The area known as Thredbo Village had been used by early graziers when, in 1955, a Czech by the name of Tony Sponar, working as a hydrographer for the Snowy Mountains Authority, realised the great potential of the area as a Ski Resort. Sponar had been a ski instructor at St Anton, Austria, from 1941 to 1948 and saw Thredbo developing with the same atmosphere as at St Anton.
In May 1955, the Kosciusko chairlift and Thredbo Hotel Syndicate was formed and subsequently acquired a lease from the state government with the idea of developing a year-round resort. The initiating directors were Tony Sponar, Charles Anton, Eric Nicholls and Geoffrey Hughes.
In the winter of 1995, a study of weather and snowfall characteristics of the area was made. By the end of that year it was decided that the Friday Flat/Crackenback Peak area was best suited for development and a line was cleared and surveyed for a proposed chairlift on Crackenback Peak. In October 1955 Andrew Thyne Reid joined the syndicate.
In January 1957 the State Park Trust gave the syndicated an option for a lease, and work began in the summer of 1956-1957 on a chairlift and basic accommodation.
Tony Sponar was the first area manager and had a budget, in 1957,of 4000 pounds to build a road from the Alpine Way to the present site of the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and 1,000 pounds to build a lodge.
In May 1957 the syndicated was renamed and reorganised into Kosciusko Thredbo Limited. Andrew Thyne Reid was the Chairman and through his experience with the James Hardie Company, raised the money for the continuing development of Thredbo.
To obtain a 99 year lease the group had to build a ski lift and a 100 bed hotel within 5 years. After 31/2 years it was clear the group needed a partner with more financial strength and construction expertise. Tyne Reid negotiated with the bidders, McGrath Coach Houses and Lend Lease.
In 1961, Lend Lease acquired the lease and until 1987 the company developed Thredbo into the most unique alpine resort in Australia, the only one to operate year round.
In January 1987, Amalgamated Holdings Limited, known to most as the Greater Union Organisation, purchased the lease and since then Thredbo has gone ahead in leaps and bounds. In summer 1987/88, major developments of some $30 million were undertaken including the largest snowmaking system in the southern hemisphere and the installation of two state-of-the-art detachable quad chairs.
The Village can accommodate approximately 4,300 people with a permanent population of 250 to 300 people. Since 1996 over $130 million has been invested in the upgrading of the mountain and village facilities.
Sponars T-bar at Thredbo is named after Tony Sponar.
Peter Aynsley recalls meeting Tony Sponar in about 1982, at which time Peter was General Manager of Guthega Developments Pty Ltd, undertaking redevelopment of the Guthega Ski Resort. He says he still has a copy of "A Study of the Ecosystems of the Monaro Region of New South Wales" that Tony lent him and has vivid memories of Tony from those days: "I met him at the Jindabyne Shopping Centre. He had a pet pig on a leash and carefully placed him/her (I can't remember the pig's name) into his red Ferrari. We then drove to his nearby apartment that was located immediately above the apartment of his ex-wife. Tony had cut a hole through the concrete floor and installed a fireman's brass pole so he could slide down to have breakfast with his ex-wife - then walk back to his apartment above."
Tony was certainly one of life's characters and his contribution to alpine skiing cannot be under-estimated.
In answer to the burning question above, the pig's name was, of course, "Pig". When you knew Tony, this was obviously the only name it could have! If there were no other passengers, Pig would travel in the front seat with her (it was a sow) trotters on the dashboard. As time went on, the question of passengers became academic as Pig grew to be a BIG sow. I did hear the the Jindabyne council finally requested Tony not bring Pig to the shops, as it was scaring the tourists (This is unconfirmed).
The Ferrari was a '73 (I think) 246 Dino. (Some would say not strictly a Ferrari, but that is an issue for another blog. It was, naturally, red, and Tony had fitted it with knobbly snow tires. He had also stuck the "4wd" badge off an old Subaru on the back, and would happily claim the he had it specialliy built.
Tony also created Sponar's Lakeside Inn at the beginning of the '60's, out of the remaining remnants of the old Hotel Kosciusko, which had burnt down some years prior. Tony and his wife Liz ran this until the retired to Jindabyne in the early '80's.
I believe Tony also competed in the '48 Winter Olympics. He also had numerous hobbies besides skiing. He was an avid amateur photographer and filmmaker. He made a series of "animated" films which starred snow goblins/gnomes, in which an ongoing theme was the goblins stealing peoples skis, and careening down slopes on a stolen ski with the owner in hot pursuit, minus one ski, to predictable and funny results.
He also took up hang gliding in the late '70's, and claimed to be the first person to have hang-glided over the top of Kosciusko !
Sponar wrote an autobiography. It is out of print but the Thredbo Historical Society may have a few copies left:
Tony Sponar. Snow in Australia?: that's news to me. Tabletop Press, 1995. 411 pages.
One of his idiosyncratic short films Snow frolic is included as an extra on the DVD: Thredbo 50 years. Rebelstudio, 2007.
Pig had two successors, Piggy and Pigilee. When Sponar took up sailing he named his boats after these pets, so it appears he had quite a porcine obsession! and yes... the Ferrari was a Dino.
The first 2/3 of his book from childhood to middle age is quite interesting. It covers subjects like the war, European skiing, his escape from the Communists and his involvement in the Australian ski industry. The last third gets a little dull as his interests moved away from the snowfields. But there is no doubt that he was a 'character' throughout his life.