An Elevated Squamish 

The Sea to Sky Gondola — a project that battled to get off of the ground — is winding down its first season

click to flip through (9) PHOTOS COURTESY OF SEA TO SKY GONDOLA - An Elevated Squamish The Sea to Sky Gondola — a project that battled to get off of the ground — is winding down its first season.
  • Photos courtesy of Sea to Sky Gondola
  • An Elevated Squamish The Sea to Sky Gondola — a project that battled to get off of the ground — is winding down its first season.

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That got the pair thinking: "Wouldn't it be great to create some greater access to the Chief and the Falls?" And so, the idea of the gondola was born.

Finding an ideal location was the first in a series of struggles to build a reality from an idea. The duo had to assemble the necessary expertise, acquire the land (which spanned three different jurisdictions), reassure concerned Squamish residents that the visual impact wouldn't be an issue and that no gondola was going up the Chief. They also had to woo the local stakeholders, pugnacious advocacy groups and First Nations.

Once built, those challenges gave way to a whole new set of obstacles to overcome including ensuring guest safety, maintaining high service standards, securing sufficient parking and creating new ways to sell the experience with the arrival of winter — all while continually addressing the matter of sustaining long-term, economic viability.

History to build on

Gondolas aren't foreign in this part of the world. In 1904, an aerial tramway was installed at Britannia to connect the mines with the shipping dock at the beach. In the 1940s, logging operations in Squamish employed tram systems with passenger cars in order to cross the Squamish River. In 1950, The Riblet Tramway company built the "Chairlift to the Stars," a mile long, single-chair ski lift at Hollyburn Ridge in Cypress Provincial Park. In 1966 both Whistler and Grouse Mountain opened their aerial trams.

In 2004, Paul Mathews and Peter Alder put forth a proposal to build a gondola up the Chief. It didn't fly in large part due to the town's opposition to a commercial operation atop the iconic monolith.

The $53 million Peak 2 Peak gondola in Whistler had some 500,000 riders in 2013, five years after its opening, and the "Super Skyride" at Grouse Mountain sees more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

Dunn and Greenfield's original concept for a gondola was to connect the Squamish Oceanfront to the Papoose (a rock outcrop south of the existing base and west of the highway). But that was quickly abandoned, as it was fraught with logistical headaches, geotechnical complexities and it needed to cross a channel full of boat traffic and high-tension power lines. "That thing died a very quick death," says Greenfield.

Within a few months, the pair were back to finding a suitable location — not too far off of the highway, not spanning the high voltage lines, on acquirable property with flat land at the top and bottom upon which to build terminals.

They identified the existing site, and the difficulties then became acquiring the privately held land (at the base), securing access to the parkland (through which the gondola would run) and the crown land on which the top terminus would be built.

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