AAC2-13KunamaHuette(under snow)

Page 10 1982 SkiAlpineMag

Kunama Huette

The following first-hand account of the building of Kunama Huette in 1952 was written by a Foundation Member and one of the working weekend participants, for the Ski Alpine Magazine issue of April 1982.

 

Lake Albina Lodge had completed its first winter season in October 1951 and Charles Anton was keen to keep the drive and enthusiasm of the Albina workers going with the construction of a lodge in the basin formed by the mountains of Clark, Northcote, Lee and Carruthers. This basin, sheltered from the westerly winds, always had deep snow and a lodge here would be about halfway between the Chalet, Charlotte's Pass and Lake Albina Lodge. A rope-tow was also planned up Mt. Northcote to open up all the good downhill runs in the Kunama Basin.

Site access difficulties lead to the hut being prefabricated in Sydney, trucked to the Main Range, transferred onto four wheel drives and finally manhandled down to the site as described in the press clipping "History of a working weekend". By early March 1952, the shell of the building was up, but before the hut could be braced with steel cables, a windstorm blew the building down like a house of cards. Fortunately the material damage was minor, but time was lost in re-erecting the building.

Kunama was not yet at the "lock-up stage" when the weather deteriorated in early April 1952 and outside work was impossible for the Easter work party. By April 20 the building site was covered with about one metre depth of snow and fortunately the building was not damaged. A "Save Kunama" workparty on the Anzac Weekend secured the building for the winter.
The huette was completed over the 1952/53 summer and opened for the 1953 ski season.

AAC2-14KunamainteriorwithbunksUnlike Alpine Hut and the other isolated mountain huts in existence in 1950, both Kunama Huette and the Lake Albina Lodge did have reticulated hot and cold water, with a shower and flush toilet in their respective basements. Photo No.13 shows that Kunama was a very compact lodge with clearly insufficient space on its ground floor for several bedrooms plus a living room and kitchen. In-built double-decker bunks for a total of 8 occupants were provided along two of the huette's walls. One set of double-decker bunks (with curtains for privacy) can clearly be seen in the background of Photo No.14. Kunama was strictly booked as an eight bed lodge but, since it was on the direct route from the Chalet, Charlotte's Pass to the Lake Albina Lodge, skiers might get caught en route by fading light, or changing weather, and take refuge in Kunama. The upstairs galleries that are visible in Photo No.14, held a few mattresses for emergency accommodation purposes.

 

AAC2-15KunamaNorthcoteTowSTAIt had been decided to build a rope-tow up Mt. Northcote in conjunction with building Kunama Huette. The completed ski tow is visible in Photo No.15 beyond Kunama. The two-storey tow-house at the bottom of the slope had a four-bed accommodation section available for members'use to supplement the 12 beds in Albina and 8 beds in Kunama.

Although much of the tow machinery was installed in the tow-house by June 1953, it became obvious that further work would be needed before the tow could operate successfully. During the 1953 winter, the top A-frame of the tow was enveloped by the cornice at the top of the slope and was not seen again until the next summer. The Northcote Tow was officially opened on July 12, 1954. The quality of the skiing available in the Kunama Basin was so good that enthusiasts would ski out from the Chalet, Charlotte's Pass, (a distance of 3.5 miles) for a day's skiing. The Golden Eagle skiing speed trials were held on a measured course, just under one half-mile in length, near the tow. Speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour (mph) were clocked.

AAC2-16KunamaHuette2skiers

 

The Golden Eagle Skiing Speed Trials

These were made possible by the existence of Kunama Huette and the Northcote Tow. Tony Sponar, a former Czech Olympic ski racer, told Charles Anton that the descent from the almost perpendicular Northcote Cornice to Kunama Huette was the best ski slope in Australia for reaching very high speeds. The upper half of the Golden Eagle Run is at an approximate gradient of one vertical to two horizontal (equivalent to the slope from the top of the Back Perisher straight down into Sun Valley). The average gradient of the Golden Eagle Run approximates that of the middle-third of the Mt. Perisher Two-Seater Chairlift, or that of the Crackenback Chairlift at Thredbo between the Kareela and Middle Stations.

Tony Sponar opened the course in August 1953 with a run that averaged 54.4 mph. In order to qualify for the Golden Eagle Award, skiers had to average more than 41.7 mph and instructors had to average more than 50.0 mph. In August 1956, instructor Helmut Tschaeffert completed the run at an average speed of 60 mph. The fastest timed descent of the Golden Eagle Run was made in October 1962, by Lubor Vozab, with a run that averaged 61.9 mph.

In order to establish the typical top speeds reached by skiers on the Golden Eagle Run, four skiers were electrically-timedover a 100m section in the middle of the run in August 1955. All four exceeded 65 mph on this section of the run. The fastest was Christine Davey, the then unbeaten Australian Women's Champion, at 74.12 mph (112.85 km/hr).