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Looking up in Squamish

Locals wax poetic about upcoming Sea to Sky Gondola reopening.
Sea to Sky Gondola platform
At the Sea to Sky Gondola, in Squamish.

At long last, the Sea to Sky Gondola is reopening on June 11, and the reception from local stakeholders is nothing but optimistic.

The gondola's cable was cut for the second time in the early morning of Sept. 14, 2020.

As he told The Chief reporter Steven Chua in a June 3 story, gondola general manager Kirby Brown has overseen an overhaul of security measures at the attraction, most notably moving security teams in-house as opposed to using outside contractors. Local leaders are echoing his confidence.

"The Sea to Sky Gondola is a major attraction in our community that has provided incredible access to our region since it first opened in 2014, and one that is much loved and visited by both tourists and locals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors in a typical year," Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott said in a statement to The Chief.

 "The gondola also employs people in our community both in full-time and seasonal capacities. The gondola's reopening plan is contingent upon extensive security upgrades, 24/7 surveillance, and refined response capabilities with the Squamish RCMP, whose investigative efforts remain ongoing. While I will be most relieved once the perpetrator is caught, I have no doubt that the gondola team will ensure visitor safety at all times. This reopening is welcome news for people in our community whose jobs were affected by the pandemic or closure."

 For Squamish Chamber of Commerce executive director Louise Walker, the reopening couldn't come at a better time for the local business community.

"Pre-COVID, Squamish's tourism sector generated $95.2 million in visitor spending, supporting nearly 800 jobs.," Walker said. As our economy restarts — in line with the BC Restart Plan — the reopening of the Sea to Sky Gondola comes at a pivotal time in Squamish's pandemic recovery. I can't wait to get back up and look forward to congratulating Kirby and his team in person for their resilience and unwavering support for Squamish."

One of the most affected local companies is gondola affiliate Mountain Skills Academy Adventures (MSAA), which has had its Via Ferrata operation, as well as other tours, shut down for the duration of the gondola's closures, losing revenue from thousands of potential visitors.

"It's very impactful. It was painful. Very painful," said MSAA owner Eric Dumerac. A large part of their business relies on the movement of visitors up the gondola, but the reopening has Dumerac feeling positive about the tourism industry in Squamish in general.

"It's not just good for us, it's good for the rafting companies who work down in the valley. It's good for the mountain biking companies," he said. "I'm a big fan of front country development, for the first one or two kilometres. It's very important to have that access, and pristine wilderness after that. And that's exactly what the gondola offers."

The reopening will mean a fresh influx of mountain newbies and day-trippers into the alpine, as the backcountry opens up again to anyone with $59.95. But even rescue manager of Squamish Search and Rescue (SSAR) B.J. Chute is optimistic.

He stresses that SSAR is prepared for the inevitable uptick of search and rescue calls in the area due to the reopening, and that the gondola itself has been an ally in aiding their efforts.

"In the past, the gondola has gone above and beyond to assist us when we're working in that area, whether that be with us using the gondola to move people and equipment, or their staff integrating into the response to make a quicker, more efficient, safer response to the incident.

"We have absolutely zero concerns and are only excited to have the gondola back in our area and operational."

Chute affirms that there weren't any calls in the area surrounding the gondola while it was closed, and with the reopening, he wants to send a message to the public about the importance of preparedness, not only for gondola hikes but for all outdoor activities.  

 "I really do think there needs to be an onus on people to take an extra even 10 to 15 minutes to plan their adventure, so there are no surprises for them, of what time the sun goes down, what time the gondola closes, what kind of footwear they need for the hike they're going on, what kind of conditions they expect, how long they can expect, given their fitness levels, these various adventures to take."

He also says it's important to call 911 right away if you get into a dangerous situation, and that SSAR is a free volunteer-led group that will never charge for service. He recommends visiting either the SSAR or AdventureSmart website or Instagram accounts for information.