Touring the Sea to Sky Gondola

Post by Gondola Project

To the summit we go! Image by Nicholas Chu.

Ascending to the summit at Sea to Sky Gondola. Image by Nicholas Chu.

For a country that is as large, rugged, and beautiful as Canada, one might assume that the landscape would be inundated with sightseeing cable cars.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Great White North has only a handful of gondolas (i.e. ropeways with fully enclosed cabins) located outside ski resorts.

Luckily for those visiting the west coast, the Sea to Sky Gondola has helped expand the list of scenic aerial systems in Canada. Since the gondola launched in May 2014, it has effectively “opened up” some of the country’s most breathtaking vistas.

Location and System

The gondola is a 1.9km MDG system, situated in Squamish and is located immediately off the famous Sea to Sky Highway — a major freeway travelled by over 9.5 million cars each year. The town has a small population (17,000) and is a mid-point between the bustling urban centre of Vancouver and the world-renowned ski-resort, Whistler.

Map of gondola and trails. Image from Sea to Sky Gondola.

From a local perspective, the gondola sits in between the Stawamus Chief — an iconic and famous granite faced massif frequented by rock climbers — and Shannon Falls, a popular provincial park. Both attractions see approximately 650,000 annual visitors.

Today, Squamish offers an abundance of outdoor activities, but historically it was known simply as a logging town and a pit-stop for trips to Whistler. In recent times, however, it has pushed hard to rebrand itself and take advantage of its prime location within the Lower Mainland.


The development of the Sea to Sky Gondola required close collaboration and cooperation of various players and three different land owners. The alignment travels from a (formerly) vacant gravel pit, through Provincial parkland, and then terminates at the summit on Crown Lands.

The project proponents, fully understanding the ecological sensitivity of the site, made it their goal to reduce and minimize the impact of the gondola. To do this, they employed a special radar technique that’s apparently still somewhat rare in the ropeway industry.

The proposed route alignment was scanned by a plane using radar imaging and, in turn, a 3D model of the landscape and trees was created. With this data, system manufacturer Doppelmayr designed a cable car that minimized unnecessary tree cuts.

After about five years of planning and development (and an estimated 100+ public meetings), the gondola finally opened last May.


Aesthetically, the Sea to Sky Gondola’s design is wholly appropriate for its setting in the Pacific Northwest. Local wood was sourced for the stations, while cabins were designed with a vibrant, and lush light green. The combination of colours, textures, and smart design enables the system to seamlessly blend into its surroundings.

Base station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Bottom station (Base Camp). Wooden shell encapsulates the ropeway equipment while a small cafe is located in front of the terminal.  Image by Nicholas Chu.

Summit Station and Lodge from Gondola. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Summit station and lodge is barely visible. Image by Nicholas Chu.


View from the base. Image by Nicholas Chu.


The Sky to Sea Gondola takes passengers 885m above sea level to the summit lodge (total vertical rise of 850m). Upon arrival, visitors are basically immersed in an outdoor and sightseeing wonderland.

Access to eight sign-posted trails with a wide range of difficulties are immediately available. And for those who prefer a gentler form of outdoor recreation, the summit station is located next to a lodge and a suspension bridge that’s well-suited for nearly all users.

Top Station. Lodge located next to gondola terminal.

Passengers disembarking cabin at the top station. Lodge is located next to gondola terminal in a separate building. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Lodge. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Suspension bridge experience is included in the gondola fare price. Image by Nicholas Chu.

During my visit, there were a few hikers clearly dressed for backcountry trekking, but most seemed satisfied just strolling about and taking in the panoramic views of Howe Sound Fjord and surrounding mountains.

View of Howe Sound with interpretative signs. Image by Nicholas Chu.

View of Howe Sound with interpretative signage. Image by Nicholas Chu.


Visitors admiring the vistas. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Despite being a new attraction, the facility continues to expand and grow. While I was visiting, the final touches on a tube park were being completed (in fact, it has since opened). Visitors needing a break can take refuge in the lodge where a variety of snacks and drinks are on offer. Or, perhaps better yet, they can sit next to any of the small fire pits in the patio space to warm up.

Dining area inside lodge. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Dining area inside lodge. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Fire pits. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Fire pits to keep warm during crisp winter days at the summit. Image by Nicholas Chu.

On the 10-minute journey down, passengers have one final chance to take in the spectacular aerial views of Squamish. Given the great amenities, design and superb location of the gondola, it’s no surprise that the system has surpassed initial passenger projections, not to mention the fact that the town has made New York Times top 52 places to visit list in 2015.

Families, hikers, and daytrippers lining up to board the gondola. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Families, hikers, and daytrippers lining up to board the gondola. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Gondola has opened up wilderness to a whole new generation of Canadians. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The Sea to Sky Gondola has effectively opened up wilderness to a whole new generation of Canadians — many whom would never have had this experience if the system didn’t exist. Image by Nicholas Chu.

With the system now operating in full force, it’s a little hard to imagine that just over six months ago, this place of such immense natural beauty was essentially kept hidden and only accessible to the most dedicated outdoor enthusiasts.

A big thank you goes out to Trevor Dunn who took time to show us around the site. For more information about the Sea to Sky Gondola, please visit their website.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. Great article, thanks Nick! Hopefully we will start to see many more projects such as this spring up.
  2. Thanks Ross. My gut is that we will definitely see more - esp hybrid systems in urban areas where it functions both as a commuter line and a tourist line.

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