Skitube Alpine Railway
Although recreational skiing in Australia began in the little mining town of Kiandra (1861), the sport only developed after the NSW Government Tourist Bureau (NSWGTB) built the Hotel Kosciusko (1909) at Diggers Creek, 27 km from Mt Kosciuszko. The ’Old Hotel’ provided very comfortable lodgings for many more than could be accommodated at Kiandra and it was much easier to reach. Skiing really began to take off.
Despite their very limited technique, skiers at the ‘Old Hotel’ rapidly explored the surrounding area as far south as Mt Kosciuszko. At Charlotte’s Pass they not only discovered more challenging slopes in a protected little valley but also excellent, close access to the southern end of the Main Range. They began to lobby the NSW Government to build accommodation at Charlotte’s Pass.
Though slow to move, the NSWGTB was undoubtedly prodded into action by the Seaman/Hayes tragedy of 1928. Caught in very bad weather at the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, Laurie Seaman and Evan Hayes lost their lives. It was apparent that a much more efficient search for the men could have been organised from Charlotte’s Pass than from the Hotel Kosciusko.
The NSWGTB built the first Chalet at Charlotte’s Pass in 1930 and it underwent several additions before burning down in 1938. It was rebuilt for the 1939 season and a separate building, the Ski Club of Australia Annexe, was added in 1940. The Annex was connected to the Chalet by an enclosed overhead walkway.
In 1935 the NSWGTB brought to Australia the first overseas ski instructor, Ernst Skardarasy, from Zürs, Austria. Ernst taught beginners at the Hotel Kosciusko and advanced skiers at the Chalet for three years.
In 1938, the NSWGTB built at the Chalet the first large ski tow in Australia. It resembled a modern T-bar with a steel cable passing over pulleys which were suspended from seven sturdy wooden towers. The cable carried J-bars rather than T-bars.
For almost 30 years the Chalet was the major centre of skiing in NSW. State, National and International race meetings, both alpine and cross-country, were held there on a regular basis.
Private enterprise finally came to the Chalet in 1962 when NSWGTB leased it to Kosciusko Chalet Ltd. Since then the Chalet has had a succession of owners, the most recent being Charlotte Pass Resort Ltd which took over in 2007. Charlotte’s Pass is now a little village containing one hotel, four commercial lodges and eight ski clubs. The village has one chairlift, one T-bar, two Poma lifts and two ‘magic carpets’.
The advent of Perisher (1950) and Thredbo (1957) resorts, with their greater variety of terrain and steeper slopes, combined with easier access, has to a limited extend pushed Charlotte Pass into the background. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful resort for beginners and intermediate skiers and provides an unmatched base for ski touring. There remains a generation of skiers (ageing) who have very fond memories of learning to ski there.