Sea to Sky Gondola to split Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in Squamish

Former Intrawest executives seek to remove strip of parkland for tower construction

Kevin McLane has been scaling the Stawamus Chief for decades. By his own estimation, he’s done hundreds of rock climbs on the 702-metre-high granite monolith’s world-famous cliffs.


Should land be removed from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park for the Sea to Sky Gondola project?

Yes 20%
88 votes
No 74%
331 votes
Undecided 6%
29 votes

In the midst of working on a new edition of The Climbers Guide to Squamish, McLane recalled a failed 2004 proposal to build a sightseeing gondola to the top of the landmark’s second peak. The cofounder of the Squamish Access Society told the Georgia Straight that the outcry from local residents, as well as climbers and hikers from across British Columbia, was deafening.

“One thing that really, really dug deep into a lot of people was the idea of steel being bolted—wires and steel being pounded and bolted—all the way up to the top of the Chief when you can actually walk up not that difficult,” McLane said by phone from his downtown Squamish home, which looks out at the Chief.

Now, a new gondola project has Squamish residents and outdoor-recreation enthusiasts talking. Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. is proposing to build a gondola rising 820 metres from a base between the Chief and Shannon Falls to the wooded ridge northwest of Mount Habrich.

But although it’s clear to everyone the gondola would slice through the southern reaches of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park—though not up the Chief itself—many onlookers are unaware the proponent applied in December to permanently remove land from the park to build it.

Sea to Sky envisions 100,000 to 400,000 tourists, locals, and outdoors enthusiasts a year paying up to $30 to take a seven-minute ride to the gondola’s upper terminal. The Squamish-based company, whose principals are former Intrawest executives David Greenfield and Trevor Dunn, says its facilities would be barely visible from the Chief and downtown Squamish but would deliver spectacular views of Howe Sound, Mount Garibaldi, and Sky Pilot Mountain.

Located on a former gravel pit along Highway 99, the gondola base would feature free public parking and washrooms, along with a ticket office, coffee shop, and gift shop, and trail connections to Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls provincial parks. At the top, a previously logged area, visitors would find a day lodge and interpretive centre—with a restaurant, theatre, gift shop, and guest services—and trails offering viewpoints, as well as access to hiking, snowshoeing, ski touring, mountaineering, rock- and ice-climbing, and mountain biking in the backcountry.

Greenfield told the Straight the gondola is targeted at the almost 500,000 people who visit the Chief and Shannon Falls parks every year. According to him, the first phase of the project would cost $15 million to $20 million. Sea to Sky hopes to start construction in September and open the gondola on July 1, 2013.

“Today, Squamish is missing what we call a key piece of tourism infrastructure,” Greenfield said by phone from his home office in Whistler. “It’s got some great natural amenities that cater nicely to the more high-intensity sports—rock-climbing, kite-boarding, mountain biking, things of that nature—but they don’t have something which provides a little easier access and mechanism for people who don’t necessarily have the skills or the abilities to be able to get up into the alpine.

“So if we can offer something for the more broad-based tourists, then we can hold them in Squamish for a couple hours,” he added. “They’re now more inclined to be looking for places to eat and stay and shop within Squamish itself. So there’s going to be a lot of indirect benefits that are likely going to flow into the community as a result of something like this.”

The Sea to Sky Gondola would rise 820 metres from a base between the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls in Squamish.

On February 7, District of Squamish council unanimously gave final approval to rezoning the 2.5-hectare base property and amending the official community plan to allow development of the lower terminal.

District of Squamish councillor Patricia Heintzman told the Straight that Sea to Sky will have to obtain building and development permits before starting construction. Heintzman, who’s also the vice chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, admitted she didn’t know about the company’s application to change the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park but said she didn’t think it was problematic.

“I think it’s been very loud and clear in our community that there’s the odd voice of concern out there but generally overwhelming support for the project,” Heintzman said by phone from her home in Paradise Valley. “So I think the town’s looking forward to it.”

Although the base sits in the District of Squamish, the 860-metre-high, 68-hectare upper-terminal site lies on Crown land in the SLRD’s Electoral Area D. On February 27, the SLRD board of directors gave first reading to bylaws to rezone the land and alter the official community plan. Sea to Sky also requires approvals from B.C. Parks and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to go ahead with the gondola.

Electoral Area D director Moe Freitag is the former president of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, which, along with the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association and Tourism Squamish, formally supports the project.

“It’s in the public process now and we look forward to hearing back from the proponent and trying to make sure that we keep an open mind,” Freitag told the Straight by phone from Whistler. “We look forward to working with our neighbouring municipality, Squamish, and doing the right thing—whatever that may be.”

Comments (16) Add New Comment
Sorry fatties, looks like your going to huff and puff up the mountain to get the view!
Rating: -1
Sure why not. It's better than putting in a oil pipeline, isn't it?
Rating: -5
"but they don’t have something which provides a little easier access and mechanism for people who don’t necessarily have the skills or the abilities to be able to get up into the alpine."

Which is exactly the thing that makes Squamish so great! Not every attraction needs to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. An hour's drive north or south provides these people with gondolas that can take them into the mountains.

Let's not also forget the gross underestimate of what the final ride ticket will cost, and the gross overestimate of how many people will now suddenly stop in Squamish on their way to Whistler so they can ride a gondy that's not going to be nearly as impressive as what's offered in Whistler. Estimating that as many as 80% of the current Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls visitors are going to take the gondola is bordering on delusional.
Rating: +9
Bill Thomson
Fine , move or change the park boundary for public /private entertainment interests! But how about asking a basic question like how or where will the district or the province replace that park area with new park land? How are politicians, the taxpayers and the BC Liberals going to create that win win solution by adding lost areas back to the park or commons? Take away crown land for private interests without getting something of equal value or better value for community and public parks is bad planning. Potential , future spin offs for the Squamish small business is one thing, but how about working hard for our public interest too.
Rating: 0
Bill Thomson
What 'new' park land does the public or community get to replace the land removed from the park boundary change?
Does the District and the BC Liberals support private interests solely without looking after the public and park users too? What kind of public planning exercise is it if all the taxpayer gets is potential, future economic benefits for businesses in Squamish, and not build up our public land base at the same time? Looks like a win win for only the the BC Liberals or District politicians playing with our crown land and commons.
Rating: +4
Any comparison between this project and the proposed 300km2 (old growth) encroachment into Pine Cone Burke in 2008, is completely misleading and in my opinion is nothing short of fear mongering.
Rating: +14
Dave Burke
The questions that aren't answered here are: How much land would need to be removed from the park, and would the park boundary be extended elsewhere to make up for the loss?
Rating: +2
Wait: The TLC sold the land to Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. and the director of the TLC thought it would be added to the park? Am I missing something?
Rating: -7
I hated this idea...
I hated this idea when I first read about it, way back on page one.

But a quick read over the story and I found myself more apathetic.

I doesn't seem that they would remove park land, but rezone the type of park that that 20m wide strip would be. If I understand that correctly, not a huge deal.

Hopefully the citizens of BC would be getting some compensation for that (ok, I doubt it, but "jobs" might, in this case, for a 20m wide strip, be acceptable.)

And yeah, what did the TLC covenant stipulate, exactly?

Anyway, normally I'm 100% against commercial interests setting up in park land. I just can't get incensed about this project though.

As long as we citizens aren't on the hook for any loses the business may encounter, I'll defer to the Indian band and Squamtonites.

I can't see myself going up there though. Not interested in imposing that lack of desire on others.

Overall, somewhat skeptical about the business plan being profitable, but maybe the alluded-to phase 2 will take care of that.

What is phase 2?

Rating: +22
It's a shame that they are sacrificing the pristine park to make a couple bucks. If you are a tourist and want to go high up, just drive another 45 minutes to Whistler and you can get even higher. This is just proof at how we are willing to destroy nature for money. Embarrassing.
Rating: -2
I've spent off & on for nearly 2 yrs in this area and don't consider myself a mountain climber but have hiked the chief nearly a dozen of times and think it would be disrespectful to the calm and peace of this area.This hike is amazingly wonderful there are 3 peaks of choice and not too difficult @ all. I say screw off w/ the gondola and lazy asses. If you're physically challenged remember in BC and their are so other places to go...Alice lake is just down the road.
Rating: +19
Will Harrington
Aren't we trying to endorse healthy and clean living?! Should we keep providing alternatives for physically unfit people?! On the other hand though, it may - I use the word "may" loosely here - encourage people to become fitter after witnessing the breathtaking views.

The only way I would change my point of view on this topic, which is currently at a steady 90% in favour of not going ahead with construction is that if it was wheelchair accessible.
As pointed out in previous posts. The hike is not that strenuous.
Also, a brief scan of the comments I didn’t manage to notice any reference to the potential increase in garbage. Hikers know to pack in what they have packed out. It’s questionable whether non-hikers would apply this same ethos.
Last but not least, what about the wildlife? Those chipmunks are so darn adorable that I’ve witnessed first-hand on many occasion people falling to their knees to feed the wildlife. This would surely take a catastrophic increase if the Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. plan to hit the numbers quoted.
Rating: +10
My suggestion to people. Hike the Chief before it's ruined with signs and garbage bins. Before all the moss has died off from the foot traffic and hand railings have been bolted into the rock everywhere. Enjoy it before the constant hum of an electric motor and steel banging on steel can be heard from the beautiful viewpoints. Enjoy it while you can everyone.
Rating: +5
They will build it, but nobody will bother to ride it once they look up and see that the view is obscured by fog more days than not. A white elephant in the making.
Rating: +8
How absolutely beyond sad. :(
Rating: +10
This is so SAD. Another money maker. For alot of residents that live here in Squamish,born and raised here, we find this very hard to watch this destruction of Mother Nature, the beautiful natural land being destroyed so some people can take a LOOK. Go find something else to do. Squamish is growing, I get that. I use to love it here, now I don't like what it's becoming. Stay out of our beautiful natural surroundings, go rent a helicopter for a hour and get your look. There are other ways to make money. I will NOT ride the Gondola, nor will my family.
Rating: -18
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