Tag Archives: Gordy Harder

When Hollywood Came to the Alpine

It’s safe to say that we are very lucky in our valley. We can enjoy lush forest hikes or adrenalin loaded bike runs for our morning workout before heading into the office. However, a now-obsolete technological quirk used to require a unique mountain town profession that came with some special perks.

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home above the tree line: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

While we valley dwellers actually have to get in the truck, and drive a few kilometres to the lifts and stand in a line up, Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder enjoyed the privilege of having their serene home nestled among the wildlife of the mountains right next to the top of the Red Chair. From 1978-1992, the lifts on Whistler Mountain actually required full–time caretakers to start them up each day, among other tasks. From January 1987 to November 1988, they were the alpine caretakers living on top of Whistler Mountain – in winter and summer.

“It was magic living up there and watching the seasons change” Janet enthuses. She remembers that the wildlife was very entertaining in summer. They heard the grouse and the hoary marmots, and they saw little pikas (rock rabbits) race here and there. In the summer months, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation would let them use the building maintenance truck to drive from the valley to the alpine on the service road. “A real treat” as they call it because it was so much easier to get groceries home if you didn’t have to transport them on the lifts.

Living in the mountains can be magical – and sometimes even thrilling: Gordy and Janet met Sidney Poitier while filming a scene of the movie Shoot to Kill in the Little Whistler bowl on Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Living in the mountains can be magical – and sometimes even thrilling: Gordy and Janet met Sidney Poitier while filming a scene of the movie Shoot to Kill in the Little Whistler bowl on Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the summer of 1988 Hollywood came to the alpine. A scene in the movie Shoot to Kill, starring Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger, was being filmed just past the top of the T-Bars at the bottom of Little Whistler. Janet and Gordy blasted up on the skidoo to watch them film. They recalled: “Mr. Poitier came over and chatted with us. He was so surprised to learn that someone lived up on the mountain. It was an absolute thrill to meet him. He suggested a film assistant take a photo with a Polaroid camera. It was so kind.”

They watched them film a blizzard scene where Sidney’s character starts to dig a snow cave. Gordy helped out by passing someone on the set huge bags of mashed potato flakes that were dumped in front of a large fan to simulate driving snow.

Janet and Gordy have a lot of golden memories to share, and we will post them to this blog in the coming months.

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. From January 1987 to November 1988, Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder, both in their early 20s at that time, were the alpine caretakers living on top of Whistler Mountain. There were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (1,850m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Whistler Village Gondola was installed, and the alpine caretaker position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.

Whistler’s coolest snowcat

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line

It’s tough to imagine Whistler Mountain without snowcats. The way their eyes flash in the night as they crawl over the dark mountain slopes, hissing every now and then… Hissing? Of course, we are talking about Schoki, the snow-loving feline that lived on top of Whistler Mountain with Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Rox Harder who were the alpine caretakers in the late 1980s – yes, back in those days the mountain actually had caretakers.

Snowcats just being snowcats… Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Snowcats just being snowcats… Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

The three musketeers had their 600 sq ft home in the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. Shortly after moving up there, Janet and Gordy got the button-eyed “panther” from the SPCA in Squamish. Janet had spent some time in Switzerland. So they named the cat “Schoki,” the Swiss German expression for “chocolate”. The fluffy lap-monster was a welcomed staff member as there were mice in the building that also contained the ski patrol room, staff lunch room and several maintenance offices.

Like her truck-sized, fully tracked “brothers” there was no hill too steep and no snow too deep for Schoki. She loved the snow. Janet and Gordy couldn’t let her out during the day. But after the skiers and the staff had gone for the day, she’d head out. “She used to follow me to Tower 18, the top of the Red Chair, to shut down the lift and back”, recalls Janet. “She was like a dog how she’d follow us around.”

Gordy and Janet’s fellow mountain dweller really was a “queen of the hill”. She was an independent. Her favourite spot was on the windowsill. From there she would enjoy the scenic mountain views, taunt the avalanche dogs, and bewilder unsuspecting skiers. Janet remembers hearing skiers going by the kitchen window on the Little Red Lift calling out in surprise, “There’s a cat up here! I think we should tell someone there’s a cat up here!”

Growing up in the alpine, Schoki was tough and loved the snow. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Growing up in the alpine, Schoki was tough and loved the snow. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

But the funniest adventure was when Janet and Gordy had to take Schoki to the vet. “Gordy put a blanket in his backpack, and she nestled in there and we skied to the valley. Part way down her little head peeked out of his backpack; it was quite the sight to see a cat peering out of a knapsack cruising down Gondola Run, which is today’s Dave Murray Downhill” laughs Janet.

A dream job you probably didn’t know existed

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line.

It’s a stormy January evening in 1987. At the top of the Red Chair (also known as Tower 18), an empty chair swings around the bull wheel, its weight rocking it back and forth before propelling it back down the mountain. It disappears quickly into the blinding snowstorm. 23-year-old Janet Love Morrison picks up the phone, and calls the mid-station: “Last chair arrived, number 62, we’re clear.” She hits the red button and steps out of the shack. It’s 5:30 p.m., pitch dark. Now that the last person has downloaded, she zips up her coat a little higher, steps off the ramp and heads for the Roundhouse. She locks the front doors up for the night, questioning the necessity. By day the restaurants are filled with thousands of skiers; by night the high plateau belongs to the packer drivers, her, Gordy Rox Harder and a few ravens.

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the late 1980s, Janet and Gordy lived as alpine caretakers on top of Whistler Mountain for almost two years. Clearing the Red Chair lift was one part of their unique and – as one can imagine – very coveted job. Gordy earned his salary as a carpenter and Janet got paid eight dollars an hour, free rent, hydro, and ski passes. Priceless, of course, are the moments when they were the only souls in their mountain kingdom, enjoying V.I.P. seats in front of the afterglow scenery while the whole valley was in the shadow yet. They also had the best opportunities to ski fresh powder. Janet remembers that she sometimes would ski to the valley as soon as it was light: “The valley gondola opened at 7 a.m. to upload staff and I would get in a couple of alpine to valley runs in complete aloneness.”

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home on top of Whistler Mountain: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Janet and Gordy remember that getting groceries was always an interesting affair. In between them and the grocery store in the village, there was a 45-minute trip up the four lifts from the village to the top of the mountain. “We never wasted a trip, every time we were in the valley we’d bring something up” they recall. If they had been done a big shop in Squamish everything was loaded onto the Creekside Gondola, and then offloaded at mid-station and reloaded onto the Red Chair. “One of us would go ahead on the Red Chair, while the other loaded numerous milk crates full of our groceries. Who ever got off at the top would unload the crates. Then we would ski them over to our apartment.”

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. In 1987/88, there were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (2,100m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Express Lift was installed from the village to the alpine, and the position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.