The mercury is hovering around zero degrees and it's starting to sleet, but Daniel Smith is all smiles.
The amiable Queanbeyan doctor, a keen cross-country mountain biker, has just conquered the 18-kilometre, $4 million extension to the Thredbo Valley Track (TVT) which officially opened earlier this week, and he gives it the big thumbs up.
"Sure, it's a bit more challenging than the older section, but it's definitely great to ride," says Daniel who has been pedalling along remote mountain trails in the Snowy Mountains for the last 20 years.
Regular readers may recall this column was one of the first to road-test the first section of the TVT when it opened in 2012 and since then a steady flow of riders have ridden the purpose-built track which follows the Thredbo River downstream, crossing over it five times via a series of spectacular bridges.
While the original sections of the TVT have been wooing beginners and families, this gut-busting extension is definitely not designed for inexperienced riders or children.
"It's rated intermediate and it really is quite challenging," reports Daniel. "In parts it's steep, tight and tricky, you need fitness and strength and also some decent bike handling skills.
"It's easy to learn how to deal with obstacles, but it never gets easy going up very steep hills.''
Apart from the climbs, Daniel also points out "there a number of short sections of rock armour [rocks on the ground with gaps in between], which intermediate riders will love, as well as some interesting A and B lines [different ways to traverse the same section of track]".
Although one of the first to ride it since its official opening, Daniel isn't the only person to endorse the TVT extension and nearby businesses and park authorities are hoping it will continue to keep Thredbo and surrounds at the forefront of mountain bike riding in Australia.
"We are wanting to smooth out the annual visitation rate to Kosciuszko National Park and mountain bike riding is definitely helping with that," says NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service's Anthony Evans, manager of the Alpine-Queanbeyan area.
"The upper (original) section of the TVT started with around 14,000 users a season after it opened and has increased to around 21,000 a season", he says. "We are looking to try and achieve sustainable tourism [on] a year-round basis, walking is an important part of summer visitation and mountain biking is big and still growing."
Ensuring the track opened in time for this year's mountain biking season, NPWS project officer Janelle Herlihy backs up Daniel's assessment of the track.
"Don't be fooled into thinking it's easy, while the first three kilometres at either end of the extension might be easy, it then hits some serious switchback, climbing and obstacles," she says.
One of the toughest sections of the extension is about halfway along where the track climbs high above the river.
"The main reason we designed it that way is because there are some privately-owned properties on the eastern side of the river and we wanted to protect their privacy," she says.
Fair enough, I guess - you don't want to be sunbaking naked at your remote alpine getaway and have dozens of mountain bikers tearing past gawking at you.
Apart from the level of difficulty, another big difference with the upper (original) track, is that this 18-kilometre extension which runs on the western side of the river all the way until it's terminus at the Gaden Trout Hatchery, where it crosses the river by way of an impressive 85-metre-long bridge, is that there are no access tracks.
While this creates a sense of remoteness, once you are on the track there is no short-cut out to help. "So if you crash or get tired, you can't just say I'll go back to the car, or get someone to pick me up," warns Janelle, who also advises "anyone riding the extension should also know how to undertake some basic bike maintenance".
"To assist with any emergencies, every steel platform (there are 75) on the extension has a number and latitude/longitude engraved on it," explains Janelle. "Thankfully there's also mobile phone reception for most of the track.''
For me, the best bit about the track is that it opens up parts of the Thredbo River previously inaccessible, but for hard core fishers wading upstream or bush bashing. Oh, and don't miss the Boulder Lookout at around the 8 kilometre mark.
There are also plenty of other places to stop, sit on a boulder and watch the water gurgle by. And let me assure you, after all the huffing and puffing to get up the hills, you'll need plenty of rest. Who knows, you may even spot a platypus.
The track was professionally constructed over four years by Dirt Art and sympathetically skirts areas of environment and heritage significance such as the ruins of Collins Hut near the confluence of Sawpit Creek and the Thredbo River.
The extension track ends at the Gaden Trout Hatchery where there is ample parking for a car shuffle. Shuttles also operate from Lake Crackenback Resort Spa if you only have one car.
Of course, if you are fit you could always turn around and ride back to your car.
Oh, and if the TVT whets your appetite for even more riding, NPWS is already working on a further extension, this time upstream of Thredbo, to Dead Horse Gap. Watch this space.
Thredbo Valley Track: The entire 35 kilometres links Thredbo Village to Gaden Trout Hatchery. See www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/thredbo-valley-track
Extension: Allow 1.5 - 4 hours ride time one-way, depending on your fitness and strength.
As a guide, experienced and fit mountain bike rider Daniel Smith took about 1 hour 40 minutes to ride the 18-kilometre extension from Gaden Trout Hatchery to Bullocks Hut (but then again he did chose to ride upriver which is even harder than downstream).
Want more? You can ride from Jindabyne to the end of the TVT via a council mountain biking track which follows the foreshore of Lake Jindabyne to the bitumen road which leads to Gaden Trout Hatchery. Take care crossing the busy Kosciuszko Road. Real daredevils may want to ride from Thredbo Top Station (you'll need to catch the lift up from Thredbo) down one of the Gravity Trails which link up with the start of the TVT in Thredbo Village, and all the way into Jindabyne. An epic ride in anyone's books.
Electric bikes: More and more people are choosing to ride the TVT on an electric bike.
NPWS policy is that E bikes are allowed on fire trails and cycle tracks so long as they are only pedal assist (which means no twisting throttle) and powered by a motor under 250 watts.
Tim's Tip: Make a weekend of it. Rather than drive back to Canberra after the long ride, why not bunk down at the NPWS-run Creel Lodge which is only a couple of kilometres from the end of the TVT extension. Ideal for a group of friends or a couple of families. More: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/camping-and-accommodation/accommodation/creel-lodge
Best time: Tackle the TVT in early summer or early autumn to avoid those pesky march flies, which are pollinators and as such at their most prevalent at the height of the summer flowering season.
Listen out for: Apart from platypus in the river, you'll also spot lots of kangaroos. More elusive are the lyrebirds, which you will likely hear before you see.
CONTACT TIM: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.