Buller a fam­ily af­fair for Stephen Sch­warz


IT all started with a phone call and a sim­ple ques­tion– “do you want to join a ski club?”

Stephen Sch­warz was ini­tially hes­i­tant, but sev­eral beers later, friends had con­vinced him and con­cocted a plan to pur­chase land and build a ski lodge, now known as Alkira on Chamois Close. It was 1964.

With $400 pooled to­gether, the de­ter­mined group dug foun­da­tions of the lodge in Oc­to­ber and de­fied their doubters to ski from the com­pleted lodge the fol­low­ing win­ter, less than a year later.

Newly minted as a fa­ther and with an­other baby on the way, Stephen and wife Bar­bara could al­ready see this in­vest­ment in Alkira was go­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial for their grow­ing ski fam­ily.

Fifty years later, Alkira Lodge has housed three gen­er­a­tions of the Sch­warz fam­ily and their friends dur­ing the win­ter hol­i­days.

Al­though the lodge is open to mem­bers of the pub­lic, stays at Alkira are a fam­ily af­fair and have be­come some­what of a tra­di­tion in the Sch­warz house­hold.

Stephen and Bar­bara are now hon­orary life mem­bers and son Chris is the cur­rent pres­i­dent.

Con­tin­u­ing in their fa­ther’s foot­steps, Stephen’s other two sons have be­come well ac­quainted with the moun­tain and their chil­dren now work at the Ski School part-time dur­ing the sea­son.

While Stephen is a reg­u­lar face at Mt Buller, his life ex­tends to many other ar­eas.

Born in Aus­tria, Stephen and his fam­ily left Europe for Aus­tralia when he was a child and soon set­tled into the coun­try.

Ed­u­cated at Xavier Col­lege in Mel­bourne’s Kew, Stephen went on to study phar­macy and af­ter sev­eral decades of prac­tice, con­tin­ues to work as a locum at home on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula.

De­scrib­ing him­self, Stephen ad­mits he’s a busy man.

“I hardly have time for work,” he says.

When the snow sea­son ends, Stephen oc­cu­pies his time with so­cial and sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like com­pet­i­tive sail­ing and bike rid­ing.

Now in his eight­ies, Stephen’s love af­fair with the moun­tain has not dwin­dled.

Al­though wife Bar­bara no longer joins him on the slopes, she’s full of praise for Mt Buller’s ski ser­vices team who scoot her up the moun­tain to join her hus­band for a coffee at the Alzburg.

Plenty has changed since Stephen first vis­ited Mt Buller.

Now one of Vic­to­ria’s ma­jor alpine re­sorts and top tourist at­trac­tions, the pop­u­lar­ity of the moun­tain has soared.

“It’s much bet­ter or­gan­ised com­pared to the six­ties, but un­for­tu­nately on week­ends, the place gets too crowded,” he says.

In the wake of cli­mate change, the in­tro­duc­tion of snow­mak­ing tech­nol­ogy and new ways of pre­serv­ing snow has helped Mt Buller com­bat the threat but the fu­ture is un­cer­tain.

“The weather is start­ing to let us down, and it doesn’t snow as much or as of­ten as it used to,” he ad­mits.

“The sea­son is too short and where that’s lead­ing us, I’m not too sure.”

Stephen is con­fi­dent there will be enough snow for the next few years but re­mains con­cerned about his grand­chil­dren and whether or not they will be able to en­joy the same win­ter life­style both Bar­bara and Stephen re­mem­ber fondly.

Look­ing ahead, Stephen has no plans to pack up the skis any­time soon.

“I’ll never stop,” he says de­fi­antly.

A FAM­ILY AF­FAIR: Stays on Mt Buller are a fam­ily af­fair and have be­come some­what of a tra­di­tion in the Sch­warz house­hold. Pic­tured are (from left) Phillip, Chris, Clau­dia, Lily, Abbey, Narelle, Stephen, Oli, Hud­son and Saskia Sch­warz on Mt Buller.

STILL GOT IT: Stephen skis at Mt Buller. HAPPY TO­GETHER: Stephen and wife Bar­bara.

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