Something terrible happened to the Sea to Sky Gondola overnight and police say it was likely an intentional act. General Manager Kirby Brown told the Squamish Chief that a worker heard a loud noise around 4:30 am and later found gondola cabins on the ground. “We’re just in the early moments of investigating how that could possibly happen,” he told the newspaper. “Certainly, early indications are that there was no environmental or maintenance mechanism that could have caused it. It points toward a conclusion that somebody interfered with the lift.”
No one was on the 7,000 foot long gondola at the time. The Doppelmayr eight passenger installation opened in May 2014 to carry sightseers and hikers above Howe Sound near Squamish, British Columbia. Not everyone was happy about the project when first proposed due to its proximity to the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. The gondola proved popular, however, and just this spring more cabins were added to bring the total number to 31.
At a 3:00 pm press conference, Kara Triance with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a criminal investigation is underway. “At this time we believe the cables were cut and this was a deliberate act of vandalism,” she said. The 52 millimeter haul rope was completely severed and the majority of cabins crashed to the ground. Teams are attempting to survey the entire lift line for clues and are asking the public to stay away. Technical Safety BC and Doppelmayr are also assisting with the investigation. Anyone with information on this crime is asked to call the RCMP at 604-892-6100.
Nearby Whistler Blackcomb issued the following statement: “In response to this morning’s incident at the unaffiliated Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, Whistler Blackcomb can confirm all of its gondolas and lifts have been checked and are in working order. A pre-operational inspection is always conducted before the lines open each morning, and this procedure was conducted today, per normal practice. Guest safety is a top priority for Whistler Blackcomb and it will continue to be vigilant in upholding its standards and practices.”
On Sunday, police said they believe someone climbed a tower midway up the line in order to cut the cable. The lift has 14 towers, some of which are difficult to access on foot. Damage is estimated to be more than CAD$1 million and the impact of a months-long closure will be far greater. Typical daily ridership this time of year ranges between 1,500 and 3,000 people. The Sea to Sky Gondola Limited Partnership employs some 230 workers.
By Friday, the company said the gondola would reopen sometime in early spring 2020 with all new cabins and a brand new haul rope. “While some of our current cabins appear to be undamaged, we want your confidence in us to be as strong as it was before so complete replacement is our way of holding true to the trust you have placed in us,” a letter to passholders explaining the timeline read. “This is longer than any of us had hoped but we have to live with the reality of the situation and move forward responsibly.” Season passes will be extended on a prorated basis when the gondola reopens. A job fair is scheduled for displaced employees and all food has been donated to the Squamish Food Bank.