Kevan Ridgway, president and CEO of Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism Region, believes the Sea to Sky Gondola “is probably the hottest new product to attract visitors to B.C.” If he’s right, this cutting-edge venture could not have arrived on our doorstep at a better time.
The Shining Valley has garnered an unenviable reputation as the Bermuda Triangle of recreational development. The Shannon Falls Resort and Spa never got past the glossy brochure stage. It was slated to be “a one-of-a-kind” venue “of unmatched quality in a spectacular setting.” The 176-acre Paradise Valley Resort and Equestrian Centre proposal was given third reading by district officials in October 2008. Four years and two council terms later, the project got final approval. By then it was too late. It was tangled in red tape and a fusillade of accusations and counter accusations. Remember the highly touted Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort? It had a catchy slogan advising customers not to get “too distracted by the view because you'll need to stay focused on your game.” From the day it opened in 2004, it was awash in red ink. Seven years later, weary investors consigned it to the swirling vortex of the porcelain throne.
By contrast, the Sea to Sky Gondola has become a classic case study in how to launch a successful business. It starts with a clearly enunciated vision: “Our belief in the future of the Sea to Sky region, access to formerly inaccessible terrain and spectacular scenery creates what we believe is a world-class attraction.” One succinct sentence says it all. There are no lengthy mission statements to weed through and no Business 101 gobbledygook. The project also comes with a highly informative website providing timely information about construction progress.
The Sea to Sky Gondola combines an experience similar to Grouse Mountain with the thrill factor of the Capilano Suspension Bridge and much more. The opening date is slated for this May. Season passes have been selling briskly. Wedding parties have already booked the venue in advance. Although there has been criticism, especially among environmentalists, the gondola has been unencumbered by endless focus group sessions, consultant studies, and the kind of disabling infighting associated with other big-ticket local start-ups.
What is emerging is the understanding that this $22 million, privately funded project has been a team effort, starting with the proponents who have delivered transparency and results in spades. To that level of resolve, we can add the DOS planning department, who helped expedite the project and provincial government officials, who opened the Stawamus Provincial Park to what Mountain Life magazine calls “one of Canada’s most anticipated attractions.”
Looking at the bigger local development picture, the Garibaldi at Squamish four-season resort proponents and the Squamish Oceanfront development group can learn some valuable lessons from this undertaking.