Vancouver visitors lured by British Columbia’s jaw-dropping
wilderness can now spare their calf muscles thanks to a new attraction opened 16 May.
A scenic 60km north of downtown, the Sea
to Sky Gondola zips nature-lovers 1,920m up the ridge leading to Mount
Habrich for some of the region’s most spectacular panoramas.
For years, the dramatic tree-and-peak-lined area – located
around the town of Squamish between Vancouver and Whistler on Highway 99 – has
appealed to steely rock climbers and tough backcountry hikers. But the new ski lift-style
ride takes all-comers straight into the heart of the wilderness.
The year-round attraction is the brainchild of
co-owner Trevor Dunn, who visited many scenic gondolas around the world before
deciding to build a Squamish version. Twenty two million Canadian dollars and a
five-year planning process later, and he said the town is ready for an influx
of new visitors.
“Squamish has always had a great reputation for
extreme outdoor activities like climbing, windsurfing and mountain biking, but
there wasn’t much for regular visitors who also like nature,” said Dunn, adding
that while a handful of locals initially resisted a wilderness gondola, the
vast majority were behind it.
Visitors hopping into the eight-person pea-green pods will
need little convincing. The steep, 10-minute ride shimmies over the forest
canopy and alongside the landmark Stawamus Chief, a 700m-high granite dome said
to be Canada’s largest monolith. Behind, North America’s southernmost fjord slowly unfurls, lapped by the glittering waters
of Howe Sound.
Up top, the wooden Summit Lodge – 885m above sea level
– makes the most of the vistas with a wrap-around deck overlooking the glacier-formed
panorama. Inside, a bar and cafeteria-style restaurant serves chunky seafood
chowder and a hoppy beer produced by local Howe
But plunging into the backcountry is the main reason
to pay the C$34.95 adult ticket price (alternatively, hikers can sweat a 6km
summit-bound trail and pay C$9.95 to take the lift back down). And while an
existing network of remote trails plus backcountry skiing and snowshoeing will
suddenly be more accessible, most visitors will head for the site’s two new routes.
Attached to the deck, a 110m wood-and-cable suspension
bridge gently sways over the trees, providing direct access to the new trails. The
first – an easy 400m loop through cedar, hemlock and Douglas Fir trees – is punctuated
with panels on local birdlife, from peregrine falcons to northern pygmy owls, as
well as the local plants traditionally used by the region’s Squamish First Nation
residents. The 1.6km second route takes you deeper into the forest, revealing a
slender viewing platform that angles from the cliff like a giant diving board.
According to Dunn, this dramatic, 360-degree viewpoint
will be the finale for most people. “We want visitors to see that nature is the
real star in BC – and that they can have easy access to it here.”