The Sea to Sky Gondola whirred back into action Friday, anticipating high crowds as snowflakes began to fall and Christmas events began.
Staff spoke excitedly about the new season, still basking in the glow of a successful summer that saw up to 4,000 people a day at the Sea to Sky Gondola. Since opening in May 2014, half a million people have been up the gondola, said general manager Kirby Brown.
On Friday morning, Brown welcomed a group of Vancouver-based media to the gondola, which he said whisks visitors up for a “pretty magnificent experience.”
He said the $25-million gondola, which opened in May 2014, aims “to make it easy to connect with the great outdoors.”
About 85 per cent of the visitors use only the two main, easiest trails, the Spirit Trail and the Panorama Trail, which include a suspension bridge and lookouts. Gondola staff are expanding the trail network but ensuring a “minimal footprint” on the natural setting, said Brown.
“We don’t pretend to be a green company… but we provide a way for people to connect with the natural environment.”
Brown quipped, “We’re a gateway drug for this outdoor experience,” a remark that drew laughter from visiting media.
The Spirit Trail is now decorated for Christmas with white cutout trees and hanging wooden frames that staff referred to as “selfie stations.” Red ribbons and lights adorn the trees.
The tubing park is also being set up again, in hopes that snow will grace its slopes for a longer period this year. The gondola will also allow visitors to snowshoe or cross-country ski, if snow conditions permit. Snowshoes will be available for rent and some gondola cabins will be equipped with ski racks. The facility is also offering seasonal events and dining experiences.
Kirby said the gondola has a “99.9999 per cent approval rating” from residents of Squamish, many of whom were initially opposed to the plan because they believed it would be on the Stawamus Chief. The new general manager, who took the job in May, said he has heard only two complaints about the gondola, and both were from people who had never been there and believed the gondola had been built on the Chief.
About 800 people streamed through the gondola’s lodge during the Locals’ Day event held before the closure for maintenance a month ago, Kirby said. Staff were surprised because it was a day plagued by heavy rain.
On Friday, one of the gondola enthusiasts had hiked up the entire 3,000-foot trail – something he has done as many as seven times a day for exercise. But he doesn’t represent the typical visitor, who goes up the gondola, enjoys one or both of the easiest trails, then enjoys lunch, coffee or a glass of wine in the Summit Lodge.
Brown said the gondola, lodge and suspension bridge are wheelchair-accessible, and staff aim to make as many of the facilities as accessible as possible. Many parents also push strollers along the trails.
“We will get there and be truly accessible,” the general manager said.
The gondola has become a busy place for private events, said sales and marketing director Christy Allen. About 17 Christmas parties are booked this month, and 27 weddings are already booked for 2016, even though the gondola does not yet advertise for weddings. Allen said the weddings have all been booked from word of mouth, and the viewing platform on the Panorama Trail has become a popular place for marriage proposals.
This past Saturday, despite rainy weather, the gondola experienced line-ups of families waiting to upload to visit Santa in the lodge.
The gondola is becoming so popular that the attraction may have to add extra cabins, said guide and patroller Arron Vickery. He noted there are currently 20 gondola cabins on the line, but it can accommodate up to 40 cabins.
Video on last year's tubing park -