Posted by: Feet Banks
Time passes slowly up here in the mountains (and we like it that way) but there are big changes on the horizon for the Whistler Village Gondola. For the 2014-15 ski season Whistler’s only Village-to-alpine-direct lift will feature all-new, super-duper gondola cabins that will seat 8 people comfortably with their skis and snowboards firmly stored outside the cabin.
Time Travel: Whistler Village Gondy in 1992 (Whistler Museum/Whistler Question Collection), in 2013 and a rendering of next winter.
The upgrade is a long-awaited step into the future as Whistler’s more modern gondolas at Whistler Creekside or Blackcomb’s Excalibur already offer a much comfier ride, but there is some part of me that will miss the old “Village Gondy,” perhaps because I remember when they built it.
I was in seventh grade in 1988, and Myrtle Phillip Elementary School was right across from Whistler Village, about where Hy’s Steakhouse is now. That autumn we could watch from the classroom windows as the biggest helicopters anyone had ever seen hoisted the Village Gondola towers into place. The whup-whupping drone of spinning rotors didn’t seem to affect anyone’s concentrations as much as the excitement of knowing that what used to take three cold, slow chairlift rides would now be an epic straight-shot — bottom to top, one line up.
When opening day came along Whistler threw a huge party in the Village with free concerts on multiple stages. That sort of thing is expected these days but in 1988, to a 12-year-old kid, that shindig cemented my view that this was the coolest place on earth, Paradise City.
They called it a ten-person gondola at first, and we fit ten kids in on opening day but very quickly Whistler figured out that with everyone’s gear cramming any more than 7-8 people into those high, half-seat cabins felt sardine-can tight. But we loved it anyhow and the close quarters were great for meeting people — I met my first Hollywood movie director in the Whistler Village Gondola, and more than a few of my ski idols. I remember one time basically elbowing my buddy out of the way to grease my way into a nearly full gondola so I could ride 28 uninterrupted minutes with a girl I liked who would come up every weekend from Vancouver to race with the ski club.
That may be the thing the Village Gondola will be best remembered for: it had a knack for creating romance. More than a few eventual marriages began within the glass walls of those cabins, and probably a few eventual children too. For us grade seven kids, however, it was like a futuristic transport machine that would whisk us up to a powdery candy land of marshmallow pillows and untouched vanilla icing snow bowls. There were a lot less people in town back then, so the mountains seemed twice as enormous (plus I was less than 5 feet tall so even the tamest jumps, side-hits and rollers felt massive).
A few months after the new gondy opened local skier Rob Boyd won the 1989 World Cup Downhill right here at home and Whistler went bonkers. The Village surged with more people than I had ever seen in one place before. It was such a party that a bunch of us kids ditched our parents and went for dinner by ourselves at the Cactus Grill, a Mexican joint in what is now 21 Steps. They had actual twelve-foot high cacti in there and I remember sitting around the table recounting “true” stories about hapless people who bought cactus only to find them bulging with baby tarantulas a few months later, their homes suddenly infested. We knew we’d be safe in Whistler though, just open a window and let the cold mountain air exterminate the beasts.
It’s funny what you remember from childhood and it’s a safe bet what you remember is different than the way it really was, but that new Village Gondola really did revolutionize Whistler Village. It also blazed a trail for everything from Exalibur Gondola up Blackcomb to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park to some of the biggest hotels in town. And of course, without the Village Gondola there would be no Garibaldi Lift Company, the greatest summer-winter après spot on the planet.
Yes, those old, resin-slicked “ten-person” gondola cabins have served us well these past 26 years, but it will sure be incredible to actually be able to sit down in the new ones. So this winter when you’re riding the Village Gondy make sure to throw up a fist for history, then high five the person next to you for the future.