The wait to ride the world’s longest free-spanning gondola is almost over.
The first 12 cabins on the Peak 2 Peak gondola will make the 4.4 km journey between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains this morning (Sept. 19).
The official opening of Whistler-Blackcomb’s record-setting lift will be Dec. 12.
“I think what we have created here is a tourism icon for both Canada and British Columbia and something that will differentiate Whistler from our competition around the world,” Dave Brownlie, president and chief operating officer for Whistler-Blackcomb said Thursday as the cabins were loaded on the line.
“…It will absolutely change how people experience our mountains.
“People will have to come here. It will be a must do, must see experience and we are really looking forward to what this will do for not only Whistler-Blackcomb but British Columbia and Canada.”
The gondola will offer the greatest length of free span cable in the world — 3.02 kilometres between towers.
Of the 28 cabins, which each hold 28 people, two have glass bottomed viewing sections for those who want to stare into the abyss below. It will take 11 minutes to get from the Roundhouse on Whistler to the Rendezvous restaurant on Blackcomb, with cabins leaving the gondola barn every 49 seconds, traveling at a rate of 7.5 metres per second.
The Peak 2 Peak is also the highest lift of its kind above the ground — 436 metres above Fitzsimmons Creek.
While the new gondola, which can move 2,050 people an hour each way, is a functional addition to the mountain experience it will also be a thrill.
“It is going to feel like a ride,” said Barb Houghton, Park 2 Peak project manager.
“It’s not going to be ‘we’re just on the gondola.’”
The construction was not without its challenges she said. Over 4,500 cubic metres of concrete had to be trucked up the mountains to the construction sites, two existing lifts had to be moved, and the 100-ton wire rope spools had to be pulled and pushed by trucks filled with tons of rocks to get them to the top.
For Whistler Councillor Bob Lorriman the Peak 2 Peak gondola is an important addition to keep the resort top of mind for travellers.
“…Our goal is to be the premier mountain resort community and this diversifies the offering we have for guests,” he said, noting that year round Whistler’s average occupancy is 55 per cent.
“It will drive the incremental guest visitations and that is the business we are in, so I think that is a huge benefit for the community.”
And, said Lorriman, when three billion TV viewers tune in to watch the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games it’s likely the Peak 2 Peak will be featured.
“The Olympics will give the exposure and I think (the Peak 2 Peak) is one of the things that will help us leverage that experience for the next many years,” he said.