Ski Patrol

Recovery and care for those injured skiing progressively developed into the highly trained, efficient and disciplined organisation that it is today.

Each ski area has its own special story to tell, Charlotte Pass, Guthega, Perisher Valley and Smiggin Holes each developed independently, later joining to be part of the Australian Ski Patrol Association (ASPA).  Over time ASPA has been a significant contributor to the consolidation of ski patrol organisations throughout the world.  George Freuden of the Thredbo Patrol is particular significant in this regard.


Smiggin Holes Ski Patrol

By Pat Edmondson

The Smiggin Holes Ski Patrol is inexorably tied to the Illawarra Alpine Club.  This profile of the Smiggin Holes Ski Patrol is taken as published from “Silver Tracks” the history of the club published on the club’s 25th anniversary.

The Illawarra Alpine Club and its members have been actively involved with the Ski Patrol at Smiggin Holes almost since its inception.

In 1960, prior to the formation of our Club, the Kosciusko Safety Ski Patrol (KSSPA) was formed by Snowy Mountains Authority employees, mainly from Cooma, to look after the Smiggin Holes and North Perisher slopes.  In 1964/65 our Club members Don Oyston and Col Bruton became involved with this Patrol and enthusiastically recruited ski patrollers from the Illawarra region, many of whom were Club members.

A large meeting held at the Master Builders Club in Wollongong in 1965, decided that the Patrol should have branches in Cooma and Wollongong with a co‑ordinated central committee.  This was done and in 1967 a Sydney branch was formed.  Some of the Club members involved were: Col Bruton, ("a small well built man with overwhelming determination"), Club publicity officer and then secretary; myself secretary and then president; Don Oyston, Peter Swan, Barry and Laurelle Roberts, Adolf and Ria Ploss, Gobi Hubscher, Trevor Ashton and my wife Sue Edmondson.  Dr Ian Dunlop assisted with first aid lectures and Dr Ken Doust did the examining.

Don Oyston, a Wollongong ambulance officer, was a tower of strength to the Patrol in passing on his knowledge and expertise to fellow Patrol members.

Col Bruton conducted a very active publicity campaign, with the help of Pat Edmondson, who was commended in 1969 by the Smiggins Ski Association for his work in developing the Ski Patrol.

In the early years of the Perisher Valley Enterprises tow at Smiggin Holes there was no professional patrol.  The first professional patrol was not operational until 1969 and then, when members of the KSSPA were not available, the lift operators did the work.  This arrangement continued when the Smiggins Hotel took over the lifts and the cooperation with the Hotel management was generally very good,

It should be noted that the KSSPA took a leading part in the formation of the NSW, Perisher and Australian Ski Patrol Associations.  In fact Ski Australia, in August 1968, reported that, "the blueprint for such an association had been established by a group of dedicated skiers and has operated, very successfully, for the last six years in the Smiggin Holes area.  The association was originally sponsored and organised by the Illawarra Alpine Club."

During the 1966 season a constitution committee, comprising Pat Edmondson, Gobi Hubscher and Col Bruton completely revised the constitution.  The constitution of the Illawarra Branch of the Surf Life Saving Association was used as a model for the Ski Patrol.  John Fitzgerald, one of our Club's founders, acted as honorary legal advisor.

In 1973 Kosciusko Alpine Resorts (Perisher) bought the Smiggins operation.  The manager, Harold (Black Harry) Droga and the Patrol did not work well together, resulting in eventual dismissal of the Patrol in 1977.  It is ironic that Smiggin Holes is now mainly serviced by professional patrollers with an occasional visit from a Perisher volunteer.

The Patrol also took an interest in search and rescue away from the piste.  With donations received, it purchased cross-country skis and back packs of emergency equipment which were always available at Smiggin Holes.  The Patrol also trained Kosciusko rangers, police, Snowy Mountains Authority and State Rescue personnel in first old in the snow, Alkja sled handling and survival.

As one can imagine, there are many stories that can be told relating to these formative years of the Ski Patrol.

One year a young lady by the name of Mary had wandered away from the slopes and was declared lost.  Searchers, including our Herb Koshemakin, hollered themselves hoarse to no avail.  When eventually found (after dark) Mary informed her rescuers that she had not answered the calls as her father had told her not to speak to strange men!

On another occasion we ran a training session behind Smiggin Holes.  After a campfire and a good meal we retired to our snow caves (which some had built) and snow tents, except for one policeman.  He had built an immaculate cave, but we discovered next morning that he had declined its comforts and spent the night with a 'bird' at the Smiggins pub.

I also recall that one day, before our Club was formed, I had skied down from Perisher and was riding back up the Smiggins T-bar.  As I rode up the lift I saw no less than five broken legs!  On reflection I am certain that the enthusiasm of our Club's members has been largely responsible for the much safer skiing conditions we enjoy today.

 Pat Edmondson - 1986

Perisher Ski Patrol Association


By Barrie Mitchell, First President.

If there are any mistakes in this, I will plead loss of memory but I do know that the Perisher Ski Patrol Association came into being in 1968 at my home in Blakehurst.

Prior to this in 1964, Brian Davidson moved from the Chalet at Charlotte's Pass to Perisher.  Stan McGuinn was the operations manager for the commercial interests of K G Murray and employed Brian as the valley's first Ski Patrol officer with a nursing sister to call on and control of the usual volunteers, one of whom I became during my many visits to Perisher.  In the same year (1964) Brian appointed Grant Turnbull as Perisher's first professional patroller.

During the following two years, prior to his appointment to the Perisher Ski School in 1966, Grant was usually stationed at the base of the Mt. Perisher double chair where volunteers would turn up for patrol work, shovelling and slope marking.  To those of us who were reliable, capable of handling a sled and knew what we were doing, Grant would give a ski patrol "bib" which was made of red material with a white cross stitched on the front and back ( similar to the Swiss flag) .  In return for these duties, we were given free skiing for that day.

In 1966 after Grant's appointment to the Perisher Ski School and with the accelerated growth in skiing numbers Stan McGuinn employed professional patrollers and this situation has continued to this day.

I skied in Europe in 1966 – 1967; it was during this trip that I became aware of the prevalence of ski patrollers and the duties they performed in the European ski fields.

The growth of skiing in Australia and the numbers of skiers on the slopes accelerated in the 60's.  There existed a well run small volunteer ski patrol at Smiggin Holes, a very professional volunteer patrol at Thredbo and I felt that Perisher should have its own volunteer ski patrol.

Accordingly, I contacted the secretary of every Perisher ski club and asked that they notify their members that I intended to form a volunteer Perisher Ski Patrol and that I was holding a meeting at my home in Blakehurst (I think it was in March) in 1968.  The place was packed.  There must have been at least fifty skiers jammed in our lounge room.  The meeting elected me as President, Ron Pepper as Captain and Kav Reddan as Secretary.  I had the belief that our starting point had to be a patrol manual, which would communicate to the member the standards, practices, and operations of a voluntary ski patrol organization and that this manual be given to every member as soon as possible after joining.

I virtually gave up work for three weeks.  I wrote to the Canadian Ski Patrol Alliance for a copy of their manual and asked for permission to copy it.  As not all their ski lifts and sleds were the same as ours (for example we used the steel handled "akja" sled where they used sleds controlled by ropes) I consequently had to change some of the terminology but retained safety procedures.

Every page of the Canadian manual had to be re-typed on a special surface that could be attached to a steel barrel that would be then fitted to a "Gestetner" machine.  Once fitted and filled with a special ink the drum would be turned by a handle and a printed page could be produced every three seconds.  Ron Pepper, our captain, worked in Wollongong Hospital and had access to a "Gestetner".  I would get a number of pages typed out in Sydney and drive to Wollongong in the evenings to get them printed on the "Gestetner".  After a few weeks of this we finally had a manual but without a printed and bound cover.

I went to Mr.K.G.Murray's office in Clarence Street, Sydney and told him that we had the basis of a volunteer Perisher Ski Patrol.  Its reply was 'I suppose you need a donation?".  He promptly wrote a cheque for $500!

We now had a membership and an official manual that enabled us to communicate to members the standards, obligations and requirements of membership.

Then all sorts of problems arose.  Perisher employed three professional patrollers to cover the entire area where I envisaged two volunteer patrollers for each lift.  Our communication with Perisher management was poor in that we could not agree on rosters or numbers.  I had the feeling that management did not take us too seriously and that the professionals did not really want us as they thought they might lose their jobs.

I was a representative of the AMP Society at the time that meant that I was really self-employed.  As I worked from home, I had no office facilities such as staff or office equipment to help with communications or the running of the patrol.  Furthermore, I was getting married in 1970, responsibilities were beginning to develop and business time was becoming more important than skiing time.  I felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew" so in 1970 I resigned from the operation and Bert Gardner was elected the new president.

Bert had a successful electrical contracting business at Production Avenue, Kogarah.  He was a born organiser and possessed real community spirit and turned my failures into success.

As I write this today in 2011, the Perisher Ski Patrol Association is a viable, successful and desirable organization that is the result of the dedication, enthusiasm and efforts of Bert Gardner in the 1970's.

Barrie Mitchell - June 2011