The creators of a $25 million tourist gondola to a ridge between Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls provincial parks are hoping for a March construction start date on the project, with a planned opening in May 2014.
David Greenfield, one of the two main principles of Sea to Sky Gondola Corp., on Friday (Jan. 4) said the gondola proponents are busy completing design work and getting set to apply for building permits from both the District of Squamish (DOS) and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
The gondola, which initially is to include 20, eight-passenger cabins along the cable tramway that will top out at 2,700 feet above sea level, is to be built by Swiss-Austrian consortium Doppelmayr Garaventa, the world's largest manufacturer of aerial tramways, Greenfield said.
“We're excited to finally get this thing started,” said Greenfield, who along with business partner Trevor Dunn first presented the idea to the community in July 2011.
The proposal then went through zoning approval from the DOS for the base area and the SLRD for the top station and trail network. A change to the Parks Act was required to remove a few acres from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park for the tramway pass-through, and issuance of a Park Use Permit to allow for construction.
“We're getting all the I's dotted and T's crossed as far as our park permit goes,” Greenfield said.
“I don't think anyone's actually done this before. We've got to do tree surveys to see how we need to do things as far as whether there are significant trees that have to be cut,” he said, adding that the level of detail required for that work is extensive.
“I think the fact that we're putting this through a protected area means that we're being held to a new and high standard — which is fine.”
Greenfield said the actual construction start date depends to a large degree on the weather, but the proponents are hoping to get going sometime in March. Because there's likely to be snow on the upper slopes for the next few months, actual construction will begin with the base area, with work on the top station beginning as soon as conditions allow, he said.
Once the gondola opens, the proponents have projected it will attract around 300,000 visitors per year and employ some 30 people. The proponents initially targeted late summer 2013 as a hoped-for opening date for the gondola, but pushing it back to spring 2014 “gives us an opportunity to do a bit more pre-marketing and to attract that visitation,” Greenfield said.
He estimated the project will cost around $25 million to build. That compares to $51 million for construction of Whistler's record-setting Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which opened in December 2008.
The choice of Doppelmayr Garaventa for the actual lift system was an obvious one, Greenfield said.
“They're a big company but it's still more or less family run,” he said. “They've made quite a name for themselves and there's not many places in the world that don't have at least one Doppelmayr lift.”
The tramway will include 20 passenger cabins initially with the option of increasing the number of cabins if and when the demand increases, Greenfield said.
“We're designing it to accommodate more as the business ramps up,” he said. “Because it's a detachable lift, you can actually add cars to increase capacity when you need to.”