An engineering degree and a career as a professional skier, including representing Australia at two Winter Olympic Games, made Scott Kneller the perfect person to manage the development of a new state-of-the-art skiing facility in Queensland.
The Geoff Henke Olympic Winter Training Centre, which opened at Brisbane’s Sleeman Sports Centre late last year, is the Southern Hemisphere’s first year-round freestyle ski-jumping facility.
It provides a training ground for elite aerial and mogul skiers, with seven ramps for athletes to ski down and jump off, before landing in a swimming pool.
“It’s a 40-metre-tall steel structure with quite a small footprint as it cantilevers over the road,” Kneller told create. “The ramps butt right up to the pool. You ski down, hit the jump, perform your aerial manoeuvre and then land in the water.
“The detail around those jumps, getting the dimensions right and figuring out how to detail and roll the steel meant it was an incredibly bespoke piece of infrastructure.”
It was a chance encounter at a charity event in Thredbo in 2014 that led to Kneller’s involvement in the project. Having retired from professional skiing after that year’s Sochi Olympics, he had almost completed engineering and commerce degrees at the University of New South Wales when he bumped into Derek Nix, a founding director at project management firm Colliers International.
“Derek and I hit it off and so I reached out to him for a job,” Kneller said. “Derek had quite a lot of previous involvement with the development of water ramp facilities with the Winter Sport Institute of Australia and had been trying to get [the new facility] off the ground for quite some time.
“When the facility finally found a home in Brisbane, Derek and I were appointed by the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia to manage it on their behalf, from the conceptual stage all the way to completion.”
But it wasn’t only his passion for skiing that made Kneller the right man for the job — he actually wrote his engineering thesis on the centre, looking at the flight path of athletes and resolving the dimensions of the jump.
“I knew the users and I understood their requirements, what’s needed from a high-performance perspective,” he said.
“We also ran a series of user group workshops to understand what both athletes and coaches needed. We turned this information into a brief, then into a design and through to construction.
“I think that understanding makes all the difference. It’s about piecing together all these little parts to get the final product you’re after.”
Despite its hot and humid reputation, Queensland has a unique Winter Olympic heritage, with Brisbane’s Steven Bradbury claiming Australia’s first ever gold medal at the Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The aim of the new facility is to eliminate the competitive disadvantage faced by Australian athletes, who previously had to travel overseas to train.
After the success of the Brisbane facility, Kneller is now working on a project at the National Snow Sports Training Centre in his home town of Jindabyne, New South Wales.
“Instead of athletes jumping into water they’re jumping off onto a big inflated air bag,” he said.
“It’s very close to home and a project I’m particularly passionate about … It’s really special to me to deliver these key pieces of winter sporting infrastructure.”
It was a love of building things and the desire to see projects come to life that set Kneller on the path to an engineering degree. He ended up in a project management role, which he enjoys because of the broad nature of the job.
“I really enjoy the role that I have, because I have oversight over the engineers, architects, the client and financial modelling,” he said.
“It’s all encompassing and that’s what I enjoy — being able to see the whole project and how it comes together.”