If you were asked to name Whistler’s first ski lift, you would be likely to answer the original Creekside Gondola, one of the t-bars, or the original two-person Red Chair.
You would also be wrong.
No, that distinction goes to a modest little rope tow, installed by the enterprising Alta Lake pioneer Dick Fairhurst in 1960, almost 6 years before Whistler Mountain opened for business. The rope tow ran under the power lines behind Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge on the west shore of Alta Lake (later used as a hostel and today home to The Point Artist-Run Centre). The rope tow ran for more than 800 feet. Powered by an old Ford V8 motor, it could pull four skiers up at a time.
Aside from the wonderful footage of the ski lift and skiers (though snow conditions appear to be sub-par), you also see a little Snow-cat machine that belonged to Dick. Dick was enamoured by snow machines of all sorts and would later become a dealer for Bombardier snowmobiles. He was also a founding member of the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club which still exists today, operating a club cabin on Brohm Ridge near Mount Garibaldi.
Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst’s slopes, early 1960s.
It may not be the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, but this humble little ski lift lays claim to a very special and under-appreciated honour as the first lift in the Whistler Valley. We’re extremely fortunate to have this short clip, another gem from the Petersen Family home video archive. Enjoy!
Nowadays you don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy the fantastic vistas that Whistler Blackcomb has to offer. Non-sliders are very welcome to enjoy the thrill of riding the lifts and, of course, the spectacular experience of the Peak to Peak gondola. The summer months are packed full of sightseers and hikers, but it is not uncommon in winter for people to ride the gondolas “on foot,” and there is even a special ticket price for this kind of sightseer.
Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980. Whistler Mountain Collection.
However, in the early days of Whistler Mountain, the “on foot” visitor had not been thought of. A middle-aged woman pioneered the concept in the 1960s. She arrived at the base of the Creekside gondola (the only gondola at that time) wearing her snow boots and a fur coat, and asked to purchase a return ticket. She took her place in the line-up and proceeded up the mountain to the dismay of the staff, who were quite taken aback by this passenger without skis. When she alighted from the gondola she calmly proceeded to the chair lift. The operators were extremely confused, but dutifully stopped the lift to allow her to sit down comfortably. Once the chair had started up they realized that disaster might be looming when the chair reached the ski-off ramp as the sightseer had no skis to ski-off with! They hurriedly called the top station operator so that he was forewarned, and he too stopped the lift so that the unorthodox rider could descend from her perch in comfort.
The woman was completely unruffled and she chatted amiably with the staff about how much she had enjoyed the ride, the beautiful mountain views, and watching all the skiers. She then enquired as to where the T-bar was located! The idea of the fur-clad woman skidding up the slope on her snow boots must have crossed the lift operator’s mind as he pointed towards the T-bar bowl. The woman blinked and said, “No, I mean the tea bar, I was told there was a tea bar up here and I would like a nice cup of tea!”
The T-bar – not what you might think. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection
Much laughter ensued from both the staff and the woman herself when the misunderstanding was revealed. In hindsight however, we must admire the woman as being ahead of her time. These days it’s perfectly normal to ride the lift without skis and enjoy a nice cup of tea in the Roundhouse.