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Neutral Bay 2089
Tel (02) 9944 3395
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Guthega Ski Resort

Guthega Ski Resort, as an alpine (downhill) ski destination, came about as a result of the drive and determination of Walter Spanring, an Austrian ski instructor who adopted Guthega as his home.

The first ski huts at Guthega originated from construction of the Guthega Dam, first and highest in the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. The first ski lift at Guthega was a rope tow on Tate East Ridge, known as the SMA Tow - installed by the SMA Ski Club in 1957 and being only a little more than 213 metres long.

It was in 1960 that Val Paral of the YMCA Ski Club discovered Walter Spanring, who had debuted in Thredbo that year after being a championship skier in his native Austria. Walter agreed to come to Guthega, staying in Kyilla, one of the Club's two huts at Guthega. In the following year, 1961, Walter built his own hut near the dam. Brian E Worth, still a member of Jagungal Ski Club at Guthega, recalls Walter's first season teaching at Guthega: "Walter gave lessons and operated the Tennis Court tow as well as teaching on the SMA tow. The snow that year was huge. We got snowed in for an extra week with some 9 feet of snow. Lodges doubled up as the next week of bookings walked in and the outgoing week could not get out."

In 1960-61 the YMCA Ski Club had purchased Johnny Abbotsmith's old Smiggin Holes tow and had it completely rebuilt in Canberra by Harry Napthali. It was erected above Walter Spanring's hut at a cost of $1,200 under Frank Juhasz's supervision. It was hired to and operated by Walter Spanring in 1961 and operated by the YMCA Ski Club in subsequent years up to 1964. The SMA tow hut burnt down in 1965 and a syndicate headed by Walter Spanring decided to erect a new T-bar on the Western slope of Mt Blue Calf. This new lift was supplied by Poma (Pomagalski SA) and was completed by the middle of 1965. The YMCA's beginners' tow was sold to Walter in 1966 (for $140). Walter also subsequently built and operated the Guthega Hotel with his wife Hannelore and with brother-in-law Hans Eberstaller (Senior) as an investor.

Brian E Worth recalls: "I incorporated the company ‘Walter Spanring’s Guthega Developments Pty Limited’ and was part of the group 1965 to 1967. Other shareholders were plaster manufacturers who supplied Walter his Plasterboard for his summer building trade, Merv Britten and his partner; the late Hans (John) Navara and his wife Gertrud. Money was borrowed from Mercantile Credits at 18%. I was the last shareholder bought out in 1967 being the only one paid 100 cents in the dollar and requiring free skiing for life for me and my wife. That lasted until 1980 when Walter had some issues."

While designing the Australian Ski Club in 1974, Peter Aynsley met Walter Spanring and was asked by Walter to obtain approvals from the National Parks & Wildlife Service ("NPWS") for new ski lifts and slope amenities. At the time the new plans were formulated in 1975, there were still only two ski lifts at Guthega - the Poma T-bar on Mt Blue Calf and the ageing rope tow above the hut near Guthega Dam. By this time Walter had also installed lights to the rope tow and offered night skiing for the dedicated. Photos of the facilities in 1975 are below:

Blue Calf kiosk and storage

Blue Calf Ticket Office

Waiting for the Blue Calf lift

Poma T-Bar.jpg
Original Poma T-Bar on Mt Blue Calf

Original rope tow1a.jpg
Rope tow above Walter's hut

Original rope tow2a.jpg
Rope tow, Guthega Dam in background

Central to Walter Spanring's vision was obtaining rights to a new ski lift from an area known as "the saddle" to near the summit of Mt Blue Cow. Peter therefore prepared plans that provided for:

  • A new ski lift to Mt Blue Cow;
  • A new lift to the South of the saddle area, known as "Cowpastures";
  • Replacement of the existing rope tow; and
  • A new amenities building at the base of the Mt Blue Calf lift.

The NPWS approved the plans, but then came the next problem - funding. A number of the existing Guthega ski clubs provided some of the funds as loans, with Walter Spanring's Guthega Developments Pty Ltd finding the balance. Walter and Peter travelled to Mt Buller to meet Hans Grimus, negotiating purchase of Buller's old Boggy Creek T-bar. Most of this T-bar - an Australian-designed, diesel-powered, hydraulic ski lift - was re-used to construct the Mt Blue Cow T-bar. John Delprado, the engineer who had worked on the Australian Ski Club, engineered re-use of much of the structure and towers. Guthega regulars from that era will recall the orange "upside down U" towers that had to be routinely dug out in heavy snow.

Two new rope tows - one to replace the old rope tow above Walter's hut and one to serve the Cowpastures area - were purchased from Max Bruckschloegl in Austria (www.skilifts.eu) and installed for the 1976 ski season.

The following are some photos from this time:

Vintage Unimog, backbone of the Guthega fleet.
(left to right: Peter Aynsley, Swiss Tony
and Walter Spanring)
Guthega Hotel in background

Blue Cow.jpg
Construction underway in saddle area. Lift line
cleared to top of Mt Blue Cow T-bar.
Construction commenced to lift hut at base
housing diesel motor and hydraulics

Boggy Creek lift before relocation

Blue Cow base.jpg
Blue Cow lift motor room hut construction

Footings for Blue Cow base hut

Work on Blue Cow base hut

Limited capital, combined with mountain conditions, made construction a serious challenge. All lift footings were mixed on site and poured by hand - a far cry from the helicopters used in the next stage of development. It was only Walter Spanring's hard work and dogged determination - with one full-time helper and club volunteers - that led to completion and commissioning of the lifts.

Guthega Developments also found funds to complete the new Amenities Building at the base of the Blue Calf T-bar. This building, also designed by Peter Aynsley, was constructed largely by tradesmen who were Guthega regulars and members of the Guthega Ski Club. Long-time GSC member Kurt Masur claimed that in future people would stand testimony to his feat of installing the largest sheet of seamless gyprock ceiling in the world!

Blue Calf Amenities Building

Entrance to Amenities Building

Amenities to right, Blue Calf Lift to left

New Building to left, old Ticket Office to right

Amenities Building and Blue Calf lift.jpg
Amenities building - aerial from North-west

Amenities Building and old ticket office.jpg
Western façade of new building

Adult Day Tickets in the first season the Blue Cow lift operated were $9.50 (low season), $10 (high season - 15 July to 30 September). Group ski lessons were $7 for two hours and private ski lessons were $12 per hour. You could even buy a single ride on a T-bar for 80 cents.

Guthega 1979 - 500.jpg
Guthega, The Smiggin Holes and Perisher in January 1979

Unfortunately, hard work and determination can only go so far - ski resorts in the development stage require ongoing capital. In 1980 Walter sold 75% of the resort to three Sydney-based investors (Alex Pongrass, Dr Alexander Morven Dan and Tibor Balog) and remained at the resort to see the development proceed to its next stage. The new investment capital allowed new facilities at Guthega over the period 1981-1983, including:

  • A new chairlift from the carpark area up to the saddle;
  • Carparking expanded through creation of roadside parking bays;
  • Replacement of the old Mt Blue Cow T-bar with a new high-speed T-bar;
  • Replacement of the Mt Blue Calf Poma T-bar with new parallel twin T-bars;
  • Replacement of the Cowpastures rope tow with a new J-bar lift;
  • Re-use of the Cowpastures Rope Tow as a beginner's lift in the saddle, parallel with the Blue Cow T-bar;
  • Extensive slope grooming to create a new network of ski runs - three of which ultimately achieved f.i.s. accreditation and held international events for Slalom and Giant Slalom;
  • Expansion of the Blue Calf amenities building;
  • A new Ski Centre at the base of the new Chairlift; and
  • Extensions to the Guthega Lodge/Guthega Hotel (now Guthega Alpine)

Gunter Krohn of Alpkrohn Engineering, who had constructed the vast majority of ski lifts in NSW, was commissioned to supply and build all the new Doppelmayer ski lifts (www.doppelmayr.com). Peter Aynsley designed the new buildings, obtained approvals for all resort components (including buildings; chairlift, T-bars and J-bar; roads/parking/services infrastructure; and ski runs/slope grooming) and managed the overall development.

Karl Guenther completed construction of the Ski Centre and in addition became Outdoor Manager in 1982. Karl created many of the new ski runs in summer and managed their grooming in winter, working hand-in-hand in winter with Lifts Manager Peter Schranz. New lifts and ski runs were operational for the 1981/82 ski seasons, together with an expanded Blue Calf amenities building. The carpark Ski Centre was completed and operational for the 1983 ski season.

The following photos are from 1982**, both during construction of the new lifts prior to the ski season and in the season itself - which was one of the worst (low-snow / no-snow) ski seasons for many years:

Blue Cow 1.jpg
Construction of Blue Cow skilift in early 1982

Blue Cow 2.jpg
Chairlift frame to left, Blue Cow lift to right

Blue Cow - Helicopter 1.jpg
Helicopter carrying concrete skip

Blue Cow - Helicopter 2.jpg
Helicopter flying concrete to Blue Cow lift

Saddle beginners lift 1982.jpg
Saddle beginner's tow - Blue Cow lift to right

Cowpastures J-bar 1982.jpg
Cowpastures J-bar in 1982

Carpark Ski Centre 1.jpg
Carpark Ski Centre under construction

Carpark Ski Centre 2.jpg
Carpark Ski Centre and access ramp to Chairlift

The following are photos from 1983, after all works in this stage were complete:

Carpark Ski Centre and base of

chairlift at right of photo.
Bottom of f.i.s. Giant Slalom to left.

Karl Guenther

Ski Centre.jpg
Closer view of Ski Centre
and Chairlift bottom station

Riding the chairlift from the carpark up to
the saddle area

Top station of twin Blue Calf T-bars
and Chairlift top station in bottom-right

Twin Doppelmayer T-bars to Mt Blue Calf
(one of these was subsequently relocated)

View below Blue Calf top station towards
Main Range - Freestyle Jumps in foreground

Close-up of Freestyle Jumps for the Range Rover
Australian Freestyle Championship

New Blue Cow T-bar -
Blue Calf top station in mid-ground
and views to main range beyond

Saddle area, food service adjacent Chairlift
top station - beginners' rope tow and
Blue Cow T-bar beyond

Blue Cow 1983 approx 273x185.jpg
New Blue Cow T-bar (mid-slope)

Cowpastures J-Bar 1983 approx 283x185.jpg
Doppelmayer J-bar to Cowpastures basin

Guthega Ski Centre (273 x 184).jpg
Completed ski centre

Ski Centre interior.jpg
Ski Centre interior, café level

Hazards of roadside parking, Ski Centre in rear

Extended Blue Calf amenities building

On Blue Cow overlooking saddle and Blue Calf

PA 1984.jpg
Transport courtesy of JRA

Ski Centre - mid-section of "Parachute" f.i.s. Giant Slalom visible above

Click here for details of the 1983 Ski Season launch, remembered by many for the snow bunnies from Australian Playboy and Cold Chisel in concert for Guthega's Playboy grand final as much as for the great season of ski events.

**1982 - A thank-you
Thanks to David Russell, who salvaged the photos from 1982. David worked at Guthega all year round from 1987 to 1993 as a lift fitter and ski patroller and found these photos while cleaning out a storage room there.