High atop the Sea to Sky Gondola, the hills are alive with the sound of … backhoes? With less than three weeks to go until its 2014 opening, dozens of construction workers are digging, drilling and hammering final touches into place.
Just off the Sea to Sky Highway in Squamish, B.C. – the self-proclaimed Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada – the 2,135-metre-long lift climbs the Sky Pilot massif in spectacular fashion. There is wining and dining in its Summit Lodge; a tidy network of alpine walking trails; and a 90-metre-long suspension footbridge. From the enormous sunset-facing patio, one of three panoramic viewing platforms, I gaze up at Sky Pilot Mountain’s horn-shaped peak as it tears clouds to shreds, while Howe Sound glitters in the forested fjord nearly a kilometre below. It’s enough to make even Tyroleans envious.
That’s two Austrian references already, and for good reason: The $22-million facility was inspired by the gondola stations common in the Alps, says general manager and founding partner Jayson Faulkner. These were built “not for skiing, but for access,” he says. “That’s very rare in Canada, which is kind of crazy. We have all this amazing wilderness, and we have first-world infrastructure – highways, roads and the rest of it – yet access is fairly limited.”
First proposed in 2011, the gondola required approval from four different sources, as it occupies municipal, Crown and First Nations land, and runs through Shannon Falls Provincial Park. After much local consulting over the nature and purpose of the project – and considerable controversy over mistaken perceptions that it would run up the Stawamus Chief, the iconic granite dome that looms over Squamish – construction began in March of 2013.
It all came together with “remarkable” speed, Faulkner says, because locals clamoured for something more than another roadside attraction. They are an active, outdoorsy bunch, as evidenced by the wide array of diversions – rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, kite boarding and so on – that gives the town its motto.
The gondola, in turn, is about more than sunset cocktails and nuptial photo shoots. “All those superkeen backcountry hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers see this as providing extraordinary accessibility to what is otherwise inaccessible,” Faulkner says, gesturing toward the densely forested mountainsides. “About nine million people drive the Sea to Sky Highway each year, and more than 70 per cent of them do it for the express intent of an outdoor wilderness experience. That is unique in North America, and we are here to cater to it.”
Read the rest of the story in The Globe and Mail.
WHERE TO STAY
Squamish is about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, and is therefore less than an hour’s drive from both the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel and the Delta Whistler Village Suites. Marriott Rewards members qualify for rates that are up to 5 per cent off the best available rate when booking online, and if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking Marriott will match it and knock another 25 per cent off your stay.