A few features of these mysterious trails stick out. They're divided into winding and straight segments - on a map, these would probably represent two different modes of transport. Interestingly, the winding segments are always travelling strictly up or down the page, depending on where you start. The title also suggests that these trails tend to be traversed at high speed. Taken together, all of these clues point towards skiing or snowboarding trails, which alternate between fast, winding descents and assisted ascents via lifts.
If we're looking to find these ski trails somewhere on a real map (and since this is an Australian puzzle hunt), the first place to look should be Perisher, the largest ski resort in the southern hemisphere. The 2014 Perisher trail map can be found on their website, and the Pleasant Valley Quad Chair in the centre of the map immediately sticks out as a contender for the long near-horizontal segment in our fourth trail. In fact, all four of our super-trails can be found on the Perisher map, and indexing into the names of the black segments using the given numbers gives us four letters per trail:
The first trail starts on the far-left with Come Back Again (A), returns up the Eyre T-Bar, goes back down Wylie's (L), returns up the International T-Bar (T), and goes back down Side Winder (I). ALTI
The second trail starts at the top of Goat's Gully (T) just above Front Valley, goes back up the Sturt T-Bar (U), flies down Escapade (D), and returns halfway up the Perisher Quad Express Chair (E). TUDE
The third trail starts at the top of Mt Blue Cow in the top-right, going down Gracie's (A) and Yarrandoo (N) before going back up the Ridge Quad Chair (D) and down Kamikaze (E). ANDE
The fourth and final trail starts at the top of the tiny Amaroo in the centre of the map (R), catches the Pleasant Valley Quad Chair (S), goes back down Copperhead Road (2), and finally goes back up the Intercepter Quad Chair (N). RSON
In order, the four letter strings give us ALTITUDE ANDERSON. The altitude of Mt Anderson is 1997 metres, visible in the background of the trail map.
Note 1: Some alternate Perisher maps (including, inexplicably, a version here), have Come Back Again named as Shifty's, giving the letter Y instead of A. This was unfortunate, but the correct letter should be clear from the rest of the message.
Note 2: This was the first puzzle we've had that accepts multiple correct solutions. We set the solver to accept any reasonable numerical wording of 1997. We accepted 'onethousandninehundredandninetyseven' because the answer checker of course does not parse numerals, and so this is the most natural way to express 1997 in words. We also accepted 'nineteenninetyseven' because the year 1997 had arguable thematic relevance in being the year of the Thredbo landslide. Finally we accepted 'oneninenineseven' as a third allowable parsing of the number, and a logical conclusion from accepting the first two. Despite all this we still noticed some solvers submitting 'onethousandninehundredninetyseven' (without the 'and'). Since the vast majority of these guesses came from non-Australian or mostly non-Australian teams, we suspect this was a regional phrasing we had not come across in testing.
|The answer is: nineteenninetyseven OR onethousandninehundredandninetyseven OR oneninenineseven|