Acool place to be
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.”