More than 60 years since the first ski lift at Hotham.
Last year we celebratedÂ 60 years since the very first ski lift was installed at Hotham. Operation of the tow gave a big lift to skiing at Hotham in every sense. At a speed of 500 feet per minute, the brand new lift was able to deliver more than 1500 people 1867 feet to the top of the slope.
The new lift was named Blue Ribbon and was a nutcracker rope tow with the ability to pull people up steeper slopes at faster speeds. This installation gave Hotham the longest and it was believed best ski tow on Australian ski fields. Many lucky skiers got the chance to ride the tow, skiing and discovering more of Hothamâ€™s fantastic terrain than ever before.
This milestoneÂ has givenÂ us the opportunity to look back on the past 60 years at the growth and development of commercial ski lifts in Australia and at Hotham. Now with 13 chairlifts servicing 320 hectares of terrain, skiers and snowboarders can spend more time on the snow, exploring and conquering Hotham. What a long way we've come!Â Â Â
Keep reading to learn more about Hotham's captivating history.
European involvement at Mount Hotham commenced with the movement of stock between Gippsland and NE Victoria which followed settlement near Omeo by McKillop, McFarlane, Livingstone and others in 1835.
Australia is home to the worldâ€™s oldest ski club - The Kiandra Ski Club (now known as the Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club in Perisher), with the origins of skiing in Australia traced back to the foundation of this club by three Norwegians during the gold rush in 1861.
Stockmen from Cobungra station moved cattle to the Ovens & Kiewa valleys over the top of Hotham. Grazing interest was followed by mining when gold was discovered in almost all the river valleys surrounding Hotham. It was soon after that the intrinsic beauty of the area brought interest in recreational use of the area.
Rough tracks were created to give access to mines or to move stock. After a short period they also gave access to tourists interested in seeing natural attractions including Mt Feathertop, Mt Loch and Mt Blowhard. In the 1863 the first regular accommodation was established at St Bernard by Mother Morrell, later becoming known as "The St Bernard Hospice".
In 1874 Mt Hotham was visited by Governor Bowen and his wife, and the area known as "Diamantina Springs" was named and 640 acres was set aside for "public purposes". The railways were expanding throughout the State and promoted remote areas as destinations to encourage patronage. Victorian Railways played a part in the development of Hotham as an adjunct to its management of the Chalet on Mt Buffalo. The development of alpine tourism was also fostered by the formation of groups such as the Bright Alpine Club, which coincided with an increased interest in alpine recreation in Europe and North America.
Skiing emerged as a recreation in Europe (Scandinavia) in the late nineteenth century as a result of the increase in improved transportation and the adventurous nature of winter alpine activity. By 1900 the Petersen Brothers accomplished the first winter traverse of Hotham. Access continued to improve. The first car was driven to St Bernard in 1905, and soon after agitation commenced for progressive improvement of the road. Demands for better accommodation followed.
The desire of devotees to the new sport of skiing led to increased demand for accommodation on Hotham not only for convenience but to provide shelter from extreme weather. In 1925 a cottage built of stone by Italian masons was christened "Hotham Heights". The cottage accommodated about 20 people including Bill Spargo, Country Roads Board patrolman, who was responsible for managing an improved Alpine Road between Harrietville and Omeo. The original cottage existed on the south side of the saddle between Mt Hotham and Mt Higginbotham until it was burnt in the 1939 bushfires.
By Ministerial request in 1933, the Railways Department took over the management of Hotham Heights from the CRB and managed it until 1952 when the financial burden became too great. The Railways, as the principal tourism authority in the State, promoted skiing for the sake of tourist revenue and sought to improve the level of service for the increasing number of skiers visiting the mountain. During the 30's, runs such as Varsity Drag and Blue Ribbon were cleared and many areas were named including "Mary's Slide" after an Australian Women's Champion. The Ski Club of Victoria was formed and State and National ski championships were periodically conducted on Hotham.
After the hiatus in development of winter sport during World War II, rapid change occurred between the late 40's and the early 60's to recreate a more intensive alpine recreational area which could meet the rapidly growing interest in snowsports.
The first club was built in 1944 by the Alpine Club of Victoria. Other lodges soon followed: Wangaratta Ski Club (1946), Edelweiss Ski Club (1947) and University Ski Club (1948). Apart from the erection of club lodges, emergency radio communication was installed and in 1951 a group of committed skiers constructed Hotham's first ski tow. By this time the beds on Hotham had grown from 27 at the end of the War to 115.
Interested and enthusiastic ski clubs directed development, taking a major role in the planning and administration of the area, lobbying Government and sympathetic politicians such as Tom Mitchell for improvement in access, snow clearing, water sewerage and other amenities.
In 1962 the Department of Crown Lands and Survey assumed responsibility for Mount Hotham and appointed a Committee of Management to coordinate planning and management of the resort. Crown allotments were created and some utility services including reticulation of drinking water and limited electricity distribution were undertaken. During their 21-year tenure the Village Management Committee encouraged development and most of the club lodges were built. In this period the Zoo Cart transport system was set up to ameliorate the effects of ribbon development along the top of a ridge.
In 1983 the Alpine Resorts Act was passed by State Government creating the Alpine Resorts Commission (ARC) to manage all Victorian Alpine Resorts. During the existence of the ARC a significant contribution to the development of Mount Hotham was made through the provision of adequate sewerage reticulation and treatment, reticulated electricity and gas and later the connection of the resort to the State Grid. Water supply and treatment processes were upgraded; extensions were made to the carparking areas, many of which were sealed; and the Hull Bridge was built over the Alpine Road which was finally sealed between Harrietville and Omeo. In this period bed development was significant, including growth at nearby Dinner Plain Village only 10km away.
During the mid 1990's the ARC developed a much stronger commitment to the environment and in 1997 adopted the resort's first Environmental Management Plan. In April 1998 the ARC was disaggregated and separate management boards were created for the individual resorts. The Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board assumed responsibility for the management of Mount Hotham.