The road to Falls Creek thankfully reopened after many months of closure and we had a great start to the season at all mountains in July with some of the best skiing of the season in the school holidays. Snowmaking and a few more snowfalls meant the green and blue runs held well and some lovely early spring skiing was had in August! The USC Race weekend was held successfully on Summit for the first time in many years and Buller pulled out all stops to also host Interschools. Hotham had all lifts open briefly in July when the snow-base depth peaked. Unfortunately, the weather changed in August with the usual cold fronts being pushed away towards New Zealand by bigger high-pressure systems. The cancelling of the Hoppet was a blow to many Falls Creek regulars and National Interschools was also cancelled at Buller. Sadly across all mountains, warm weather and rain rather than snow, combined to bring the season to an early close.
A big thanks to our managers Liz White at Falls Creek and Sally (and Cha) at Buller who kept the lodges running efficiently and smoothly. Also thank you to everyone who attended a work party this year to help prepare the lodges and to party leaders and deputy party leaders for their efforts through the season.
The shorter season and poor snow conditions impacted our occupancy levels and the cancellation policy received an unexpected work-out. We also lost some school groups at Buller as a result of the new school teachers EBA (although we expect these beds to be replaced by other schools next year). See the table below comparing the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
In total, winter income for the Club was down 17% compared to the previous year. Between the three lodges, Buller was most impacted while Falls had the longest season and performed the best. A number of the capex projects have been delayed so the Club remains very financial at the end of November 2023. USC’s financial year ends on 31 December after which detailed audited accounts are prepared together with the annual report which will be circulated to Members before the AGM in March.
Off the mountain the Booking Office and Admin role transitioned in June to Mim Page from Melissa after 18 years with the Club. Mim has been learning the ropes and getting to know everyone in the Club. She has also been working with Mike Forbes to automate many of the Clubs processes and procedures and improve our use of Clubman (see New Website below). Melissa was gifted membership of the Club at the pre-season social to recognise her significant contribution over many years and she continues to manage USC accounting and payments on a part time basis. The Committee would like to thank both Mim and Mel for all their hard work this year as it hasn’t been easy.
New Website & IT Overhaul
The Club has a new website which goes live as a Beta version this week. The website is the front end of an overhaul which has been championed and pretty much entirely completed by Mike Forbes. It combines the content of the Bookings Handbook and the existing website so that all our resources are in one place and individual items are easier to access. Under the hood, a lot of processes have been automated including work party applications, membership applications and the ability to leave feedback. We encourage you to take it for a test drive and provide your feedback via the membership feedback form embedded in the website (choose “IT and Systems” as your feedback type) so we can have a refined version up and running before bookings open next year.
We’ve listened to your feedback and bookings will be opening early next year with the first racing round scheduled to open on 19 February 2024. There is a new interactive calendar system on the website so view the bookings calendar for details. Interschools will be included in the racing round and Provisional Members will also be able to book if beds aren’t filled by full Members. Check the website for details!
As part of the IT overhaul, Mike has been able to extract a lot more data from Clubman to help inform decisions going forward. Set out below is a screenshot of our membership profile which you may find interesting. Good to see a majority of Members identify as non-binary.
The Committee held its annual strategy day last week where new membership applications are considered. A decision was made to offer full membership to those who’d been on the waitlist for 4 years or more. We think this will be about 30 new Members (assuming not all offers are accepted). In addition, the Club will also offer full membership to Members’ children who’ve been on the waitlist for more than 1 year – about 50. While this may seem like quite large numbers, we usually offer between 20 and 30 memberships per year and the Committee’s view is that bringing Members’ children into the Club doesn’t significantly impact demand for bookings as they are already staying at USC with their parents. It also assists to renew our ageing membership base, continue intergenerational traditions and encourage younger Members to participate in the Club’s activities.
The USC Sunday Session, our annual Club celebration, was held at RSYLTC again with a great turn out. Pimms on arrival, the flexible format and Imogen Brough from The Voice providing the entertainment, allowed everyone to catch up with their friends and mingle with a warm and friendly buzz in the room (perhaps in part because the weather outside wasn’t great).
Rob Walker, our race director, presented the trophies to the winners from Race Weekend and we announced that the Thistlewaite Scholarship for 2023 was awarded to Maddie Effeney and Will Meinart. Congratulations to all! The Scholarship is funded by the Club and recognises the contribution and passion that Dale Thistlewaite and partner Stuart Holloway had for USC and the development of young people’s skills in skiing and the outdoors.
Particular thanks to Felicity Koch, the Social Sub-Committee and Mim for organising the function.
This year we began a trial of a new accommodation offering at Porepunkah. It has exciting potential for both the green and snow seasons and can be booked per room or you can book exclusive use of the whole house (including in winter). The rates for Porepunkah are on the website. It is a brand-new house and has been rented through a local real estate agent in part as an insurance policy against more trouble with the road to Falls and possibly Hotham. Porepunkah House is also aimed at providing a green-season accommodation option as well as an additional opportunity for Members to book during winter when the on-mountain lodges are full or to provide flexibility for Members who would like to ski at both Falls and Hotham. In winter we are particularly aiming to attract Members who are less active, Provisional Members or Full Members who would like a hybrid holiday, especially those with family members who do not ski or would like the option of non-skiing activities. There are ample cycling, walking, cafe and fine dining options as well as wineries, golf and swimming in summer, autumn and spring. In winter you can ski at Falls Creek, Hotham and cross country at Mt Buffalo. Porepunkah and the Bright region is beautiful year-round, particularly in autumn. Kate Abel has done a fantastic job finding and setting up the house and the area does have something for everyone.
The lease is up for renewal next year we will need to decide whether to continue the trial. Financially we expect PH will break-even for this year and improve next year. Thanks to those who participated in the PH survey. There were 174 responses with 63% stating they intended to book at PH in the next 12 months.
If you would like to inspect the house while you are in the region, please contact the booking office and we can arrange access for you – come and see how great the place is. You can also check out the videos and photos on the Club website.
Summer is another great time in the mountains and we’ve sent you a number of flyers with all the activities on offer at each resort. Our lodges are perfect places to get away with friends or to host a function. Clubman shows live availability over summer at all lodges including PH (where there is still some availability in the upcoming summer school holidays – January 4-12th, 19-21st and Australia Day weekend).
We’re also working to make start-up easier at all lodges. Hotham can be fired up remotely from Melbourne and Buller has a Merrijig local who we employ to make sure the lodge is open and ready for you.
Summer rates are $40 Members, $50 Guests and $25 for all children. Whole lodge bookings at a discounted rate are also available.
We also conducted a more general survey this year and the committee is busy digesting the results and taking up your comments and suggestions for next year. Thanks again to all those who took the time to participate.
The Cabin Project
The Cabin Project was announced at the USC Sunday Session as part of the preparation for our 100 Year anniversary in 2029. We want to know what it was like to stay in The Cabin at Buller and what it was like when skiing and working on the new lodge. We have a first group who are about to start the interview process and memory trail. However, another intriguing fact has arisen – we have one Member who not only stayed in The Cabin at Buller – they skied at Donna Buang with Warran Begg and family! Are the any other Members who can claim that? Did you have relatives who stayed in The Cabin on both sites? Were you one of the Cabinites? If so please join us and add to the stories and traditions of The Cabin. Contact Graham on email@example.com.
Work Parties and Sub-Committees
Work party dates for 2024 will be announced shortly and the booking form will be live via the website. A new workflow for applying for, attending and earning points from work parties will be released shortly.
A huge amount of work is done outside of the work parties to keep the Club running and we are always looking for help. In particular, it would be great to have another Committee member to assist Fiona Hellier with the oversight of Falls Creek and if anyone has graphic design skills, the new website is still evolving and we need your skills.
Sub-committee work and specific tasks/Melbourne based work parties earns priority points which help with bookings each year. If you would like to contribute some time to the Club whether on the Committee or otherwise please reach out to Mim and let her know what your interests and skills are.
Thanks to all Members – you are what makes our Club great. Thanks also to the Committee and their partners – you keep our Club running.
We hope you have safe and happy holidays and look forward to seeing everyone in the New Year.
All the best