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.