December 12, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

A feat of engineering 

The Peak 2 Peak sets records, challenges science

click to enlarge 1550peak.jpg

The numbers are staggering. And if you struggled with math in high school, the numbers are somewhat incomprehensible.

The diameter and the length of the cables, the span between the centre towers, the combined weight of the cables, cabins and passengers. Stripped down to its nuts and bolts, there’s no question that the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a feat of modern engineering.

When it opens on Friday, Dec. 12, the lift connecting the low alpine areas of Whistler and Blackcomb will set several records, like the longest span between lift towers — 3.024 kilometres — and the longest distance to the ground with gondola cabins more than 436 metres above Fitzsimmons Creek. A trip from station to station will take around 11 minutes.

Peak 2 Peak was built for several reasons, which continue to evolve as Whistler-Blackcomb realizes other ways the lift can be used.

“We felt that a connection of the mountains in the alpine was good for a couple of significant reasons,” said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations. “Starting with giving guests the ability to use the best part of the mountains easily without the download or ski-out scenario that involves skiing down and taking lift rides back up.

“When conditions are good that’s not a bad way to go, you get to ski down and get 4,000 vertical feet from the Roundhouse to the valley floor, and we have a couple of good ski-outs to make that interesting. But at this time of the year, or late season when the conditions aren’t as good, it’s not as much fun. Now, it’s an 11-minute trip back and forth to enjoy the best of both mountains.

“Also,” said Forseth, “Summer operations were a big part of the reason. It will enhance the summer sightseeing immensely and allow us to open Blackcomb again in the summer time. It expands options for people hiking and spreads them out over the alpine areas. People not as physically active will get views and perspectives they wouldn’t see from the Roundhouse.”

Those were the main reasons at the beginning, when the idea was first being discussed seriously about eight years ago. Over time the reasons have gotten a lot more specific, as people have pointed out ways that the gondola will benefit the resort. Everything from the expected impact of global warming on snow pack at lower elevations to the impact on traffic from the village on Sunday afternoons was taken into account.

“Our previous records show that about 12 per cent of people on any given day will ski both mountains, which is not a large number and it’s a testament to the fact that it’s not as easy to do,” said Forseth. “This way we’ll get a lot more crossover traffic, balance the utilization of the mountains, restaurant seats, on-mountain experiences. You’ll be able to easily access the Crystal Hut from Dusty’s, or if you’re on the south side of Whistler, coming up for the weekend, the fastest way to get up Blackcomb is to park at Creekside, take the gondola, Red chair and Peak 2 Peak. That will be better for traffic at the end of the day. The reasons go on and on.”

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