Would Summer operations at ski areas be more successful if they focused on empowering adventure and backcountry access? A new gondola makes the case.
Ten days before its opening on May 16, the Sea to Sky gondola was getting several hundred people a day stopping by, just for a look. Being featured on the cover of American Airlines Magazine, in the UK Telegraph and the Canadian Globe and Mail was just the half of it. With parking for only 325 cars, the new attraction’s biggest problem might be insufficient space.
We’re punching way above our weight for media coverage,” said Jayson Faulkner (VP of Guest Experience, Marketing and Sales), as he oversaw a media visit, a staff training seminar and the stocking of the gift shop, and tried to keep enthusiastic kids off the hobbit-fort play structure.
When you consider how hard ski resorts work to promote themselves as a Summer attraction, it’s funny to think that a standalone, $22 million gondola-to-nowhere could generate so much interest.
Maybe that’s the point. The Sea to Sky Gondola is not tied to a resort and doesn’t go anywhere. Just north of Vancouver, on the highway, it rises 885-feet above sea level. For $34.95, the gondola deposits visitors at a 15,000 square-foot lodge, restaurant and deck overlooking the Coast Mountains, the Stawamus Chief (the largest monolith outside the Rock of Gibraltar), and Howe Sound (the largest deep water fjord outside of Norway). In the immediate landing zone are brand new walking trails, built to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, with interpretive signs and free guided walks, a suspension bridge, and, even on a rainy day, pretty killer views.
What I noticed most on the Summer Trail Map that I was handed were the Safety Tips, starting with the all-block letters: YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THE LAST GONDOLA RIDE DOWN.
The Sea to Sky Gondola, as much as it’s been developed to be accessible, is about access to the backcountry – to the places where there are no free guided walks, no interpretive signs, no babysitters. If you tackled the 10km ascent trail under your own steam, you can even opt just to ride it down for $10.
General Manager Trevor Dunn is one of the co-owners of the project. The fresh-faced, 40-year old father of three had an epiphany 12 years ago while trail running in the Chilcotin Mountains of BC.
Trevor came over a hill and landed right in the thick of a flock of sandhill cranes, lifting off all around him. Exhilarated by this unexpected immersion into the staple stuff of the National Geographic channel, but missing the voiceover commentary’s insight, he ran over to a nearby kiosk in the backcountry park. He hoped for some interpretive signs or a map or a friendly face, but all he found were a couple of bullet holes and some graffiti tags. To him, this was a pivotal moment. He went home and quit his job as a finance analyst with a vow to shift course by focusing on ways to make it possible for people to discover this amazing place we live in.
Dunn spent the next 7 years working with Intrawest, eventually becoming Vice President of Development, before embarking on the Sea to Sky Gondola project with partner David Greenfield, also a former Intrawest senior executive.
That journey to serve up adventures in nature to whomever has an appetite, has now come to fruition.