Tag: GMD Mueller

Need a lift?Need a lift?


When Whistler Mountain opened for skiing during the winter of 1965/66, it had four lifts (one gondola, one chairlift, and two T-bars), all supplied by GMD Mueller of Switzerland. The company of Gerhard Mueller also won the contract to install the gondola and chairlift and two of his employees arrived in the area in the early summer of 1965. This past spring, Ed Schum, one of those two employees, came into the Whistler Museum and sat down with Cliff Jennings and our director Brad Nichols to share his memories of constructing Whistler Mountain’s first gondola and Red Chair.

Ed had already been planning to come to Canada with a friend when he saw an ad in a newspaper for technicians who would go to Canada to install ski lifts. He and fifteen other people were hired by Mueller, who hadn’t officially received the contract to install the lifts at Whistler yet. They worked for Mueller for about a year and a half before four were chosen to go to Canada. Ed and another man named Walter were sent to Whistler Mountain while two others were sent to install a gondola in Quebec.

The original gondola on Whistler Mountain. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

According to Ed, he and Walter arrived in Vancouver in mid-June and were flown up to the Whistler area by Quadra Construction, who built the foundations for the lifts. Ed fell in love with the area during that flight and predicted that he wouldn’t be going back to Switzerland after the job was done. Upon arriving at Alta Lake, they found the Whistler Mountain site was pretty much as it had been described to them by Mueller: a nice parking lot where the gondola station would go and then, up the mountain a little bit, “it gets really rough.” The pair went back to Vancouver to buy a truck and some tools, met with Franz Wilhelmsen and a couple of other directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., and then drove back up the “highway” to start work while staying at Cypress Lodge.

There were pieces of tower all over the parking lot that they started assembling. They quickly discovered that the Swiss way of raising the towers wouldn’t work with the rough terrain and limited vehicle access (Ed estimated that it would take about eighteen months to put in the towers that way) and so Quadra Construction put them in touch with a pilot named Buzz at Okanagan Helicopters who had helped with the construction of the tower foundations. Together, they worked out the rigging needed and Buzz flew in the towers of the gondola and Red Chair. It took a day or two, a dozen sets of rigging, and “crews all over the place” to install over thirty towers for the two lifts, and Ed remembered that all of the flying was completed by his 24th birthday in early October.

Once the towers were installed, the gondola still required a cable and cars. A splicer came from a cable company in Vancouver to oversee the splicing of the Swiss cable, a process that required at least six people and very careful oversight. Both Ed and Cliff remembered an unexpected mishap when the heavy cable, still on its spool, broke the floor of the midstation, but the cable itself was unharmed. Additional workers were also hired to assemble the gondola cars, which were cheaper to transport in pieces.

The gondola still in use in December 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Ed recalled that Walter went home once the lifts were running while he stayed to ensure that they continued to run smoothly. After the first season, it was decided that the gondola was too low in some places and some of the towers needed to be raised, which Ed took part in. When Mueller opened an office in British Columbia, Ed went to work there but would occasionally return to Whistler Mountain for maintenance work, where he worked closely with Doug Mansell who was in charge of the lift operations. As he predicted on that first flight, Ed ended up staying in the province, although the place and occupation changed over the years. The lifts he built remained on Whistler Mountain until 1992, when both the gondola and the original Red Chair were replaced.

Gerhard Mueller: Designer of Whistler’s First LiftsGerhard Mueller: Designer of Whistler’s First Lifts


With the wet weather, frigid temperatures and winds that have come in the last two months, many of us out on the mountains have appreciated the temporary respite offered by the enclosed gondolas.  To show our appreciation, we’re offering some information on the man who designed the first lifts installed on Whistler Mountain, including the original four-person gondola.

Skiers load the original four-person gondola at the base of Whistler Mountain in the late 1960s.
Skiers load the original gondola at the base of Whistler Mountain in the late 1960s.

Gerhard Mueller was an early pioneer in the ski lift industry.  In the late 1920s, as mountain resorts in the Alps were still beginning to redefine themselves as winter resorts, Mueller was a 17-year-old mechanical engineering student who had grown tired of having to continuously climb up the slope in order to practice his skiing on the way down.

To address this issue Mueller built his (and Switzerland’s) first ski tow at St. Moritz using 1″ hemp rope and the engine from an old motorcycle.  This first rope tow was patented in 1932 and was later improved to address complaints of tired hands and arms.

After the end of World War II Mueller founded his own company, GMD Mueller, in 1947 and continued to design innovative lift systems, including the modern detachable chairlift.

A page from a 1965 GMD Mueller catalogue. Photo: chairlift.org/mueller.html
A page from a 1965 GMD Mueller catalogue. Photo: chairlift.org/mueller.html

In their 1965 catalogue GMD Mueller advertised their ski lift options, claiming that “The roomy 4-seater gondolas, the elegant double-chairs or the smooth springbox-type T-bars will make every ride, both short or long, comfortable and safe, and the good appearance of Mueller Lifts will make you a proud owner.”  In less than two decades they had come a long way from Mueller’s first rope tow.

In the early 1960s when Franz Wilhelmsen and Eric Beardmore, another Garibaldi Lift Ltd. director, visited Europe to study lift systems prior to choosing the systems to be used at Whistler, many chairlifts still had to be stopped both to load and to unload passengers.  The double chairlift designed by Mueller had patented detachable cable grips that detached the chairgrip from the hauling rope at both stations, allowing the hauling rope to continue to run while the chair was slowed for loading and unloading before being reattached to the hauling rope and launched.  This allowed for the creation of a four-person gondola.

When approached, Mueller confirmed that his designs could be adapted to fit the proposed locations on Whistler Mountain.  For the lower stage from the base at Creekside to Midstation, where warmer spring temperatures and wet weather prompted worries of wet clothing before skiers even reached their first run, Mueller proposed a 65-car four-person gondola carrying approximately 500 passengers per hour for a 13-minute ride.  This was to be followed by a double chairlift of 175 chairs carrying approximately 1200 passengers per hour.

The original Red Chair brought riders up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992.
The original Red Chair brought riders up to the Roundhouse from 1965 to 1992.

In 1965 four Mueller-designed ski lifts were installed on Whistler Mountain: the four-person gondola, the double chairlift that would become known as the Red Chair and two T-bars.  Mueller travelled to Whistler to oversee the construction and testing of the lifts and to conduct training sessions with lift staff.  GLC workers were also sent to Switzerland to be trained on the operation and maintenance of the lifts at the GMD Mueller factory.  Mueller was present for for the official opening of the lifts on January 15, 1966.

A seat from the original Red Chair sits in Florence Petersen Park.

Whistler Mountain was equipped exclusively with Mueller lifts for only two years.  In 1967 the Blue Chair was designed and installed by Murray-Latta Machine Co. Ltd., a Vancouver-based company.  The original gondola and Red Chair were retired in 1992, but both can still be found here at the museum, a lasting legacy of the designs of Gerhard Mueller.