Last week at The Australian Snow Industry Association Trade Show in Canberra two legends of the Aussie ski industry, Larry Adler and Hans Grimus, were inducted into the SIA Hall of Fame. Travel Editor Dave Windsor caught up with Hansie at his famous Pension Grimus Hotel (twice voted Australia’s best at the World Ski Awards) as part of our “Buller’s Village People” series a couple of years back. Those just starting out in our ski industry, or any business for that matter, might take on board his quote
“People used to think I was lucky. But you know something, the harder you work the luckier you get.”
Personally we feel privileged to have been friends with Hans since a chance 1993 meeting in Las Leñas of all places, and wish him many more years with Lotte and the (big!) boys at Buller. If you’re heading up there lunch or dinner at Kaptan’s Restaurant is a must even if you don’t stay, and the best quick caffeine fix on the mountain is at son Anton Grimus’ hole-in-the-wall Grimus Grind pit stop.
How did you get your start at Bulller?
I started out as a lift operator on the Enzian ski run when I was 20. By the time I was 23 I’d been promoted to Supervisor of the Orange Lift company, which was a big risk for them as I was a new Australian. Then manager, and then director.
What was it like with two lift companies on the mountain?
It was very competitive sometimes. We had two ski schools. The Blue lifts had the French ski school and we always had the Austrians. If a girl would go out with an Austrian ski instructor and then go out with a Frenchie there’d almost be a war. Seriously, one of the good things about having Orange Lifts and Blue Lifts was without it Australia wouldn’t have had such a modern lifting system. If Blue put a good chair in then Orange would put a better one in. We pushed each other. When the companies merged in ’85 we had the best system in Australia, which prompted all other resorts to invest and keep up.
We built triple chair lifts in ’79 even before they were approved in Europe, and in hindsight triple chairs should never have been built because there’s always an issue with balance because most people ski in a couple. So quads are a lot better. Australia was doing really well, even if you went skiing in Italy or some places in Austria they would all be double chairs or surface lifts.
The big downside of course was that every morning you’d need to assess the weather and make your mind up whether to ski Blue or Orange. Blue had more sheltered runs so it was better in bad weather, but when the sun came out you’d ski Orange lifts.
Who ‘owned’ the Summit?
We did. You might know that Helmut Kofler built the first chalet in 1929, and was the real pioneer of Buller. Back in those days of course there was a lot of hiking and climbing involved, and you’d carry a cut lunch. In ’59 the Forest Commission built ‘Koflers’ restaurant and named it in his honour, but they had no means to operate the restaurant so they asked Orange lifts to do that. In return they granted us the right to build lifts above the tree line, Blue lifts built below the tree line. So we got to do the Summit.
What brought you out to Australia?
Things were pretty tough in Austria so it was easy for me to come to Australia. I didn’t really want to come, in my cousin and his friend had the idea of coming to Australia, so I didn’t have much to lose and thought I’d come along for two years. In those days they needed carpenters, which was my trade. Ironically, my cousin who was organising the trip fell in love and told us he’d come later, and the other bloke chickened out two weeks before, so suddenly I was by myself. Everyone told me that Australia was full of black fellas, kangaroos and no girls! But I’d made up my mind and arrived with £60, 10 shillings. I had no connections, but having a hard childhood made it easier to survive the good ‘ol days.
The Croatian state league team were recruiting and would come to the boats looking for players. Some people saw me playing football in Austria and told the recruiters about me, and before going to the migration camps I was recruited by the Croatian team. Funny thing was that the first game I played was against an Austrian team down in Geelong. They needed a goal keeper badly and they put me in a house and got me a job in the oil refinery in Altona. I was getting paid £27.10 nett per week, and only paying £5 for board. It was really cheap in those days. You could buy a weather board house for £3,000 – £5,000.
After that I went up to the Snowy Mountain scheme and got £60 per week, which was huge money, but you worked very hard as a carpenter, and eventually I became a leading hand. The conditions were good, but naturally there were no ladies. I could have been killed three times so I decided to come back to Melbourne to keep playing soccer. But after all that I ended up breaking my finger.
Tell me about the Hotel
Originally I only designed this place as a B&B. I never had a view of building a restaurant and such. In ‘72 things were tight and the lift company convinced me to sell it to them so long as it was to be used as staff quarters. I had to go overseas to Europe and America to look at the first slope grooming machines and while I was away I had second thoughts and when I came back I bought it back on account of political complications associated with running a ‘commercial premises’ as staff quarters. One of the conditions was that I had to put up 17 ski instructors for $50 per week (full board). So I had to put on a chef, a Swiss fellow, very good. It was 1973 and we had the worst season ever. We only had the lifts running for 20 days. But with all these ski instructors living here they helped me finish the place. It’s funny, people used to ask me how was my first year. I’d reply, “Simple – no snow, no people, no problems”.
Of course I had to borrow money to buy the place back. But with 17 Austrian ski instructors we had a lot of girls around the place, they where like bees to flowers, so I said to the chef maybe we could do some more meals to sell and before I realised it I had a restaurant, which paid for the interest. So it was pretty lucky.
People used to think I was lucky. But you know something, the harder you work the luckier you get.