Acool place to be

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North East Living Magazine - - Calendar - BEAT THE HEAT /

LOOK back 20, 30, 100 years ago at the cul­ture of Mt Buller and you would find it was ba­si­cally a win­ter ori­en­tated des­ti­na­tion, lack­ing in ac­com­mo­da­tion or in fact any other real fa­cil­i­ties. But devel­op­ment over the past 60 years in par­tic­u­lar has seen a whole new en­vi­ron­ment pop up – new lodges, chalets, busi­nesses and most prom­i­nent, all-year-round ac­tiv­i­ties.

Win­ter on Mt Buller has al­ways been the main fo­cus - ski­ing, snow­board­ing and snow play for begin­ners right through to Olympic com­peti­tors. Mel­bur­ni­ans flock to Mt Buller and Mt Stir­ling for win­ter as it is only a three hour drive from the city and with chil­dren aboard, of­fers a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties for the whole fam­ily.

The re­sort to­day also of­fers a range of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, a num­ber of cafes and restau­rants in the beau­ti­ful Mt Buller Vil­lage and a range of ac­tiv­i­ties to suit all ages and in­ter­ests. It spreads its ac­tiv­i­ties to Mt Stir­ling as well and although down­hill ski­ing has not been de­vel­oped, the cross coun­try re­sort re­mains nat­u­ral and pris­tine.

Hum­ble be­gin­nings in the 1920s at Mt Buller saw the crud­est of ‘lodges’ start­ing to crop up – be­gin­ning with the Lovick log hut in 1922. Skiers and snow en­thu­si­asts were made to trek half way up the mountain as there were no roads to the top – es­pe­cially roads that would cope with icy con­di­tions and snow drifts. Now lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion is avail­able for all and the road to the top is su­per smooth and sealed all the way. On a busy day the mountain can see more than 2000 cars parked on the hill and up to 90 buses ar­riv­ing car­ry­ing more than 10,000 vis­i­tors for a day’s snow play.

Although be­com­ing more pop­u­lar with keen skiers, the mountain was dis­cov­ered prior to the 1950s by im­mi­grants from Aus­tria and Ger­many, the likes of Hel­mut Kofler, the For­ras brothers and Hans Grimus who all saw the po­ten­tial in of­fer­ing more than just day ski­ing or crude ‘camp­ing’ on the mountain. The Koflers were the first to build on Mt Buller with the Mt Buller Chalet in 1929, and Horse Hill bark hut was used for shel­ter­ing the builders. Larger and more lux­u­ri­ous ho­tels and lodges sprung up and thrived.

One such ho­tel was Pen­sion Grimus – orig­i­nally built as a one floor bed and break­fast and mainly ac­com­mo­dat­ing ski in­struc­tors. Hans Grimus pur­chased land from the then Forestry Com­mis­sion af­ter work­ing on the mountain for al­most 10 years fol­low­ing his time on the Snowy Moun­tains Scheme con­struc­tion. He first worked on Mt Buller as a lift op­er­a­tor on the T-bar, go­ing on to be­come a lift com­pany man­ager and di­rec­tor, be­fore build­ing Pen­sion Grimus. Pro­vid­ing bed, break­fast, lunch and din­ner at the newly built ho­tel ne­ces­si­tated him hir­ing a chef and saw the com­plex ex­pand to in­clude a restau­rant, bar and apart­ments and grow­ing to the 115-bed ho­tel com­plex it is to­day. Hans and his fam­ily lived on the mountain for al­most 50 years with two of his two sons, Hannes and An­ton (now an Olympic skier) start­ing their ski­ing days at a very early age. “The mountain has de­vel­oped in its own way,” Hans said. “It still has a lot to of­fer and it is dis­ap­point­ing that more clubs, lodges and com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors are not open dur­ing sum­mer. I think the mountain should be of­fer­ing more ac­tiv­i­ties and per­haps the clubs should take it in turns dur­ing sum­mer to be open – but I do un­der­stand it takes a lot of ex­pense to have them open. >>

“We should try to en­cour­age more sum­mer vis­i­tors – it is not like the 1960s when many fam­i­lies lived on the mountain all year round – they were the days when we had a lot of fun.”

Up un­til some 10 years ago Mt Buller main­tained its ‘win­ter only’ pop­u­lar­ity.

Now with the pop­u­lar­ity of mountain bik­ing and sum­mer hik­ing, up to 4000 cy­clists and walk­ing en­thu­si­asts can be found roam­ing the more than 100 kilo­me­tres of tracks and trails. And since the open­ing of the Epic Trail five years ago more and more mountain bik­ers hit the trails – the Epic be­ing some 40 kilo­me­tres long and start­ing at the vil­lage - wind­ing its way across Stir­ling and right down through to Mir­im­bah.

Sum­mer and au­tumn cy­cling events in­clude the Shi­mano Bike Buller Mountain Bike (MTB) fes­ti­val, Tour of Mans­field, Blue Dirt Blowout Week­end, Sum­mer Grav­ity Camp, Triple J Hottest 100 Pump Track Party from the vil­lage, and it hosts the Vic­to­rian Down­hill MTB Se­ries. On the more so­cial side of the events cal­en­dar there is the Gutsy Girls Ad­ven­ture Film tour, the Mind Body Bike Women’s Week­end and lead­ing into Easter, the fun run and Pic­nic in the Park held at Mir­im­bah each year.

There are very few mountain folk who live on the heights all year round but those that do find it very spe­cial. Win­ter sees a hec­tic life­style – the com­pe­ti­tions, din­ners and par­ties go on all sea­son. Sum­mer tends to be a lot qui­eter, although this is the time that much of the build­ing projects take place along with lodge ren­o­va­tions and the chang­ing of the guard for some lodges and busi­nesses.

John Perks has been as­so­ci­ated with the mountain for al­most 40 years. First buy­ing into the Mans­field Mt Buller Bus Lines pro­vid­ing trans­port to and from the mountain as well as taxi ser­vices around the vil­lage, he has for the past 30 years owned and op­er­ated one of the mountain’s most iconic ho­tels – The Arl­berg. John has seen huge changes over his time on ‘the hill’ as it is of­ten re­ferred to.

“The early days were very rus­tic, very snow re­lated and not much else,” he said.

“When I first came up here in sum­mer Buller looked like a ghost vil­lage; over­grown with grass and un­tidy. But that changed when the late Sandy Jef­f­coat took over man­age­ment of the re­sort; he cleaned it up and had it mown. I started open­ing up dur­ing sum­mer some 26 years ago but it is a hard gig, some sum­mers are good and then oth­ers are not so good. Mountain bik­ers have helped but again the visi­ta­tion over sum­mer has its peaks and drops.

“It is up to the re­sort board to keep fresh ideas com­ing to at­tract the sum­mer vis­i­tors. We are very much a win­ter busi­ness – we rely heav­ily on the win­ter vis­i­ta­tions. Sum­mer and au­tumn find many of the tradies up here on the hill build­ing new apart­ments and lodges, or ren­o­vat­ing older ones and pre­par­ing for win­ter. April and May see the mountain a hive of in­dus­try, crowded with

tradies all do­ing their bit be­fore the win­ter sets in.”

The Adams fam­ily as­so­ci­a­tion with Mt Buller – in­clud­ing Mark Adams – goes back a long way. Although Mark was born and went to school in Mel­bourne from a very young age his love of the High Coun­try grew. In fact it started in 1958 when Mark’s fa­ther, Adam Adams, built N’ever­est on Chamois Road, be­fore go­ing on to build many of the lodges and the Arl­berg Ho­tel.

“My as­so­ci­a­tion though started when I was about three years of age and went to lit­tlies ski school – so I have skied Mt Buller al­most all my life,” Mark re­calls.

Adam Adams built the Arl­berg Ho­tel in 1970 and the fam­ily ran that ho­tel to start with. He then went on to build many lodges in­clud­ing some still stand­ing to­day such as Twin Tow­ers, Sum­mit Lodge, Bee­hive, Moose, De­latite and Elkhorn - just to name a few.

“There were some oth­ers that have now been re­placed with more mod­ern apart­ments and lodges,” said Mark.

“It is more pleas­ant to be on Mt Buller in sum­mer when the tem­per­a­tures rise above 30 de­grees. For the fit there is the bike rid­ing, the hik­ing – it is a great place for health con­scious peo­ple to take time out and en­joy the out­doors.”

Sir An­drew Grimwade started ski­ing Mt Buller at the age of six with his par­ents Erick and Gwen in 1937 as a guest of the Koflers at the Chalet. Sir An­drew said of Mt Buller to­day “af­ter 80 years it is still at­trac­tive”.

“We should be en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to en­joy the out­doors dur­ing sum­mer and au­tumn,” he said.

Sir An­drew re­called his first jour­neys to Mt Buller when they left Mel­bourne at 3am and ar­rived at White Bridge, only to find that horses promised to meet them to take their ski party to the top, had not ar­rived. They then walked to Koflers in time for break­fast be­fore set­ting off to ski for the rest of the day.

“Horse Hill, which was then called one tree hill as it only had one tree grow­ing on it – has changed dra­mat­i­cally as most of it is a car park and the rest has been re­grown with trees,” he said.

“We had lunch at the top of Bourke Street where there was a Cat­tle­man’s Hut and the grown-ups then went on up to the Sum­mit while the younger ones skied down to what is now Cow Camp. Kofler would build ski jumps and was the first per­son in Aus­tralia to do so. My par­ents were pi­o­neer skiers at the time and Kofler and oth­ers such as Ernst For­ras taught us to ski. I first met Ernst at a ski shop in Mel­bourne when he had just ar­rived in Aus­tralia. We took him to the newly opened re­sort at Falls Creek, but that be­came too hard to ne­go­ti­ate due to lack of suit­able roads and ac­com­mo­da­tion there, so we moved back closer to Mel­bourne and skied Buller in­stead.”

“I think the devel­op­ment of Buller is great not only for the mountain it­self but for Mans­field. It (the mountain) could still ex­pand and should be­come an all year round re­sort – with min­i­mum reg­u­la­tions of course.”

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