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Museum Musings: Whistler’s original park-and-ride

'When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966, the only lifts up the mountain began at the gondola base in today’s Creekside...'
Concrete forms piled up on the Olympic Parking Lot.

When speaking with skiers who skied Whistler Mountain in the 1960s and ’70s, we often hear stories about skiing down to the dump where Whistler Village sits today. When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966, the only lifts up the mountain began at the gondola base in today’s Creekside, and there were no runs heading down the north side. With the addition of lifts such as the Blue Chair (1966) and Green Chair (1968), new runs were cut leading to the dump area, but no new lifts were installed north of the gondola area; instead, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. built the Olympic Parking Lot.

The Olympic Parking Lot got its name from the Olympic Run, the “easy way” skiers could take down to the valley (the Olympic Run still forms part of the ski-out today). The Garibaldi Olympic Development Association, which had close ties to the lift company, worked on bids for multiple Olympic Winter Games, and the Olympic Run ended at the proposed site for the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Villages. By the 1970s, Garibaldi Lifts was actively promoting the parking lot located there, in part to ease traffic and parking further south down the highway. For skiers, however, skiing down the Olympic Run and using the parking lot required a bit more forethought.

In 1972, the lift company urged skiers to check the Information Booth for the schedule of the free bus running between the bottom of Olympic Run and the gondola base, and to “be sure to allow in sufficient time to catch the last Olympic bus” so they were not stranded at the end of the day if the ski-out took longer than expected.

Garibaldi Lifts also encouraged skiers, particularly those staying or living north of the gondola area, to leave their cars at the Olympic Parking Lot and catch the morning bus to the lifts, thereby avoiding the lineups for the afternoon buses.

In the spring of 1974, the lift company again promoted its free Olympic Parking Lot in a letter to customers published in Garibaldi’s Whistler News.

“At the Olympic Parking Lot, your car will be safe, off the highway and you will avoid problems with the highway authorities,” it stated. “Also, you will not be held responsible for causing traffic jams on the highway, or an accident in the case of illegally parked cars.”

From the letter, it would appear parking around the gondola area was a problem, and the lift company had most likely been contacted by the highway authorities.

While the Olympic Parking Lot was convenient for those skiing on weekends, weekday skiers still had to get themselves to the gondola area as the lift company’s bus only ran on weekends.  Janet Love Morrison first visited Whistler Mountain on a class trip in the early 1970s, and recalled Lower Olympic Run was only open on the weekend because of this. She and some classmates decided to rebel by skiing down the run anyway, and had to rely on a passing tow-truck driver to get them back to their bus by the gondola before it left for Port Coquitlam.

By the end of the 1970s, the Olympic Parking Lot and the dump was replaced by the early construction of Whistler Village. In 1980, Whistler Mountain opened its first lifts from the Village, including the Olympic Chair connecting the Village Chair and the Black Chair.