If you had to guess the location of the world's longest continuously running ski club, you might pick somewhere like Austria or Switzerland. But the answer, according to the International Ski Federation, is Australia.
Skiing was introduced to Australia in 1861, when three Norwegian miners in the Gold Rush settlement of Kiandra, New South Wales, fashioned skis from native trees for impromptu downhill races. Their legacy was the Kiandra Snow Shoe Club. Snow shoes doesn't refer, in this case, to the racquet-like rawhide and timber frames used by the Inuit — it's the archaic term for the long flat devices that only later came to be called skis.
It was skis that Australian poet Barcroft Boake was referring to when, following his visit to Kiandra in the 1880s, he wrote of "long, lithe snow-shoes" that "sped along in easy rhythm to his song."
Skiing frenzy in Kiandra reached fever pitch in 1908, when it hosted the world's first International Alpine Ski Carnival, with Denver skier Charles Menger winning the main event. But when the gold ran out, people did too. Today Kiandra is a poorly marked resting spot on a barren stretch of the Snowy Mountains Highway, with only the old courthouse, a few ruins and a cemetery remaining.
The Kiandra Snow Shoe Club would have suffered a similar fate were it not for an open-door policy that welcomed newcomers from far afield. Among them were waves of European migrants who flocked to "the Snowies" in the postwar years to toil on nation-building hydroelectric power installations. "One was a ski instructor from Italy who taught my wife," says Norman Clarke, author of Kiandra — Gold Fields to Ski Fields, "and there were quite a few from Czechoslovakia and Germany."
Now known as the Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club, the organization is based two hours from Kiandra at Perisher, the largest ski resort in the southern hemisphere. It celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, and as part of the festivities, is holding a photographic competition for shots taken in the surrounding Kosciuszko National Park. The winning entries will be framed for posterity at the club and become another part of Australia's surprisingly rich alpine history.
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