Without a doubt, the 2014 opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola marked a major turning point in tourism for Squamish.
When Trevor Dunn, David Greenfield and Michael Hutchison first dreamed of building the attraction, they knew it would require determination and patience. But they also knew it would be worth the effort.
“We started the project six years ago,” said Dunn, who is also general manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola. “David and I had worked for Intrawest and had worked around the world on projects like this. We knew the area and we saw the traffic along the Sea to Sky Highway and we realized there was an opportunity.”
Every year, 9.5 million people travel the highway, according to Dunn, and more than 70 per cent of those travelers were looking for some sort of recreation.
“So, we thought it was the perfect place to put a piece of infrastructure so people could experience the magnificent views overlooking Howe Sound,” said Dunn. “We wanted to show off Squamish in a way that made the community proud.”
It’s all about providing access to the previously inaccessible, he said.
Once, you used to have to expend quite a bit of energy hiking or climbing the Stawamus Chief if you wanted to view Howe Sound, the surrounding rainforest and snow-capped mountains from up on high.
Now, the Sea to Sky Gondola delivers you right to Mother Nature’s backyard without even having to break a sweat.
The $22-million project provides year-round access to a variety of trails, panoramic views and a 9,000 square foot Summit Lodge where guests can enjoy self-serve dining and local Squamish fare.
The 10-minute gondola ride is an adventure in itself, giving visitors sweeping views of the surrounding area’s natural beauty. Once at the top, visitors can access hiking trails for all levels, plus interpretive walks with high-exposure viewing platforms, a suspension bridge, snowshoeing, a winter tube park and a whole lot more.
But before the project could be built, it needed approval not only from the community, but also several different governments.
“The project spans four different jurisdictions, including First Nations,” said Dunn. “So we really had to have an understanding about land use. We needed to work with the District of Squamish, and also provincial parks, and the area at the top is crown land, so we worked with the Squamish Lillooet Regional District.”
To ensure Squamish supported the project, the proponents asked for comments and feedback from locals.
“We held about 100 community meetings to make sure everyone knew what we were doing,” said Dunn. “We got lots of feedback, and the project actually changed based on that feedback.”
But Dunn and his associates didn’t have to worry about winning over the community.
“We wanted to show off Squamish in a way that made the community proud.”
“The community supported this right from the beginning,” he said. “The only reason the Sea to Sky Gondola exists is because the community of Squamish stood up and said ‘we want this.’”
Since its opening, the venue has hosted thousands of guests from around the world, and earned a ton of accolades. In fact, this past summer CNN Business voted Squamish the Number One Mountain Destination in North America, based almost entirely on the addition of the Sea to Sky Gondola to the area’s recreation offerings.
“Whether you are a two-year-old and just learning to walk, or a grandmother taking your grandkids, there is really something for everyone up here,” said Dunn. It just appeals to everyone. It struck a chord.”