The Kiama Alpine Club grew from a dream of a Ukrainian migrant couple, Eugene and Lala Baranowsky, who arrived in Australia in 1951.

Eugene, a veterinary surgeon, found work in the Kiama area where the couple settled. Before long, their business on its feet and prospering, they could think of skiing again as they had in Europe and begin planning to build a small lodge in the Snowy Mountains with friends. At Easter 1957, visiting the fledgling village of Thredbo, Tony Sponar showed them a lot. They put a deposit of £50 (in 2019 terms nearly $1600) on it.

Unable to convince their migrant acquaintances of the worth of the venture – many were not yet well established in Australia – they turned to the farming and small-town communities south of Wollongong for the support needed to bring the project to fruition. Before long a club had been formed, local people were joining it and paying debentures to fund the purchase of the lease and the construction of a 12-bed lodge, and Eugene had become club captain and ski instructor for people who had never before seen snow. Thus was a club born that would never have come into existence without the vision and commitment of two newcomers to Australia.

The Kiama Alpine Club’s story is not unlike those of many of the other ski clubs in Thredbo. It encompasses disaster (the partial destruction of the lodge in 1968 when a hot water system exploded), a number of re-buildings to a larger scale and a greater level of comfort, the passing of most of the founding members, a re-organisation from sporting club to co-operative, a considerable growth in membership and much input by way of working bees to maintain and develop the lodge, the car parking area and the surrounds. Many leaders made all this possible, among them the Baranowskys, Howard Waters, Alan Fredericks and several others. Fredericks was the club’s president for 25 years, handing over the reins in 2010 to Liz Wynn who had for several years held the position of club secretary.

There have been trials and challenges along the way, including the loss of some funds when the Australian Association of Co-operatives went into liquidation in 1993, but the club’s story has been overwhelmingly a positive one. It participated in the FIS Men’s World Cup in 1989, making accommodation available for officials and its own members taking part during the event in the world’s longest flare run, and in 1997 it provided accommodation for emergency responders after the tragic landslide which wiped out two lodges and killed 18 members of the Thredbo community. In 2003 the lodge had to be evacuated, along with the rest of the village, when the worst bush fire in Thredbo’s history threatened.

Such alarms notwithstanding, the club has prospered and it celebrated its first 50 years with further extensions to its lodge (which now contains 30 beds), the modernisation of the dining area and kitchen and the production of a historical DVD (and soon afterwards a second one). There was also a big birthday party which was attended by 160 people. Eleven years earlier, the club had produced a book on its evolution and activities. In 2018 it marked its sixtieth anniversary with another party and a second book which brought the story of its development up to date.

Along the way the club’s website has been much modernised and a sense of members’ identification with the club fostered. There has been a stress on improving safety and efficiency in lodge operations, occupancy rates have risen and the amenity and comfort of the lodge has been steadily improved. Importantly, the club paid off its last loan in 2017 and it is now debt-free.

In 2019 the membership exceeds 400. The club has grown well beyond its original Kiama base; indeed residents of Kiama now make up only about ten percent of the shareholders. Well over half of today’s members live in Sydney.

The club has produced several fine skiers and snowboarders and it has performed well in the annual Thredbo Interclub races. In 2018 it finished fourth out of 16 competing clubs, its best result in many years of competing and an excellent outcome for a relatively small club. Several Kiama members have done well in the annual Top-to-Bottom event as well, and the club conducts its own championship races each winter. Four generations of some families have belonged to the club and enjoyed access to its lodge and thus to Thredbo.

Chas Keys