This post is inspired by an image Gordo Montgomery found on Flickr showing the Gondola and Base Lodge under construction, from the air in 1966. Also this one of Whistler Village in the early 60’s.
It’s Whistlers 50th anniversary as a ski hill this year. Which is kind of crazy when you think about it. There is the Company Line that the marketing arm has posted to promote the milestone. It’s all very impressive, reading the History section on their website, I moved there about the middle of the third paragraph and was gone by the start of the fourth. Those were some pretty epic years, before it got all stupid busy and out of hand and Olympicy. Despite the spectacle it has become, It’s an amazing place to visit and I still feel some sort of connection to the place. Back in the day, it was just ridiculous amounts of fun for a 22 year old aspiring ski bum.
I had been at a costume party in Coquitlam on Halloween Night when it started snowing in the City. That night Whistler got a 3 foot dump to the Valley and it was game on. Two days later I got the call to come to work, four days and I had moved to Whistler, a day and a half of training and it was Opening Day. The 6th of November was one of their earliest openings ever and if you were brave (or had sacrificial rock skis) you could ski top to bottom.
The year I started it was 1984 which, to great fanfare, was Whistler Mountains 20th year of existence. Whistler Mtn. / Garibaldi Lift Co. had recently become the WMSC and made it the central pillar of their marketing strategy. The North Side lifts were three years old, Blackcomb was four with no 7th heaven or high speed lifts yet and we still called Creekside the Gondola Base. Due to the ’82 recession, The Village was only half finished and had long sections of hoarding concealing the mothballed foundations from pedestrians eyes. The Listel Hotel, and Crystal Lodge were open holes full of concrete and rebar and there was an epic staircase to get from the Longhorn to Stumps in the basement of the Delta. Favorite bars were Dustys, The Beauvallon, Club 10, The Boot Pub and Hoz’s to name but a few. Local drink specials and shooters were all the rage, Two for One Thursdays at Beavallon, Beat the Clock at Stumps and Dustys had Natcho’s on Margarhita Wednesdays (and every other day of the week…). We did have to eat occasionally… You get the picture.
After a short stint as Lifty on the Olive Chair, where I acquired my nickname, I became a Gondolier in the Valley Gondola Barn. I was part of a four person crew pulling a 10 hour shift, four on three off, 7 till 5:30. In the morning we would rack out the Gondola cabins and load the line as we sent staff up the hill to work. After loading Public all day and catching the outgoing staff on their way home, we would then take the cars off the line and park them in the racks for the night. Payday was every second Thursday, they handed out the cheques there as everyone that worked on the mountain came through the Gondy barn at one time or another. 5:30 rolled around, get changed in the locker room then a short walk across to the ticket windows to receive your entire paycheck in cash. Into the day lodge, cut through Willys and you’re into Dustys for the thick of apres ski.
It wasn’t all about the boozing either. We worked hard and played harder. Embracing the Lifty Life meant shredding every day, whether at work or on days off. Ski breaks on my lift were 45 minutes so I became proficient at getting three Gondola Runs from Midstation a day on my one break. To save time, I’d gear up on the trip up the lift, usually in my own cabin. A 13 minute ride up + 2 minute ski down x 3 runs = 45 minute ski break. Days off were all about shredding with my new ski Bros and Sisters, chasing the rapidly disappearing powder after a dump, finding hidden lines in between the groomers and occasionally hiking to the Peak. Thanks again Gordo!
The official Birthday was in February I think. I was on the winning team in the Gondola stuffing contest, simply because I went on every team. Something like 22 people. It’s a bit of a blur…
It’s hard to express how much fun that all was.
To be continued…