When the mountains open this winter things will look a bit different. Over the summer both mountains have undergone some changes. On Whistler a new six-person Emerald Express will replace the four-person chair. This will be the fifth chairlift installed along this lift line, with this season marking fifty years since the installation of the Green Chair.
The first Green Chair, a two-person lift with an uphill capacity of 1000 people per hour, was installed on Whistler Mountain for the 1968/69 season and opened up new terrain for skiing. Over the summer of 1968 two new beginner-intermediate runs were cut and groomed, known today as Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant, and advanced skiers were promised fantastic bowl skiing and powder skiing in the evergreens around the lift.
Once open the Green Chair made it possible for skiers to ski down to the valley on the northeast side of Whistler. A new intermediate run was cut from the top of the Green Chair to what was then referred to as the “gravel pit”, the future site of Whistler Village. A bus service provided by Whistler Mountain would then run skiers back to the gondola base at Creekside.
The Green Chair and the runs it serviced proved popular and in 1970 the lift was extended. Loading now took place further down the hill where skiers and boarders were still loading when the mountain closed this spring. At the same time Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant were widened and cleared of trees, stumps and boulders.
The Orange Chair, built in 1972, added more access to the Green Chair area and enabled the building of the Whiskey Jack run, which ran from the top of the Orange to the bottom of the Green Chairs. By this time the “gravel pit” had been renamed the Olympic parking lot and Olympic Run was a regular ski out for many skiers.
By 1973, the popularity of the Green Chair and its beginner-intermediate runs already indicated the need for greater uphill capacity. A second double lift, imaginatively named Green Chair II, was planned for the 1974/75 season. Running parallel to Green Chair I and transporting 1200 skiers per hour, this new chair promised to eliminate lift lines in the area.
The next few years saw more changes for the Green Chairs. A new run was cut in 1976 to reduce congestion in the area and the winner of the accompanying contest named the new route Green Acres. Green Chair I gained a new tower in 1977 to allow the addition of a mid-station loading ramp. The new loading point was meant to allow for skiing both earlier and late in the season.
The two Green Chairs ran side by side until 1989, when both were replaced by the Green Chair Express, Whistler Mountain’s first quad chair. This Green Chair lasted only eight years before the high-speed Emerald Express, also a quad, replaced it in 1997.
More than 20 years later the old Emerald Express has been disassembled and will reappear on Blackcomb this year, replacing the original Catskinner Chair from 1980. The new six-person Emerald Express will provide access to the same runs built under the original Green Chair fifty years ago, though it may look a little different today.
Ah, the Green Chair. No footrests/safety bars when it originally opened. In 1970/71, I was working for the lift co. and I and one of my coworkers/friends got the job of retrofitting the chairs. We worked from 4 p.m., when the lifts closed, till midnight, with a “lunch break” halfway through in the eerily empty Roundhouse. At the end of our shift, we donned headlamps and skied down, usually via the Red Chair creek bed. One night, I stopped for my workmate to catch up, and when he didn’t appear, I hiked back up the creek a couple of hundred feet to find him standing upright on his skis at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep sinkhole. On the last night of the job, the wind was whistling so fiercely and the snow blowing so hard, we decided not to ski down and instead slept in the ski patrol hut, which at that time was attached to the top office building. In the morning, we were awakened by the telephone ringing in the next room. It was our boss, at Mid Station, calling to ask why they couldn’t start the lift. When we ventured outside, it was all bright blue skies and sparkling new snow, but entire Red Chair off-loading station had blown away, along with half of the roof of the building we were sleeping in. It was a week before the lifts began operating normally.