The Summit Deck of the new Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish is full of laughing and lounging visitors basking in the sun, enjoying a bite or a drink and generally feeling uplifted.
The tables on the upper deck are full of people sitting and talking. The odd pair, slightly tattered and sun-beaten from an excursion in the alpine, seek vacant seats where they can rest their legs. On the lower section, guests take in the view and pose for pictures against the backdrop of Howe Sound, the Tantalus Range, Goat Ridge and Sky Pilot. On these nice summer days, the Sea to Sky Gondola is a busy place. It's opening up a part of the world previously unknown and inaccessible to a majority of visitors to the region.
People from around the world are coming to see what it's about. Fabian Brusco and Ricardo Peres of Sao Paulo, Brazil are on a three-month trip to Canada. Today is the first time the pair has headed north of Vancouver. So far, they are pleased with their gondola experience. "It's amazing," says Peres. "They chose the perfect spot for the view. You see such diverse landscapes. That's very different for us. Back in Brazil you have rainforest and beach, nice landscapes too, but here, the contrast is bigger."
Adds Brusco, "You can do everything the same day, like go to the beach and hike and ski."
The Brazilians are on a tour with friends, Ian Ross and Andrea Lyle whom they met in Vancouver. They'll go up Highway 99 to Pemberton, around Duffey Lake Road and back down the Fraser Valley.
"Sometimes you meet people who you know are going to appreciate what we have in our backyard," says Ross, who's acting as a tour guide for the group.
How it all began
In the spring of 2009, Trevor Dunn and David Greenfield spent many hours driving up and down the highway that the Brazilian tourists experienced for the first time.
Their mission found them thrashing in the undergrowth endeavouring to find a suitable location to build the now-operational Sea to Sky Gondola. The pair had previously worked together at Intrawest, a developer and operator of resorts. They left that company in 2008 and started their own business, Ground Effects Development Inc. While doing consulting work on a business plan for the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation they realized the potential for a project like the gondola.
Greenfield points to the competitive advantage in the natural beauty of Squamish as key to the plan.
"There was a real discrepancy between that fact that you've got the Chief, Shannon Falls and Howe Sound and the fact that Squamish is sort of totally almost unrecognized as a place to go to," he says.