AAC2-01MtKosciLak AlbinaLodge

 

Our first installment of ski heritage photos showed the building of the AAC's first hut, which overlooked Lake Albina north of Mt. Kosciuszko. But before presenting photos of the building of the AAC's second and third Main Range huts, we want to take you back to the 1940's when skiers penetrated deep into the Snowy Mountains "Back Country" in search of more challenging slopes than could be readily accessed from the then existing NSW ski resorts at Kiandra, Kosciusko Hotel and the Chalet, Charlotte's Pass.

 

AlpineHutadvertMany of the huts dotted across the mountains only provided basic shelter for those supervising summer grazing, but there was the Grey Mare Hut attached to a gold mine and, in 1939, the Alpine Hut was built specifically for skiers.

The seven miles (11km) from the snowline to the Alpine Hut at 1670m altitude, was a challenge in an area without roads. Ski runs had been cleared on the slopes of Big Brassy (summit 1945m elevation) behind the Alpine hut, which also was at a gateway into a vast area of excellent ski fields including Mt. Jagungal (2061m), the highest Australian mountain north of the Kosciuszko Main Range.

AAC2-02HorsesSnowyPlainsPackhorses could usually get through the snow to the Brassy Gap, about 3.5 miles (5.5km) from the hut with packs and bags of food and other supplies. Then it was necessary to ski the remaining distance whilst carrying heavy packs. However the Second World War had started only months after the Alpine Hut had been opened. The graziers who were going to stock the hut with food, act as guides and supply the packhorses, were called up to serve in the Australian Army. As a result, Frank Leyden (AAC Foundation Member), who skied in to Alpine Hut each winter between 1942 and 1946, only had the services of the packhorses for his 1945 ski holiday at the hut. Photo No. 2 shows the loaded horses at the "Snowy Plains House" (Napthalis Homestead) just below the snowline of that year at about 1380m elevation. From here the horses were able to carry the packs about 3.3 miles (5.1km) to Brassy Gap at 1615m elevation.

AAC2-03AlpineHutat1670mIn heavy snow years, such as 1943, the snowline was a further 4 miles down the mountain at about 1200m elevation. That year the 10 mile (16km) ski journey into Alpine Hut through deep snow took 24 hours, including an overnight stop in Fletchers Hut, a graziers hut at about 1340m elevation. In winter the hut provided heated bunk room accommodation for about 16 persons, a large eating / lounge / kitchen area, a room for a cook and sometimes a live-in cook. But there was no running hot and cold water. Water was hand-pumped daily from a nearby creek into a large, open container a little larger than a baby's bath. Showering involved heating a bucket of water and then filling a crude camping shower with an on/off tap leading to a shower rose.

AAC2-04ViewEastfromBigBrassy

Alpine Hut was (it burnt down in a bushfire in 1979) an ideal base for skiing and touring. The return trip to Mt. Jagungal (Photo No. 6) took about 6 hours and the route passed close to Mawson's Hut (Photo No. 7).AAC2-05AlpineHutAug1943AAC2-06MountJagungalfromSAAC2-07MawsonsHut
 
 

 


AAC2-08OKeefeshut

 

AAC2-09FarmRidgehutOther ski destinations included Tin Hut, Whites River Hut and the Main Range peaks Dicky Cooper Bogong and Mt. Tate. Longer trips were possible by over-nighting in the huts scattered across the snow country. Frank Leyden describes one such tour in 1944. The group carried packs and left Alpine Hut at 7am in perfect weather with a severe frost (18 degrees F). The Mt Jagungal summit was reached at 11:15am and they arrived at O'Keefe's Hut (Photo No.8), on the northern slopes of Jagungal, at 12:30pm. They spent the night there after an afternoon return run to Farm Ridge Hut (Photo No. 9).

AAC2-10SkiersonJagsthfaceFrank Leyden recorded in his diary that they had used "black wax and blocks" on their skis all day. The "weather absolutely perfect, bright warm sun, no wind all day". Leaving O'Keefe's hut at 9am the next day, they climbed straight up the Jagungal ridge behind the hut, before running down Jagungal's south face (Photo No.10) with the Kosciuszko Main Range in the background. Frank noted "perfect clear warm, sunny day" but "very bad icy snow conditions most of the day making climbing and running very strenuous". Their skis lacked the sharp steel edges of the modern skis.

Skiers on the Jagungal South Face
Photo 10 [Warren Peck, 1987]

AAC2-11GreyMareHut1Arriving at Strumbo Hill at 1:30pm, they ran down to Grey Mare Hut, which was reached by 3pm. A cold night was spent in a very draughty hut and they emerged into cloudy, overcast weather (Photo No. 11), with mists coming in from the west. After a few runs down the Grey Mare Range behind the hut, they skied back to Mawson's Hut in 3 hours, and then onto Alpine Hut in just under an hour
AAC2-12GreyMareHut2By 1950 the Grey Mare Hut was in such bad repair that the miners built a new hut (Photo No. 12) a little closer to the gold mine.

 


 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).


 AAC2-20Patscherkofel

 

AAC2-17AACFlagatIllawongA Typical AAC Lodge Opening Party

The AAC had quite a few lodge opening parties in the 1950's and 1960's. Charles Anton, the AAC's founding president, attended them all because he did so much work getting each project started and built, during which time he had got to know the project's founding members quite well. AAC flags were hung in prominent places during the opening celebrations and all AAC lodges had flagpoles for displaying the club flag (Photo No. 17).

 

AAC2-18PatschbeingbuiltThe AAC's Patscherkofel Lodge, Mt. Buller, was built during the 1965/66 summer (Photo No. 18). Its opening party in May 1966 was last one Charles attended as AAC President, before his untimely death in Cooma Hospital on 17 September 1966, due to a rare form of meningitis, at the age of 49 years. 

AAC2-19CharlesatPatschOpeningWith a magnificent sense of the theatrical, Charles and his small son, Phillip, arrived on Mount Buller immaculately attired in Lederhosen, embroidered weskits and Tyrolean hats. Charles was always bubbling with enthusiasm at lodge opening parties and this often resulted in his being surrounded by young ladies (Photo No. 19). The 43 members and guests who attended the Patscherkofel opening had a great time and managed to squeeze into the lodge's 30 beds, of which 14 were ¾ sized beds.

 For several years following its opening, Patscherkofel Lodge (Photo No. 20) was the largest in the AAC. It was significantly extended and completely upgraded in 1987/88 such that the lodge was unrecognizable. The new Patscherkofel Lodge was opened by the AAC President, Dr. Noel Carter, in June 1988. Unfortunately, like Charles, the opening of Patscherkofel was Noel's last AAC function and he also died within four months of the Patscherkofel celebration.