Story by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor
SQUAMISH, BRITISH COLUMBIA — I have driven past Squamish more than two-dozen times in my life. Although I have stopped to see Shannon Falls, a roadside attraction that is the third-highest waterfall in British Columbia, and to see the eagles that congregate in this area in world-record numbers each winter, I have never lingered here for long. That changed on Friday.
The newest attraction in the province is an epic one: A $22-million gondola that takes visitors soaring into the clouds to the state-of-the-art Summit Lodge. From here you can access the 110-metre-long (360 feet) Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge that leads to the Spirit Viewing Platform where your jaw will drop as far as your heart will soar at the sight.
The Sea to Sky Gondola, which opens to the public on May 16, is a feature intended to stop people in their tracks. It accomplishes its job. Built in this city halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, the gondola endeavours to boost tourism in Squamish, nicknamed the Outdoor Capital of Canada because of its plethora of activities that include scuba diving, snorkelling, rock climbing, mountain biking, wind surfing and white-water rafting. The ride ascends between Shannon Falls Provincial Park and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, and will provide access to backcountry areas sought by adventure seekers but once considered of reach.
Jayson Faulkner, vice president and a founding partner of the project, says he “believes the Sea to Sky Gondola will change everything.” Faulkner and his business partners have overcome many challenges, namely criticisms from environmentalists, and have won the enthusiastic support of the local Squamish First Nations communities, who have existed along this coastal corridor for centuries.
A Top-Notch New Gondola Ride Near Vancouver
Named after the Sea to Sky Highway (aka Highway 99), the gondola runs on a steep incline lifting visitors 885 metres (2,903 feet) up the face of Mount Habrich and will be open year round. At the Summit Lodge, visitors will find a self-serve restaurant and tea cafe where you can relax while enjoying meals made from locally sourced ingredients. From the bar you can quench your thirst with refreshing locally craft beers such as Sky Pilot from Howe Sound Brewing. Off the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck you can access the well-marked hiking trails designed to provide amazing vistas of Howe Sound and the Coastal Mountain range. “To be a good trail, the builder has to be a bit of an artist,” says Faulkner, complimenting the renowned mountain biker and site’s trailblazer, Ted Tempany, a Squamish resident nicknamed Big Red Ted.
The community is eager to see how many visitors take the ride up the Sea to Sky Gondola. Acrylic artist Chili Thom, voted “Whistler’s Favourite Artist,” paints vibrant landscapes swirling with the abundant beauty and colour that is found on the sea-to-sky corridor. Formerly from Chilliwack (from which the moniker “Chili” is derived), Thom has called Squamish home for three years. “The most exciting time in Squamish is right now,” he says.
I agree, because once visitors stop to visit the gondola they will inevitably learn more about Squamish. When they do that, they’ll want to stay longer. Among the other highlights I enjoyed on my trip:
- A Sea Safari adventure with Sewell’s Marina, which departs from Horseshoe Bay to the south of Squamish. The guided tours take visitors into the waters of the Howe Sound Fjord. On my trip, our group passed close by Pam Rocks and Christie Islet, where we were treated to views of seals playing on rocks and eagles soaring overhead. From waterfalls to migrating waterfowl, the trip was two hours of nature-viewing enjoyment. The tour price is $85 per adult and $55 per child (aged 5-12).
- An informative visit to Squamish Adventure Centre where I learned about the area’s rich First Nations’ culture, history and many outdoor adventures. While here you can shop local in the unique gift shop. I highly recommend trying the creamy gelato brought in from Gelateria Dolce Amore in Vancouver for a special treat.
- On the Sea to Sky Highway just before the Sea to Sky Gondola site you can’t miss the Britannia Mine Museum and National Heritage Site that was once the hub of the thriving yet remote town of Britannia Beach. In its heyday the mine was a major world producer of copper yet no roads or trains reached its community and until the 1950s was only accessed by boat. A museum since 1975, today you can explore this community’s history and even take a railcar trip into the underground tunnels, where some of “The X-Files” episodes were filmed.
If that’s not reason enough to stick around Squamish for the day, here are a couple of more: The Howe Sound Brewery was named one of Vacay.ca’s Top Brewpubs in Canada and the landmark called The Chief has long been a must for any visitor, featuring a gruelling 90-minute hike that’s worth every ounce of endurance thanks to the view that awaits.
Now, though, the Chief isn’t the only view in town.
MORE ABOUT THE SEA TO SKY GONDOLA
Location: On the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99) in Squamish, BC (see map below)
Getting There: By car from Vancouver: cross the Lions Gate Bridge, take Marine Drive, turn right onto Taylor Way and then take Highway 99 North to Squamish/Whistler. The gondola will be on your right as you near the town of Squamish.
Vacay.ca Tip: Take a tour and see it all. Starting May 23, Landsea Tours and Adventures will offer a day excursion (seven hours) leaving from Canada Place in Vancouver and going to the Sea to Sky Gondola with stops in Horseshoe Bay, Shannon Falls and Britannia Mine Museum. Prices: Adults: $89 and children $59.
Ticket Prices for the Gondola: Day rate: Adult: (age 19+) $34.95; Youth: (6-12) $13.95; Youth: (13-18) $22.95; free for children under 6. Season rates also available.
MORE VACAY.CA COVERAGE OF SQUAMISH