Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, B.C. to Change the Chief

Eric Behn | ClimbingClimbing
Sea to Sky Gondola’s rendition of the top gondola terminal.

If you’ve ever driven the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler, you are probably familiar with the iconic Stawamus Chief. The 2200 foot high rock face, which over looks Squamish and Howe Sound providing some of the most beautiful natural views in Canada, is well known as a hiking, climbing, and outdoor recreation destination. Much like the popular Grouse Grind, the Chief combines a steep hike with an amazing reward and is part of a relatively undeveloped provincial park.

However, this is all about to change. By Summer of 2014, Sea to Sky Gondola will be operating an eight person gondola providing service up to the summit beside the Chief, a trip only accessible before by foot.

The gondola facilities will include a cafe, gift shop, parking, and bathrooms and will carry users on an eight-minute ride to the top terminal where they can access more hiking and recreation activities. The gondola will not carry users directly onto the Chief but instead will take them to the ridge between to the Chief and Shannon Falls.

The path of the Sea to Sky Gondola coming 2014.

Opposing views on the gondola have been voiced. Those supporting the gondola believe in the economic opportunities while those opposed see it as both an issue with both cultural and environmental issues.

It is without doubt that the gondola will provide positive economic benefits to nearby Squamish, attracting workers for assembly as well as some long lasting employment opportunities for positions operating the gondola, as retail associates in the gift shop or in the cafe. The gondola will likely help to put Squamish on the map as a tourist destination, as currently it’s attractions are best suited for those equipped and able to execute the hike or climb to the top of the Chief, it will provide a less physically demanding option to tourists.

However, this is one reason critics oppose the gondola. Mike Schauch, a local climber and founder of Climb for Change believes that a gondola could cause for tourists appreciation to deteriorate as the view at the top of this lookout will be achieved more easily. Schauch relates the situation to a gondola trip he took in the Suisse Alps remembering tourists “wearing high heels, or carrying little pink purses, others lighting up cigarettes or grossly overweight” standing atop the mountain, snapping pictures, looking for a few moments and riding back down.

Concerns surrounding the environmental impact are also being heard. The gondola will pass though the otherwise relatively undeveloped park and will likely disturb wildlife in the area. Luckily, the gondola will occupy a relatively small area in the park, and so long that the trees beneath it do not get too high, the forrest floor below should rejuvenate as time passes.

But anyone who has stood atop the Chief knows the great accomplishment the hike or climb brings, and the appreciation for the beautiful view that follows. It leaves us to wonder how the gondola will change that experience.

Does the B.C.’s West Coast really need another gondola?

Whistler is home to the Peak to Peak gondola, while Grouse Mountain in Vancouver is also home to the Skyride gondola. Is possible that these two options are enough to detract customers away from the new Sea to Sky Gondola? Though the Chief is currently a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, many believe it is due to the natural beauty and hike or climb which make for a great day-trip to Squamish and allow them to escape the bustle of the city and atmosphere of a ski town.

The view of Howe Sound from the Stawamus Chief.

Squamish claims to be “Canada’s Recreation Capital” and is home to some of the worlds greatest cycling, windsurfing, climbing and hiking. But will a gondola company placing cafe and gift shop next to one of Canada’s most memorable natural wonders really expand that reputation?

Only time will tell.

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