Skiing in Australia
Skiing in Australian Snowfields
Does Australia really have more snow than Switzerland? For some people it comes as a surprise to hear that Australia receives any snow at all!
Here is a selection of clips from our collection tracing the development of skiing in Australia from as early as 1926 and our continuing relationship with the snowfields.
It took European migrants in the 1940s and 50s, with their centuries-old traditions, to really open up Australia's alpine regions and turn them into a winter playground.
Since then skiing has boomed and Australia boasts a number of well-serviced and popular ski resorts.
The snowfields of the Australian Alps are larger than those in Switzerland according to this documentary made by the Commonwealth Film Unit 1957. They are also the workplace of migrants from 30 different nations constructing the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme.
The largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia, the scheme consists of 225 km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts which were constructed between 1949 and 1974.
The township of Cabramurra in New South Wales was established in 1954 specifically for the workers and their families. In winter, the town can be covered by snow for 3–4 months.
At its peak the population was over 2000 residents but by 2016 the national census recorded the town having a population of just 37. The last residents are scheduled to leave in 2018.
This Movietone newsreel from 1934 features aerial views of the Snowy Mountains, including a chalet from which members of the Ski Club of Australia are leaving, yodelling as they go.
Close-ups of ski bindings show the early method of securing the boot to the ski. The long trudge up the hill is rewarded with pristine snow conditions and an exhilarating ride back to the chalet.
From Movietone News. A0064: No. 03.
For more, check out the Skiing in Australia curated collection.
SBS newsreader Lee Lin Chin introduces the coverage of the World Cup ski events in Thredbo, 1989.
Thredbo in New South Wales is the only Australian ski resort to have hosted a World Cup event in the traditional alpine skiing disciplines. That's an achievement which places it alongside top ski resorts in Europe and North America.
The slalom was won by Armin Bittner of West Germany with Lars-Börje Eriksson from Sweden winning the giant slalom.
For some time the International Olympic Committee has considered holding a Winter Olympics in the southern hemisphere and feasibility studies have been carried out in Australia. There have also been suggestions that New Zealand and Australia could partner to host the Olympics.
Australian television broadcasters excel at sports coverage and this clip is no exception. As a news segment it is concise, informative and effectively presented.
This silent clip is an excerpt from a longer piece of footage from 1926 that follows the journey of a group of tourists who go skiing in the Victorian Alps.
As the intertitle at the start of this clip suggests, if you live in an alpine region then skiing is not just a sport but a way of life. The footage of skiers making their way through a forest using poles to steer with is quite remarkable.
The final segment of the clip shows Ben, 'a particularly good dog', who has been trained by his owner to retrieve 'lost' skis.
In the full film, the group leaves Bright for Harrietville, Mount Feathertop and Mount St Bernard in horse-drawn wagons.The film includes panoramic views of the mining town of Wandiligong.
Mount Feathertop is located near the Mount Hotham Ski Resort and is noted for its steep summit slopes rather than the rounded top of other mountains in Australia's alpine regions. It can be treacherous and has claimed a number of lives over the years.
Episode 129 of Australian Diary by the Australian National Film Board effectively promotes Thredbo Alpine Village ski resort.
It recounts the amount of development that has taken place in a relatively short period of time and how skiers of all levels of experience are well-catered for.
It also promotes the work done by the government to ensure that the area is preserved for generations to come.
Migrants from over 30 nations arrived to construct the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme. According to this clip from the Australian National Film Board title Alpine Way, migrants work in the winter resorts, work as skiing instructors and provide musical entertainment too!
The Alpine Way is also a road in the Snowy Mountain regions of Australia, beginning at Jindabyne and going past Thredbo and crossing the Great Dividing Range.
This clip includes footage of skiing and the chairlift at Thredbo Alpine Village.
This Network Ten snow report says 1975 looks like being a good season for winter sports, which must come as a relief to ski tour operators.
This short segment also states that the world's first downhill ski races were held in Kiandra, Australia in 1861.
The dramatic rescue of Stuart Diver is captured in this news item from the television station, NBN 3.
When 3,500 tonnes of rock and mud slid down the side of Thredbo in 1997, it took two ski lodges with it. Australians held their breath, wondering if there were any survivors. After 65 hours in sub-zero temperatures, and with only a small blanket and jacket to keep warm, Stuart Diver was finally pulled from the rubble.
He was the only survivor in a tragedy that claimed the lives of 18 people, including his wife. As this news segment says, 'It was the miracle that few, if any, truly expected'.
This broadcast is very effective in capturing the drama of Stuart Diver's rescue. The editing brilliantly crosses between spokespeople and the scene of the rescue itself, which is effective in building momentum towards the final climactic moment when Diver is seen being conveyed on a stretcher.
The voice-over is informative and creates tension, leading up to Diver being pulled from the rubble, while the cutaways to members of the crowd add pathos and gravitas to the events as they unfold.
The climactic moment is described by reporter Tracy Grimshaw. Given the poor lighting conditions and their distance from the scene because of safety reasons, the camera crew do a remarkable job in capturing the moment.
In this short excerpt from an Australian Commonwealth Film Unit documentary, the narrator notes the dramatic changes in the alpine regions of Australia.
He quotes from Banjo Paterson's poem 'The Man from Snowy River', which is in stark contrast to the European yodelling and harp playing in the chalet.
When post-Second World War migrants arrived from Europe in the 1940s and 50s to work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme, they brought with them centuries-old traditions that have transformed how Australians experience the snowfields as a tourist destination.
The harp player and singer is Fritz Feirsinger who managed the Man from Snowy River Hotel in its first year 1961. The following year he and his wife Margo built and ran the Marritz Lodge.
This documentary by the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit highlights the rigorous training undertaken by Ross Martin to compete in cross-country skiing.
Ross Martin was an Australian cross-country skier who competed at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. In the 15 km event he finished 60th, out of 72 competitors, and 60th out of 63 in the 30 km event.
He was a legend in Australian skiing. Martin held the Kiandra to Perisher record and set the Mount Kosciuszko summit record on wooden cross-country skis, a record that stood for more than 20 years.
He also enjoyed trekking in Nepal, alpine skiing, bike racing, triathlon, ocean swimming and event riding. He even competed in the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge in 1988 and won the race in 1989. He was killed in a bike accident in 2011.
Australia first competed in the Winter Olympic Games in 1936, but it wasn't until 1994 that we won our first medal (bronze) for the short track speed skating. Our first gold medal was famously won by Steve Bradbury when all the other speed skaters crashed on the final turn.
Overall we have been most successful with freestyle skiing, starting with Alisa Camplin winning gold (aerials) in Salt Lake City in 2002.
This Cinesound newsreel from 1960 includes footage taken at the Man from Snowy River Hotel in Perisher Valley, where a small crowd has gathered to watch a spring fashion parade.
Models walk through the snow outside the hotel wearing two-piece swimsuits, ski outfits and spring fashion hats.
This segment is narrated by future Nine Network newsreader and Bandstand host, Brian Henderson.
From Cinesound Review No. 1511
As this silent clip from 1929 shows, access to the snow fields was clearly something of an ordeal before the construction of the Alpine Way.
The clip also features ex-amateur skiing champion Helmut Kofler from Austria. Kofler migrated with his first wife in 1927. He excelled in a number of sports and had originally come to Australia to teach swimming and diving. The couple spent their first winter managing the Hotham Heights Chalet before relocating to the Mt Buller Chalet.
The Koflers helped bring European alpine customs to the Australian Alps. Hofler's life was tragically cut short at the age of 37 when he was killed in a sawmill accident along with his second wife, who was pregnant at the time.
His contribution to Australian ski culture is remembered in the naming of Koflers Hutte Restaurant at Mt Buller.
'Black shadows on a field of white...' - this is a National Film Board promotion for winter sports in Australia’s Alpine region, made in 1947.
Before chair lifts, T-bars and the like, skiers had to trudge up the mountain to be able to ski back down. It might leave attractive herringbone patterns in the snow but it looks exhausting!
This film repeats the claim that the Australian Alps has a greater snow area than Switzerland. With its light jazz soundtrack, the film highlights the thrill and speed of skiing as a sport for young women and men.
This silent 1938 film from the cinema branch of the Australian Department of Commerce opens with a shot of Mount Buffalo Chalet. Built in 1910, it is the earliest surviving example of alpine ski accommodation in Australia.
The clip then shows a busload of tourists arriving at Mt Buffalo, unloading their skis from the top of the bus. A ski instructor teaches students the basic techniques, including the 'snow plough'.
More advanced skiers are shown racing down the slopes, performing jumps and navigating between rocky outcrops.
This Cinesound newsreel from the 1930s shows some adventurous Melbourne 'skiers' using snow skis on a strip of hay on a grassy slope. It's crude but effective and even allows some of them to attempt small jumps.
Grass skiing has become a major international sporting competition in its own right but is also a training method for alpine skiers before the winter season commences. The 'skis' used for grass skiing are short with rolling treads or wheels, similar in design to inline skates.
From Cinesound Review No. 0241
This newsreel segment from 1937 about an international skiing competition at Mt Townsend starts by looking at the competitors' headwear and then shows the New Zealand team performing a haka on skis!
The clip features the Kongsberger ski jumping technique, where the upper body is bent at the hip and the arms are waved or flapped around to extend the skier's jump. Sometimes the skier holds their arms against the side of the body.
The technique developed in Norway after the First World War but has since been largely superseded.