When the Sea to Sky Gondola opened in 2014, the expectation was it would be a pit stop for visitors on the way to somewhere else.
Instead, it’s becoming a destination.
General manager Kirby Brown said the initial projection was that about 80 per cent of the visitors would be on their way to another destination, while 20 per cent would be coming specifically to Sea to Sky to ride up the gondola and take advantage of the trails. What they have found is that the 80/20 rule has been inverted, with most of the visitors making it their top stop, as people are discovering, in Brown’s words, the “pure, simple experience” to be had.
“The core product is come out to a beautiful place and do what you want to do,” he said.
The summer season ended on Sunday, Nov. 1, and there’s a one-month break before the winter season starts Dec. 4.
Brown said the operation made a few changes this summer such as adding more trails.
Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working, as a little over a month ago, the gondola hit the half-million mark for visitors, less than 18 months into operations.
The gondola also conducted a survey of its passholders that Brown said had an unusually strong response. Among the suggestions were more activities in the evening and the addition of more trails to the site.
One of the new trails, Alpine Alley, offers a mix of recreational and educational opportunities for children, as it combines elements of a scavenger hunt, learning about animals and recreation in the outdoors.
The operation is shutting down for its regular November break before opening up Dec. 4 for its second winter season. At present, the site is set up to be “100 per cent ready to go” for snowshoeing and the tube park will open as soon as the snow arrives.
Last year’s lack of snow might have curtailed some winter recreation activities, but the trails were still open for hiking, which means the site can take advantage of any weather.
“In this business, you plan around the things you can’t manage,” Brown said. “It shows we’re a little more flexible than a ski resort.”
With roughly 20 years in the ski business, including in Whistler, he should know. He started in tourism at age 13 by working as a tour guide in his native Lunenburg, N.S.
Offering a range of outdoor opportunities is just part of the plan. “Our plaza area at the top is really about snow play,” Brown said.
For some just “dipping their toe” into outdoor recreation – whether it is young children or new Canadians seeing snow for the first time – a trip up the gondola, as Brown suggests, might be the best way to show what the outdoors has to offer.
“This is a great gateway experience,” he said. “We make it easy for people to connect with the great outdoors.”