When Doug Brubacher rides the Sea to Sky Gondola this upcoming Valentine’s Day, it will be for the 1,318th time.
But it won’t be just another ride for Brubacher, who’s been getting on the lift just about every weekday for years. This will be a special occasion.
“It’s relief. Excitement. Satisfaction. All those really cool things. Just knowing that it’s coming back together again because it was so devastating and so hard,” said Brubacher, remembering the effects of the gondola’s closure.
“We had gotten to know all the staff here, and so it was hard on us but it was even harder on them. So it’s been a long time coming.”
Back in August, the gondola was shut down after a saboteur cut the cable, causing some of the cabins to fall to the ground. RCMP have been investigating the matter ever since, and a suspect has yet to be identified.
The road back to reopening this Valentine’s Day has been long, but when it comes down to it, a new cable complete with 30 brand new cabins will be carrying visitors up the lift on Friday.
Standing next to the lift on Feb. 10, Brubacher is flanked by cabins that are still covered in white packaging. Gondola staff say they’ve left it on to keep them looking brand new for opening day.
The familiar whirl of machinery is once again vibrating in the air. After their 8,240-kilometre journey from Switzerland, empty cabins are now hovering above steep rock faces overlooking Howe Sound.
For Brubacher, the gondola has been a gateway into a world that he otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
“It lets people like us who can no longer get into the backcountry go up there,” said Brubacher, who is retired.
“We ride it so much because it’s pretty special, and it lets us do things we couldn’t normally do. It lets us meet new people. Anybody who doesn’t understand why we ride it needs to ride it and then they’ll understand.”
Gondola staff say Brubacher, a musician, will be performing at the opening ceremony with notable Squamish acts such as Cam Salay and Will Ross.
The lead up to the reopening has been laced with emotion.
“You know there’s been a lot of memorable moments, I’d say... the support from the community has been overwhelming. That’s been incredible,” said Shawna Bernier, the assistant operations manager for the gondola.
“The other highlight has been how our team has pulled together…. It’s been very nice to see us get through this as a community.”
Bernier said that virtually everyone at the gondola has been taking on extra work to get ready.
Stepping into a gondola cabin, the fruits of that work are apparent.
The cabin passes three security monitoring towers beside the line, which marketing manager Haley Hardy later explained are part of the security upgrades to the area.
“What happened could never happen when the gondola is operational,” said Hardy. “We have sensors on the gondola that look for any imperfection in that cable, and if that happened it wouldn’t run.”
As the cabin hovers up over the trees, a view that has been glanced by few since August opens up.
Howe Sound becomes a giant sapphire pearl framed by the Tantalus Range. The Stawamus Chief towers over to the side, and, up in the distance, Sky Pilot, Co-Pilot and Goat Ridge loom overhead.
“I love this view, and I can’t wait to welcome the world back to it,” said Hardy as she looked out the window of the cabin.
“It feels like we’ve accomplished so much in the last six months.”
At the top of the gondola, snow blankets the area. It will soon be enlivened with an opening ceremony featuring, among others, Squamish’s mayor and the provincial minister of tourism. Crafts, food and beverage vendors will be available as well.
The trails have been neatly groomed, and all of them will be open to the public. Gondola staff say that the lack of foot traffic has made it hard to pack down the snow. As a result, some workers actually took it upon themselves to retread the area with their snowshoes.
The tube park will also be open, and down at the base, the barriers to the ever-popular Sea to Summit Trail will finally be removed.
Richard Bermudez, the food and beverage manager, speaks of the gondola being down and spending time trucking up and down the service road to access the summit.
He was part of the team that rushed the gondola’s perishable food to the food bank and Helping Hands after the cable was cut.
“It’s kind of heartwarming in a way that we were able to help people with Helping Hands as well,” said Bermudez.
He said he’s also been doing work with Cutting Barriers to help people in need get valuable job skills.
Back down at gondola’s basecamp, the cafe is filled with customers, including the silver-haired retiree with a bright grin.
“We will be standing here waiting to be let in line...hopefully near the front of the lineup,” said Brubacher.