British Columbia’s provincial motto is “splendour without diminishment”. Not yet a year old, the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish is a stellar example of those words manifested.
The drive there from Vancouver is quick, just past the Britannia Mine Museum, directly off the highway, and set between Shannon Falls Provincial Park and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. The Basecamp area welcomes visitors to the Sea to Sky experience, its café patriotically spangled with flags of the Squamish Nation, as well as the province, country, and monarchy. Although there are a fair number of trails to be explored here, observing from below simply won’t do, and one can’t help but feel a pull to the peak.
Verdant gondolas are at the ready to traffic visitors skyward—885 metres above Howe Sound fjord to be exact. The feeling of ascent is powerful and daunting; windows line the secure carriages, offering detailed views of the treetops, mountainside, and Sea to Sky corridor.
The Summit Lodge, 9,000 square feet of West Coast design, houses bites, brews, and local merchandise. The awe feature of the lodge is its 5,000-square-foot deck, an expansive platform that opens to panoramic scenes that are nothing short of spectacular. Guide Stéphane Perron meets visitors at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. at the lodge to share stories of recovery and history (tours are available seven days a week). He speaks of the katabatic wind effect that draws kite surfers to the water, artifacts found in the area dating 1,600 years old, and true tales of Mother Nature at work.
“One rainy day in March last winter, hundreds of dolphins had made their way into the blind channel, and it turns out they were seeking refuge from a pod of 20 orcas that were chasing them,” recalls Perron. “The orcas never came into the shallower waters.”
Peering downwards, one can imagine the porpoises enjoying the Sound’s pale emerald waters, a colour that is largely due to a silt-filled Squamish river pouring in. “[It’s] a very fine powder from the glaciers. Slowly moving, they erode the bedrock underneath and pulverize it to a thin powder, and that remains in suspension in the water. In the winter it is much darker. Now, in the summer, it is a beautiful green colour.”
Off to the side of the deck, the 100-metre Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge connects the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck to the Spirit Trail and Spirit Viewing Platform. It is sturdy, with far less sway than Capilano Suspension Bridge.
Back past the lodge and gondola landing is the Panorama Trail, groomed but natural. Its 1.6 kilometer loop takes roughly a half hour to complete and is meant for everybody—capable strollers and wheelchairs included. New perspectives of the Chief are available from the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform’s cantilevered deck. The vistas here are breathtaking but stoic, inviting guests to contemplate Mount Atwell to the north as well as the Howe Sound fjord below.
Especially during summer, it is advisable to visit later in the day so as to enjoy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening sunset dining after 5:00 p.m at the Summit Restaurant and Edge Bar. The three-course table service menu includes soup, a choice of three appetizers and a choice of three entrees. Dessert is best enjoyed near one of the propane fireplaces for added ambiance and warmth as the sun sets over nearby peaks. Splendid, indeed.
Photos: Sheila Lam and Kimberly Budziak.