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CairnGorm Mountain’s famous White Lady chairlift, made a brief re-appearance last week when it’s very first passenger found herself seated on the chair again after a lapse of 50 years.
Katriona McIntyre and her brother were the first two passengers on the first chair out on the mountain above Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands on 23rd December 1961. Katriona (now Crook) returned to the ski resort for the 50th anniversary. The resort had also invited over 70 of the resort’s ‘super seniors’ – snowsports season ticket holders aged 75 or over, many of whom are still skiing – to the reunion.
The White Lady chairlift, the first mechanised uplift on the mountain and reputed to be the world’s first detachable chairlift was inaugurated 50 years ago to the day. The trip to the top on the chairlift took 40 chilly minutes back in the 60s, a journey which now takes only six minutes in the funicular railway which replaced the chairlift exactly 10 years ago and which by coincidence clocked up its 100,000th journey today.
The chairlift seated two people per chair but riders ascended at a sideways angle of 90 degrees from the slope rather than facing the slopes as is commonly the case today and the chairlift support bar divided the two seats.
Guests at the event enjoyed a buffet with a contemporary twist on the traditional fare which bolstered skiing enthusiasts in the early years, including miniature Sheiling pies, fried (quails’) egg rolls and chips in newspaper pokes (the Christmas edition of the local paper, the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald of 1961). A double cake comprising two funicular coaches was cut by Chrissie Clyde whose late husband Bob Clyde was the first manager of the Cairngorm Chairlift Company and by intrepid pioneer of Scottish skiing, Myrtle Simpson.
Guests also had the opportunity to sample ‘White Lady’ wheat beer specially bottled in a limited commemorative edition by Cairngorm Brewery. The super seniors recorded their memories and stories of the early days on video and on the local radio station Moray Firth Radio who were broadcasting live from the mountain.
Commenting on the day, CairnGorm Mountain Chief Executive Ian Whitaker said:
“I would like to acknowledge the huge achievement of those who had the vision to install the first chair from the middle to the top of the mountain which heralded the arrival of European style skiing at CairnGorm and led to the development of the Strathspey area as a whole and its long standing association with winter sports. The passion for skiing and now also for snowboarding is as strong today as back in the early days. CairnGorm has seen its fair share of ups and downs from the huge numbers of skiers in the 70s and 80s to the very low numbers of the 90s just after the opening of the funicular. The past two seasons have seen a return to those very busy days and the atmosphere and snow conditions have been amazing. We are looking forward to having reason to make this a season of celebration.”
Mind your skis and queues a book of photographs of 50 years of snowsports at CairnGorm Mountain will be published in early 2012.
On 3rd March 2012 a celebratory Cairngorm 50 day will take place with a variety of snowsports events and competitions.