The first ski lifts on Mt Buller
THE very first day of ski lift operation on Mt Buller was July 3, 1949.
The development of this first tow came about as a result of a discussion at the annual general meeting of the Ski Club of Victoria in 1948.
One of the club’s active members Rob Summers asked members if they would be interested in a tow at Mt Buller and he subsequently formed a committee and took on the project.
Other than SCV members, the other major contributors to this first tow were the members of the Brighton Mountain Wanderers (BMW) Ski Club.
The project group went and found an old truck engine and then had to modify it to run on power kerosene as they couldn’t obtain petrol.
A major challenge was finding appropriate rope that could be used.
A local rope manufacturer called Kinnears essentially supplied the product as the group was unable to import rope from Europe.
Bourke Street was an already established ski run.
It was decided to run the rope tow from Helicopter Flat up the southern side of Bourke Street.
Permission was sought and granted from the Forests Commission to cut a trail up the southern side of Bourke Street thus separating the tow from skiers.
The project was worked on for 23 consecutive weekends leading to the opening at the start of July.
Many problems plagued the operation of the rope tow - including overheating, failed bearings, rope tension and rope splicing.
Operating the tow also remained a challenge and inevitably people with an engineering background gravitated to the role.
John Hilton-Wood had been part of the original construction team and had supplied the differential from a troop carrier to help run it.
As John put it, “I ran that lift in 1950 because I was the only one on the mountain who could splice the rope.”
It was Ernest Forras who encouraged Hilton-Wood to build Mt Buller’s second lift, another rope tow that ran down Bull Run through the Funnel in the centre of the bowl.
Such were the times that a permit for the Bull Run tow was requested after its construction.
It was 1953 and bureaucracy was somewhat simpler.
And in 1954 Hilton-Wood extended the tow to the bottom of Bull Run.
Riding these first two tows was a tricky challenge, especially Bull Run with its particularly steep pitch.