The Sea to Sky Gondola has plans to take visitors even higher above Squamish.
The development permit for the multi-million dollar addition of an elevated tree walk was approved by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District on Jan. 30, and announced by the company on Feb. 6. Next, the project will go through First Nations engagement, local and provincial government approvals.
“The elevated tree walk we have envisioned and propose will make it easy for our guests of all ages and abilities to better connect to the great outdoors, regardless of the season and no matter the weather,” Kirby Brown, Sea to Sky Gondola general manager, said in a press release.
The 34-metre tall spiral structure will begin on the Panorama Trail, lead over wetlands and above treetops on Panorama Ridge with a 2.5-kilometre loop return. The walkway will be eight feet wide, with a grade varying between four and five degrees.
"You will be able to push a stroller up that quite easily,” Brown told The Chief. “Able upper-bodied people with wheelchairs will be able to ascend it without great difficulty. It's a little bit above the three degrees that you typically see, but again this is about adventure. It's meant to be a little more advanced.”
The company is also looking for accessibility partners for programming and accessible vehicles such as the TrailRider, which helps people to cross many kinds of terrain not suitable for a wheelchair or walker.
The Panorama Trail's Stawamus Chief overlook structure will remain, while the trail will be re-graded in anticipation of more visitors. Educational features are being designed to add to the trail.
On the new elevated walkway, self-guided educational materials may be added to the area stretching over the wetlands, the base, and summit of the spiral structure.
“The tree walk will preserve, connect and enhance access to natural areas while protecting environmentally sensitive areas,” Brown said in the release, adding that the tenure is not only on Squamish Nation territory but considered a sacred space for the Nation.
“We are also confident this new experience will bolster Squamish’s recreation economy by providing accessibility to nature for visitors of all abilities, as well as enhancing the tourism activities Squamish has to offer in off-peak times and during inclement weather,” Brown said. “Our goal is to ultimately create another unique and spectacular year-round visitor experience.”
Sea to Sky Gondola promotional video
Since the gondola opened in 2014, Brown said the company has taken feedback from its visitors and staff into account, including accessibility and the desire for more trails.
"It's the ease at which those who currently wouldn't be able to access that area find themselves in this beautiful space that really compelled us to do a project like this."
The elevated walkway project will be the second major infrastructure addition to the Sea to Sky Gondola. The company will also invest more than $2 million to convert from diesel-generated power to BC Hydro, once proper permits are approved.
"Which significantly reduces our carbon footprint," Brown said. "It's a point of pride for us, because to turn off the diesel generators by next fall will be an enormous step forward for us as a business. We have a value around respecting nature and the environment. Being able to not burn that kind of diesel every year just to keep the summit electrified will be a huge breath of fresh air — pun intended."
The tree walk is expected to open in spring 2020, with construction beginning in late 2019.