The mecca of Canadian granite, the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, British Columbia may soon see a new development. The Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation is the central proponent of a new project which aims to build a gondola to ferry passengers from the base of Shannon Falls by the Chief parking lot to the top of a ridge leading to the summit of nearby Mount Habrich. With a projected construction cost in the region of $20 million (CAD), the rides will cost approximately $29 a head.
The gravel pit area just to the south of the Chief. The gondola will run from this gravel pit to the ridge on the side of Mount Habrich, which is in the left corner of the photo (on the photographers side of Shannon Falls (the waterfall in the background)). Jeremy Frimer’s new route Skywalker 5.7 (5 pitches, 5.8) runs up the rock face to the left of the falls. [Photo] Knut Kitching
An excellent example of Squamish climbing, Matt Maddaloni on Pitch 7 of The Northern Lights (5.12a, 8 pitches), Stawamus Chief, Squamish. [Photo] Paul Cordy
The project, which aims to being a wide range of tourists, daytrippers and sports enthusiasts into the backcountry has provoked a range of reactions from concerned parties in all quarters. Groups such as the Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. are concerned over the potential precedent by the rezoning required inside the Park boundaries to allow for the construction of the gondola.
Climbers have responded to the plans with a range of views; some feeling that the arrival of greater numbers of tourists will sideline climbers as a local interest group, while others feel the gondola will reduce the numbers of tourists on the main trail to the summit of the Chief and allow for further development of new routes and crags on some of the upper slopes of Mount Habrich. The gondola will pass over the northern end of the Shannon falls area, just north of a route put up by Jeremy Frimer (Skywalker 5.8, 5 pitches), which enjoys considerable popularity as a moderate route of high quality and excellent exposure.
The gondola reprises the central idea of an earlier project from 2004, shut down in large part due to opposition from the climbing community, of a gondola to the summit of the Chief. Proponents of the project, the Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. have expressed their interest in bringing new tourists to Squamish and attempting to hold some of the weekend tourists who pass through Squamish on their way from Vancouver to Whistler.
Former President of the Climbers Access Society of B.C., Anders Ourum has expressed neutral sentiments, in line with some of the environmental concerns raised by other parties, “I think it’s up to the proponent to show that, yes, balancing all the factors, it’s a benefit to the park and the public.” Local climber and guidebook author, Kevin McLane was quoted in the Georgia Straight as saying that he really did believe the project would be “an excellent catalyst to alpine hiking”.
While the approval of the District of Squamish Council has been granted, the project still needs B.C. Parks, as well as regional and provincial governments to sign off. It remains to be seen what further approval processes will bring to light regarding the concerns of many stakeholders, particularly regarding the environmental impacts of the construction and maintenance of the gondola, the facilities which may be built at both ends, and the increased traffic it will encourage.
Additional photos of the project site can be seen here. Sea To Sky Gondola.