Gondola raises different points of view 

Whistler-Blackcomb embarks on community consultation

Heads were craned upwards this week as Whistlerites tried to imagine a record-setting gondola stretching high in the sky from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain.

Bryce Leigh, a director for the Whistler section of the Alpine Club of Canada, was also trying to picture how the proposed Peak to Peak Gondola could impact one of Whistler’s landmark views – the view between the two mountains with Fissile Mountain in the background.

"While it may not affect your actual physical activity out there, it’ll still impact on people in the village seeing… a man-made structure or a mechanical structure in that view," he said. "Any time you lose the natural view it’s a concern."

Whistler-Blackcomb’s Senior Vice President, Operations Doug Forseth, said the company is aware of those concerns. He said he has pieces of pipe on his desk the size of the gondola’s track rope.

"They’re smaller than my forearm," he said.

He also cautioned that the gondola would hang more than four kilometres above the village, which would make seeing a cable that size very difficult. The gondola cars, however, may be visible.

Twenty-six in total will run back and forth, ferrying guests from the Roundhouse on one mountain to the Rendezvous on the other in about 10 minutes. Each car may have the capacity to hold 30 people.

"We have heard and understand the thought on the view and we’re working to prepare a description to help people develop an understanding of what really is happening," added Forseth.

More information will be available, he said, at the upcoming open house on the gondola.

Local environmentalist Al Whitney said though there are people who will lament the loss of the natural view, there will also be people who will think the addition of the gondola attraction improves the viewscape. He added that the gondola, with only four towers, does not pose any major environmental problems.

"I can’t foresee a large enough negative impact… to want to get out there and try to stop (it)," he said.

But along with concerns of the view are much larger issues about Whistler’s future with more Disneyland-type attractions.

"There is no reason why this project can’t be built and operated sustainably, especially by Whistler-Blackcomb who have the background knowledge and training to pull it off… so it looks like it just comes down to a matter of personal taste and how folks view Whistler," said another local environmentalist, Eckhard Zeidler. "Perhaps they could make the gondolas round with Mickey Mouse ears on the roof to complete the effect."

The Peak to Peak Gondola is a $40 million-$50 million venture. It would set three world records, including the longest stretch of free span at almost three km.

Whistler-Blackcomb is looking for a joint venture partner in the deal. The company hopes to have the gondola operational by the 2007-08 season.

The next few months will be filled with public consultation in the local community to gauge support and concerns for their project.

The Whistler section of the Alpine Club of Canada is one community group representing the interests of mountaineers. Leigh said the group in general promotes human powered, non-motorized backcountry travel. He said it’s a delicate balance when you encourage people to come to the resort to experience the natural environment via man-made structures.

"I think it’s a fine line when you try to bring people here to… display our natural splendour and the view and the natural resources we’ve got and then you add these things into it which ultimately detract from it," he said. "And so I think that’s a very fine balance and that’s something that’s really difficult to determine."

Still, on a positive note, he said the gondola could introduce the splendour of the mountains to new guests and give them a new appreciation of the natural environment and perhaps entice them to support preserving it as much as possible.

Whitney points to the success of the Peak Chair this summer, which for the first time ever, ferried sightseers to the top of the mountain for panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Whistler-Blackcomb has not released figures of how many guests took the ride up the chair this summer but Tabetha Boot, senior public relations officer, said it has been a success.

"From our perspective it’s been a great addition to our summer lineup," she said.

Whitney said that highlights that there is a desire for people to have those kinds of experiences.

More information on the proposed gondola will be presented at an open house on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Legends in Creekside.

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