Tag Archives: Red Chair

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.

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.

The History of Whistler’s Lifts

Article by Diana Caputo for Whistler Museum

We all remember when Whistler Blackcomb announced that they would exchange the 25 year old Village gondolas with new and bigger ones in the fall of 2014. The old cabins found new owners all over the world. But do you know the history of all the  lifts at Whistler Blackcomb? Slide on and take a gondola ride through the ages.

The original Red Chair in the 1970s, Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection

The original Red Chair brought skiers up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992, Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1970s.

The first lifts were built on the south side of Whistler Mountain (what is now known as Creekside). By fall 1965, several lifts were installed, including a four person gondola, a double chair lift, and two T-bars.

With the opening of Blackcomb in 1980, a long-lasting rivalry started between both independently owned mountains. This led to a race to build lifts with the motto “higher, faster, and safer” in mind.

Whistler was large, highly departmentalized, more Canadian and European as well as more traditional. New to the business of skiing, the Vancouver based Hastings West Group took over  Garibaldi Lifts Limited. In contrast, Blackcomb was young, tight, US-dominated and half controlled by the Aspen Corporation, whom were already experienced in the ski business. Blackcomb ski runs were designed to follow the fall line whereas Whistlers runs were designed more so to side-run the mountain.

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain in 1985, Whistler Museum.

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain in 1987, Whistler Museum.

In the following years, a marketing battle between both mountains was up and running. When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it became North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”. The new area opened up, including four powder bowls, wide open glacier skiing, and it also provided visitors with a vertical mile (1,609 meters’/5,280 feet) of skiing. A year later, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift called Peak Chair, opening Whistler’s highest peak (1,530 meters’ (5,020 feet). The new alpine area provided experts with some of the most challenging runs in the world. In 1996, Whistler became the only resort in history to be simultaneously named No. 1 by Snow Country, SKI and Skiing magazines. However, even more exciting was the news announced March 1997 when Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain merged to form one big mountain company, which is today well known as Whistler-Blackcomb all over the world.

With the Peak2Peak opening in 2008, Whistler-Blackcomb finally broke two world records and is recognized in the Guinness World Record Book 2015 as the highest cable car above ground (436 meters above the valley floor) and the longest unsupported span between two cable car towers (3.024 kilometers). For skiers and boarders it is now easier to access the high alpine terrain on both mountains. But even for sightseers it is redefining the mountain experience in winter and summer by very impressive views and an incredible experience.

Those 50 years of lift history show: Competition drives innovation; but when two former rivals team up, they can move mountains and bring great peaks closer together.

Explore Whistler’s lift history on the map.

For a description of the location numbers in the map see the tables below.

For a description of the location numbers in the map see the tables below.

Map locations 1, 2 & 3: It all started in Creekside

In January 1966, Whistler officially opened to the public with its first lifts, a four-person gondola manufactured by the Swiss company, Mueller Lifts Ltd., to the mid point of the mountain, a double chair lift called Red Chair to the upper tree line, which were both active until 1992, and two T-bars, T-Bar I on the top part and a Valley T-Bar. In 1968, the Valley T- Bar was relocated, and a new T-Bar 2, which still runs alongside T-Bar 1, was installed. Four years later, the two-person Olive chairlift was created alongside the Creekside Gondola, which was replaced in 1992 by the Quicksilver Express Quad Chair. The lift was shut down in 1995 and replaced by the 6-person Creekside Gondola that has been running since. The Redline Express Quad became the new version for the Red Chair and Little Red Chair and was itself replaced by the current Big Red Express in 1997.

In January 1966, Whistler officially opened to the public with its first lifts, a four-person gondola manufactured by the Swiss company, Mueller Lifts Ltd., to the mid point of the mountain, a double chair lift called Red Chair to the upper tree line, which were both active until 1992, and two T-bars, T-Bar I on the top part and a Valley T-Bar. In 1968, the Valley T- Bar was relocated, and a new T-Bar 2, which still runs alongside T-Bar 1, was installed.
Four years later, the two-person Olive chairlift was created alongside the Creekside Gondola, which was replaced in 1992 by the Quicksilver Express Quad Chair. The lift was shut down in 1995 and replaced by the 6-person Creekside Gondola that has been running since.
The Redline Express Quad became the new version for the Red Chair and Little Red Chair and was itself replaced by the current Big Red Express in 1997.

4, 5 & 6: The ancestors of the Emerald Chair

A Blue double Chair lift from today’s bottom of Harmony to the top of Emerald started running in 1966 until its removal in 1995. In 1968, a new double Green Chair 1 was installed and lengthened two years later. Alongside of it a new one, called Green Chair 2 came to live in 1975. Both Green Chairs were replaced by only one quad Chair lift in 1989, which was itself replaced by today’s quad Emerald Express in 1997.

A Blue double Chair lift from today’s bottom of Harmony to the top of Emerald started running in 1966 until its removal in 1995.
In 1968, a new double Green Chair 1 was installed and lengthened two years later. Alongside of it a new one, called Green Chair 2 came to live in 1975. Both Green Chairs were replaced by only one quad Chair lift in 1989, which was itself replaced by today’s quad Emerald Express in 1997.

7 & 8: History of Franz’s Chair

In 1972, a new double Chair lift, Orange Chair, ran from the top of the Creekside Gondola up to the Roundhouse until 2009. In 1978, the Red Chair got a little brother called Little Red Chair on its right side that was a bit shorter. It was removed in 1992, but Franz’s triple chair came up in the same place six years later in 1998.

In 1972, a new double Chair lift, Orange Chair, ran from the top of the Creekside Gondola up to the Roundhouse until 2009. In 1978, the Red Chair got a little brother called Little Red Chair on its right side that was a bit shorter. It was removed in 1992, but Franz’s triple chair came up in the same place six years later in 1998.

9: The Whistler Village Gondola and its early sisters

When Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980, Whistler Mountain directly responded by building the Village Chair as well as developing a whole new network of runs on its northern flank. A 10 Person Village Gondola renewed the Village Chair in 1988. All towers and the complete structure remained in the same location until today, only the cars were replaced in 2014 by new 8 passenger cabins.

When Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980, Whistler Mountain directly responded by building the Village Chair as well as developing a whole new network of runs on its northern flank. A 10 Person Village Gondola renewed the Village Chair in 1988. All towers and the complete structure remained in the same location until today, only the cars were replaced in 2014 by new 8 passenger cabins.

10 & 11: Developing the Olympic Chair

In 1980, Whistler Mountain also built the Olympic Chair and the Black Chair to develop the new network of runs on its northern flank. The Olympic Chair was shortened nine years later where it remains since then. Removed in 1999, the Black Chair covered the area from the top of Olympic Chair up to Roundhouse for 19 years.

In 1980, Whistler Mountain also built the Olympic Chair and the Black Chair to develop the new network of runs on its northern flank. The Olympic Chair was shortened nine years later where it remains since then. Removed in 1999, the Black Chair covered the area from the top of Olympic Chair up to Roundhouse for 19 years.

12: Reaching out to Whistler Peak

One year after Blackcomb had installed its Alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar to become North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift, called Peak Chair. In 1998, one year after the merge of Whistler and Blackcomb, a new quad Peak Express that is still in use today replaced the 12 years old 3-person Peak Chair.

One year after Blackcomb had installed its Alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar to become North Americas only “Mile High Mountain”, Whistler Mountain responded with a high alpine triple Chair lift, called Peak Chair. In 1998, one year after the merge of Whistler and Blackcomb, a new quad Peak Express that is still in use today replaced the 12 years old 3-person Peak Chair.

13, 14, 15 & 16: First chairlifts on Blackcomb

Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980 with 5 chairs, including Fitzsimmons, a triple chair that ran from the Village to Base 2, replaced by today’s Excalibur Gondola in 1994. Skidder was located were the current Tube Park area is. Cruiser, a triple Chair, covered the second section of today’s Excalibur Gondola. Cat Skinner still runs today. Choker was replaced in 1994 by the quad Excelerator Express that is still in use today.

Blackcomb Mountain opened in winter 1980 with 5 chairs, including Fitzsimmons, a triple chair that ran from the Village to Base 2, replaced by today’s Excalibur Gondola in 1994. Skidder was located were the current Tube Park area is. Cruiser, a triple Chair, covered the second section of today’s Excalibur Gondola. Cat Skinner still runs today. Choker was replaced in 1994 by the quad Excelerator Express that is still in use today.

17: History of Jersey Cream

Only two winters after opening the mountain, Blackcomb established Jersey Cream a 2 person chair in 1982. I was replaced by the current quad version in 1989.

Only two winters after opening the mountain, Blackcomb established Jersey Cream a 2 person chair in 1982. I was replaced by the current quad version in 1989.

18: Up to 7th Heaven

When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it opened up a new area offering immense above tree line skiing including four powder bowls and wide open glacier skiing. To keep up with Whistlers Peak Chair, Blackcomb removed the old 7th Heaven T-Bar and has build a new 7th Heaven Express, a 4 person Chair, running along a complete new and longer lift line, that is still in use today.

When Blackcomb installed its alpine 7th Heaven T-Bar in 1985 it opened up a new area offering immense above tree line skiing including four powder bowls and wide open glacier skiing. To keep up with Whistlers Peak Chair, Blackcomb removed the old 7th Heaven T-Bar and has build a new 7th Heaven Express, a 4 person Chair, running along a complete new and longer lift line, that is still in use today.

19: History of the Magic Chair

In 1987, a skiers learning area for beginners on Blackcomb was accessible by the Magic Chair, which has been replaced by the current triple Chair version in 1994.

In 1987, a skiers learning area for beginners on Blackcomb was accessible by the Magic Chair, which has been replaced by the current triple Chair version in 1994.

20: Opening the Harmony Bowl

With the new Harmony Express quad Chair Whistler Mountain has been offering a new terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl and down to the Peak Express since 1995. This area now known as the Harmony Zone provides a wide variety of beginner to expert terrain. In 2014, a high-speed six person chair lift replaced the quad chair to dramatically improve the uphill capacity by 50 percent. The old quad chairs were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express.

With the new Harmony Express quad Chair Whistler Mountain has been offering a new terrain spanning from the edge of the Symphony Amphitheatre all the way over to Glacier Bowl and down to the Peak Express since 1995. This area now known as the Harmony Zone provides a wide variety of beginner to expert terrain. In 2014, a high-speed six person chair lift replaced the quad chair to dramatically improve the uphill capacity by 50 percent. The old quad chairs were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express.

21: Preparing the way to the Glacier

Since 1987, skiing on the Horstman glacier, named after Henry Horstman who arrived in the valley in the year 1913, is possible with the same-named T-Bar that is still operating. Additionally, faster mountain access directly from the Blackcomb Base combined with new runs has been provided by the currently running high-speed quad chairs Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express Chair lifts. Only two years later Blackcomb expanded further by implementing the new triple Crystal Chair lift and the Showcase T-Bar. Both T-Bars, Horstman and Showcase, doubled the summer glacier skiing capacity. Blackcomb came up with the current version of the Glacier quad chair in 1992. In 2013, the quad chairs of the former Harmony Express were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express which replaced the old Crystal Chair. The new chair follows a longer lift line which increased the capacity to the Crystal Zone.

Since 1987, skiing on the Horstman glacier, named after Henry Horstman who arrived in the valley in the year 1913, is possible with the same-named T-Bar that is still operating. Additionally, faster mountain access directly from the Blackcomb Base combined with new runs has been provided by the currently running high-speed quad chairs Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express Chair lifts. Only two years later Blackcomb expanded further by implementing the new triple Crystal Chair lift and the Showcase T-Bar. Both T-Bars, Horstman and Showcase, doubled the summer glacier skiing capacity. Blackcomb came up with the current version of the Glacier quad chair in 1992. In 2013, the quad chairs of the former Harmony Express were re-used to build the Crystal Ridge Express which replaced the old Crystal Chair. The new chair follows a longer lift line which increased the capacity to the Crystal Zone.

Installation of Peak2Peak, Symphony, Fitzsimmons & Garbanzo

Shortly after modernizing the Whistler Peak access, two new quad Chair lifts, the Fitzsimmons Express and the Garbanzo Express, were installed to allow easier access from the Village up to the mid-station respective the Chic Pea Hut. In 2005, a new high-speed quad chairlift, today’s Symphony Express, was added on the Whistler side. It has provided a whole new beginner and intermediate terrain around Symphony Bowl and a closer access to the top of Flute Bowl. The new world class Peak2Peak Gondola opened in 2008. It provides visitors with double mountain access on a peak level. The gondola has the worldwide longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometers). With its 436 meters above the valley floor it is the highest lift of its kind.

Shortly after modernizing the Whistler Peak access, two new quad Chair lifts, the Fitzsimmons Express and the Garbanzo Express, were installed to allow easier access from the Village up to the mid-station respective the Chic Pea Hut.
In 2005, a new high-speed quad chairlift, today’s Symphony Express, was added on the Whistler side. It has provided a whole new beginner and intermediate terrain around Symphony Bowl and a closer access to the top of Flute Bowl.
The new world class Peak2Peak Gondola opened in 2008. It provides visitors with double mountain access on a peak level. The gondola has the worldwide longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometers). With its 436 meters above the valley floor it is the highest lift of its kind.

Many thanks go to Rod Nadeau and Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners Ltd. who helped gather information about Whistler’s lift history.