News » Whistler

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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The FOSC collected over 1,000 signatures in support and directed concerns at Terry Lake, the B.C. minister of the environment, with whom the decision rested.

"The practice in the past with creating a new park, or adjusting it is boundaries, is to have an inclusive public process managed by BC Parks and that simply wasn't done," says Ourom.

"We were left with the impression that the minister of the environment overrode that and that BC Parks was not given any role in the discussion.

"I strongly object to taking land out of established existing parks, especially high-profile ones without a really comprehensive public process."

The developers could have built it outside the park, says Ourom, citing a location where Gonzales Creek crosses the highway up to a knoll northeast of Petgill Lake. He also expressed his disappointment with the TLC, which sold the parcel to the Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation for $2 million.

"As far as I'm concerned, they betrayed us, the public," says Ourom.

"Their instruction was to protect the park from development. They gave it to the developers, with the lamest restrictive covenant imaginable."

Safety first

By November of 2012, Sea to Sky Gondola had jumped through its final major administrative hoop. The developers received the "final signed" park-use permit from the Ministry of the Environment. From there, the principal group now consisting of five members with the addition of Michael Hutchison (president of Bethel Land Corp), Jason Faulkner (Whistler councillor and former co-owner of the Escape Route) and David Smith (former senior executive at RadiSys, a wireless tech company) were able to commence physical construction of the $25 million dollar venture.

In a project like this, which transports people up a 1,920-metre gondola ride to the summit — 885 metres above sea level — and provides access to the backcountry, safety concerns are omnipresent.

On February 4, 2013, a gondola car fell off during testing. No one was injured, as the car was empty. Greenfield cites an Arctic outflow (erratic winds) during testing, and calibration of the equipment as the cause.

"It appears that the gondola was gusted one direction, then the other direction, at the same time that the gondola was coming through a station (tower)," says Greenfield.

"Basically, the shiv assembly (part of the tower that connects the wheels with the rest of the tower) hit the arm (the part of the car that allows it to disconnect from the cable) and was pried off.

"That situation is very isolated and very specific and, to some degree, was also dictated by the fact that our adjustments on the sensors, that we were still fine tuning, weren't calibrated where they should have been for that particular occasion.