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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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This summer, there were a number of rescues involving lost or injured hikers as well as two deaths ­— both of which occurred on Sky Pilot. On Sept. 13 one man who accessed the mountain by driving up a forest service road slipped and fell in the glacier. On July 5, a man who had taken the gondola fell from higher up on the mountain.

This summer, there were also incidents of lost hikers and a rescue involving raising an injured hiker up to a gondola car in order to evacuate them.

Like in all aspects of life and business in the corridor, things will change at the gondola come the winter. The operation will close for November and run on a limited schedule (Thursday through Sunday) from December through April. Winter activities are still in the works, but so far the list includes: walking on groomed trails, old-fashioned tubing, cozying up in the lodge and snowshoeing both on groomed trails and in the backcountry.

Greenfield says of the winter: "We've had a lot of anecdotal evidence that it's going to be used a lot, but we don't know. What we do know is that it can't be just a backcountry access. The market's not deep enough to do that alone. So we're trying to broaden the product."

The winter also brings the additional concerns of incidents requiring rescue — with darkness falling earlier, and colder temperatures the norm, rescue can take on a whole new urgency.

Putting Squamish on the map

Will the Sea to Sky Gondola elevate the town of Squamish to become the renowned tourism destination that it yearns to be?

Only time will tell if this is the project that will ultimately signal Squamish's transition to a tourist destination, but it seems like things are off to a strong start. It has just been nominated for the Brewster Travel Canada Innovator of the Year Award.

Dunn is reserved about financial and ridership numbers, but earlier this season he said: "We had forecast between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors (for the year) and we're on track. We think we'll do better than that by 30 to 40 per cent."

While these figures may seem high, there are 9.5 million people who drive the Sea to Sky Highway every year and 60 per cent of them are sightseeing. The gondola is located right between two of the region's most popular attractions, Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief provincial parks, which collectively get 650,000 visitors a year.

Indeed Squamish has been attracting a growing number of visitors since the highway was upgraded in 2010 thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.