail down to TBJ. This is a nice wide forest trail and you can get some serious speed up losing all the elevation gained on Stonefly. TBJ is about halfway in and, if the café is open, a good opportunity to refuel for the remainder of the ride.

By far the best part of the Epic is the second half from TBJ down to Mirimbah. There’s less climbing involved, the trail’s less rocky and flows a lot better. If you have less time or aren’t sure about your endurance, this is the bit to ride. There’s more forest roads and more climbing involved but the worst of the hills are over. The weather was clearing for me and I got some views back up to the mountain I had just descended. Cresting the last climb, the fun really started, with about 7km of fast flowing single track. Big banked berms, rollers and jumps seem to go on forever; it’s a very smooth surface and almost all downhill, so you barely need to turn a pedal. It’s worth coming to Buller just for this piece of trail.

There’s a few hundred metres of forest road at the end of the single track and you think you’re finished but there’s more. There’s still a couple of kilometres more single track up alongside the Delatite River into Mirimbah. As nice as this section is, it’s a little bit of an anti-­climax after the mammoth descent.

Some people love the Epic for the flow and the speed but for me, there’s more to it than that—the huge variety of vegetation is the winner. From the snow gums on the top of the mountain to the fern gullies at the bottom and a whole range of sub­alpine, open shrubland, dry and wet forest in between. Whatever your motivation, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees the Epic is one of the best trails in Victoria and a huge asset nationally to mountain biking.

Photo by Author Jon Miller

The official opening of the entire XC network at Mt Buller will be on 5 December 2015. For more details about riding Bike Buller, visit their website at

The author visited Mt Buller with the assistance of Mt Buller Resort Management Board.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *