Tag Archives: gondola

The Snow (or not) of 1976-77

by John Hetherington, WMAS President

November 1976 was dry, with a cold north wind blowing into December. From the time that Whistler Mountain opened for skiing in 1966 through the 1975-76 season, there had always been plenty of snow, with extraordinary snowfall amounts in the 1966-67, 1968-69, 1971-72, and 1973-74 seasons (1973-74 is still stated as the record year).

Despite the stories of Dick Fairhurst, who moved to the Alta Lake area in 1944, most of us living here in the 1970s thought that the big snow years would never end, and so snowmaking had never been considered. Fairhurst claimed that there had been a couple of no-snow winters in the 1950s and that he had built the foundation for Cypress Lodge during a snowless February. 1976-77 came as a severe shock to the rest of us.

Dick Fairhurst also opened the first ski lift in the Whistler valley, a tow rope on Sproatt Mountain, and knew a bit about the area’s winters. Fairhurst Collection.

Very early in the 1976-77 season, there was some snow in the alpine and just enough that skiers had been able to ski to the bottom of the Green Chair. Then it rained and skiers had to hike down the last 100 metres or so in the gravel and mud.

In mid-December, Lift Operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair. There used to be a small creek that ran down on skiers’ right of the old Green Chair. The ski patrol put a full case of Submagel, a very potent explosive designed for underwater uses, into the creek near the base of the Green Chair. Everyone was evacuated from the area due to the obvious hazard of raining debris and the explosion created a reservoir in the creek. After a dam was built at the low end, the reservoir could impound enough water to permit snowmaking for 2 to 3 hours each day.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. In early winter 1976-77, this slope would have been almost entirely bare. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

With this limited capability, the packer drivers were able to spread a narrow ribbon of snow that allowed skiers to ski to the base of the Green Chair. Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays. Those who came could ski on the Green Chair and in the T-bar bowl, but had to download on the Red Chair and the gondola. After the holidays, however, there was a warm rain that wiped out the snow on the lower slopes of the Green and Whistler was forced to close for three weeks in January 1977.

While most of the staff on Whistler Mountain had been laid off, a few of us were kept on so the ski area would at least have some core staff when the mountain was able to re-open. Those of us still employed referred to it as Garibaldi Lifts welfare. The lift company opened a soup kitchen so that its laid-off employees wouldn’t starve.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

During this time, the weather was mostly clear with a strong temperature inversion. The local lakes were frozen, allowing a perpetual hockey game on Alta Lake, and, after running out of useful things to do, Jamie Tattersfield, the head packer driver, and I built a rather crude iceboat in the maintenance shop. We put it on Alta Lake in front of Tokum Corners and spread the word that anyone could use it as long as they brought it back.

Cheakamus Lake was frozen and clear of snow, so many locals hiked in with their skates on the snowless trail to skate the entire length of Cheakamus Lake. There were a couple of pressure ridges to jump over and the ice was incredibly noisy, constantly pinging and boinging and echoing in the narrow valley.

A small amount of snow came in late January, allowing the mountain to re-open on a limited basis. More snow came later in February, and then the real snow finally came in March. Given the shallow snow pack and early cold temperatures, there was a thick layer of well-developed basal facets, which helped produce some stupendous avalanches later in March.

This Week in Photos: February 15

These photos from the Whistler Question show a much smaller Whistler, where everything from a visit by the Governor General, to a snowblower surviving an encounter with a train, to a visiting Rotary exchange student, to a mysterious explosion in a Longhorn toilet are recorded together in the paper.

1979

Whistler as it should be – Doug Read gets into it on “Upper Insanity” on Friday.

An RCMP under-ice diving training school was held on Alta Lake during the past week. Scott Alpen photo.

A view of the Whistler Vale complex with the old Cheakamus Inn in front and the new units to the left and behind.

1980

Squaw Valley Crescent takes some of the overflow parking from Lake Placid Road.

Bob Matheson works on the new Superior Muffler pipe bending machine.

Sunshine and good skiing – the way it has been on the top of Whistler for the past week.

CKVU’s Ralph (Raccoon) Carney interviews Tom Jarvis, Beau Jarvis and Peaches Grant at Beau’s on Sunday evening.

Nicholas Busdon heads across the finish line in the Elementary Boys race.

1981

Chef/owner of the Black Bear Geoffrey Howes and Patty Harvey at work in the kitchen.

The vehicle Steve Podborski was driving and the Toyota driven by Kathy Rollo after the February 14 accident.

Rotarian Frank Satre and Whistler’s exchange student, Teresa Delgado from Chihuahua, Mexico.

Franz and Annette Wilhelmsen (front) and Debbie and Hugh Smythe (rear) enjoy dinner at the opening of Stoney’s restaurant last week.

1982

With the reddest of heart and the fleetest of foot, a be-winged Cindy Woods turned into cupid for a day (guess which one) to deliver flowers throughout the valley for Valley Vines & Petals.

All bagged up and ready to go – Sue Spurrell, Dave Barnes and Leslie Christmas, all from Newfoundland, try out the x-country skiing at Whistler Village wearing Blackcomb bags for protection.

Kermit joins the happy gang at Stoney’s who celebrated their first birthday Monday, February 15. Ball team members are (l to r) Bruce Fox, manager; Jack Cram and Lance Fletched who co-own the restaurant with Dick Gibbons; and Fetah Benali, chef.

Fire in Alpine! It was nearly one month to the day since fire raged through the Whistler Village Inn, when Whistler’s Volunteer Fire Depart. was called out to a blazing cabin in Alpine Meadows. The fire fighters subdued the blaze at 8340 Needles Drive in about 35 minutes.

Testimony to the durability of the Toro snowblower. One wheel points to the sky but the machine is still in one piece after being struck and dragged 200 metres by a BCR train.

1983

The Japanese version of Johnny Carson was being filmed at Blackcomb Mountain Monday, February 14. Akiko Kobayashi, a TV personality, and Sachiko Sakulay, an actress, are on Willie Whistler’s right and Miss Ski Japan Yukali Yamada and host Tommy Yakota stand on his left.

Shovelling snow outside the Hearthstone Lodge (before the advent of heated steps).

Let’s get Springfit! Adult Education classes in fitness continue with instructors (l to r) Debi Mitchell, Jan Alsop and Shelley Cerasaro. These ladies will take you through a vigorous program of warm-ups, aerobic workouts, calisthenics and stretching.

Canada’s Governor General Ed Schreyer (second from right) hit the slopes of Whistler Mountain Tuesday. Both he and Mrs. Schreyer received some tips from Bob Dufour and Dave Murray while enjoying their five-day vacation.

A sound “like someone dropping a huge sheet of metal” turned out to be an explosion which destroyed cubicle number three in the women’s washroom of the Longhorn Pub Thursday, February 10. A similar explosive device was used to blow up a garbage can in the Longhorn Saturday, February 12 and a 31-year-old New Westminster man, Clifford Michael Balkwill, has been charged with use of a dangerous explosive in connection with the second incident. The explosives, known as “fish salutes”, are manufactured for anglers to scare seals away from their prey.

1985

Firemen and residents were able to rescue some possessions from burning condos at Alpine Village Saturday, but losses were heavy and by the next day insurance investigators were already on the scene.

Whistler Mountain celebrated 20 years with some familiar faces (as well as cake, clowns and more).

Whistler Mountain created a new sport Saturday: Gondola stuffing!

The kids’ team stuffed the most bodies into the gondola with 27, while the counterweights (a minimum of 200 lbs each) could only manage nine.

Mike Davidson of the Alta Lake Sports Club will even spend time in the brig if it means hanging onto his hobby cannons. The one-pounder above was made by Great West Cannon Co. of Granville Island and is authentic in size and workmanship to the original, Davidson says. It was often hoisted into a ship’s rigging and used to fire nails and other shrapnel at the enemy. Davidson uses the cannon to proclaim open the various sporting events but two years ago found himself in RCMP lock-up for four hours when a policeman arrested him for discharging a firearm in the municipality. But it’s all in good fun, and the only thing fired is paper.

Gerhard Mueller: Designer of Whistler’s First Lifts

With the wet weather, frigid temperatures and winds that have come in the last two months, many of us out on the mountains have appreciated the temporary respite offered by the enclosed gondolas.  To show our appreciation, we’re offering some information on the man who designed the first lifts installed on Whistler Mountain, including the original four-person gondola.

Skiers load the original four-person gondola at the base of Whistler Mountain in the late 1960s.

Skiers load the original gondola at the base of Whistler Mountain in the late 1960s.

Gerhard Mueller was an early pioneer in the ski lift industry.  In the late 1920s, as mountain resorts in the Alps were still beginning to redefine themselves as winter resorts, Mueller was a 17-year-old mechanical engineering student who had grown tired of having to continuously climb up the slope in order to practice his skiing on the way down.

To address this issue Mueller built his (and Switzerland’s) first ski tow at St. Moritz using 1″ hemp rope and the engine from an old motorcycle.  This first rope tow was patented in 1932 and was later improved to address complaints of tired hands and arms.

After the end of World War II Mueller founded his own company, GMD Mueller, in 1947 and continued to design innovative lift systems, including the modern detachable chairlift.

A page from a 1965 GMD Mueller catalogue. Photo: chairlift.org/mueller.html

A page from a 1965 GMD Mueller catalogue. Photo: chairlift.org/mueller.html

In their 1965 catalogue GMD Mueller advertised their ski lift options, claiming that “The roomy 4-seater gondolas, the elegant double-chairs or the smooth springbox-type T-bars will make every ride, both short or long, comfortable and safe, and the good appearance of Mueller Lifts will make you a proud owner.”  In less than two decades they had come a long way from Mueller’s first rope tow.

In the early 1960s when Franz Wilhelmsen and Eric Beardmore, another Garibaldi Lift Company director, visited Europe to study lift systems prior to choosing the systems to be used at Whistler, many chairlifts still had to be stopped both to load and to unload passengers.  The double chairlift designed by Mueller had patented detachable cable grips that detached the chairgrip from the hauling rope at both stations, allowing the hauling rope to continue to run while the chair was slowed for loading and unloading before being reattached to the hauling rope and launched.  This allowed for the creation of a four-person gondola.

When approached, Mueller confirmed that his designs could be adapted to fit the proposed locations on Whistler Mountain.  For the lower stage from the base at Creekside to Midstation, where warmer spring temperatures and wet weather prompted worries of wet clothing before skiers even reached their first run, Mueller proposed a 65-car four-person gondola carrying approximately 500 passengers per hour for a 13-minute ride.  This was to be followed by a double chairlift of 175 chairs carrying approximately 1200 passengers per hour.

The original Red Chair brought riders up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992.

The original Red Chair brought riders up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992.

In 1965 four Mueller-designed ski lifts were installed on Whistler Mountain: the four-person gondola, the double chairlift that would become known as the Red Chair and two T-bars.  Mueller travelled to Whistler to oversee the construction and testing of the lifts and to conduct training sessions with lift staff.  GLC workers were also sent to Switzerland to be trained on the operation and maintenance of the lifts at the GMD Mueller factory.  Mueller was present for for the official opening of the lifts on January 15, 1966.

chair1.jpg

A seat from the original Red Chair sits in Florence Petersen Park.

Whistler Mountain was equipped exclusively with Mueller lifts for only two years.  In 1967 the Blue Chair was designed and installed by Murray-Latta Machine Co. Ltd., a Vancouver-based company.  The original gondola and Red Chair were retired in 1992, but both can still be found here at the museum, a lasting legacy of the designs of Gerhard Mueller.

Museum Building Gets a Facelift

A common definition of “artistry” is the ability to create beauty where it was previously absent. By this measure, in our latest partnership the Whistler Museum has found an artist of the highest order.

Over the last week the east wall of the Museum building has been beautifully remade as a massive mural by talented local spray-paint artist Kris “KUPS” Kupskay. The sixty-foot long piece pays homage to our community’s heritage with an eye-catching scene that features iconic local figures such as Myrtle Philip, Teddy the Bear, the PGE Railway, the original Creekside Gondola, and of course, plenty of breathtaking Coast Mountain scenery.

The scene begins to take shape.

Prior to its revival, the long, irregular-shaped wall offered an awkward “canvas.” Drawing from his background in graffiti, where working with unconventional spaces like inner-city alleyways and far-raging freight train cars is the norm, KUPS saw opportunity where others might be dissuaded. The result is a bold design that makes creative use of the wall. The dynamic work flows naturally across the whole space and even transforms a pre-existing A/C shed into a makeshift train station.

KUPS at work.

KUPS’ enthusiasm for the task was unmistakable, keeping museum staff and curious onlookers entertained throughout. Working energetically, KUPS brought his vision to life in a matter of days. The guy simply loves to create, and it shows in his work.

Hangin’ with Myrtle and Teddy.

The mural was made possible through funding from the RMOW’s Village Enhancement funds, and is part of ongoing efforts to rejuvenate the vacant lot created by the dismantling of the former museum building. In addition to KUPS’ artwork, the wall now features a beautiful new ten-foot long “Whistler Museum” sign as well, made by Whistler’s Cutting Edge Signs.

KUPS in front of the finished work.