The Royal Canadian Mounted Police believe a vandal deliberately severed the cable of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, British Columbia, on Saturday morning. Nobody was hurt in the incident, but nearly all of the gondola’s 30 cars crashed to the ground, shutting down the popular tourist attraction for the foreseeable future.
“We still are in the preliminary stages of the investigation,” says RCMP Constable Ashley MacKay. “We are canvassing for witnesses and asking people to come forward with any information they might have.”
The Sea to Sky Gondola has been a major tourist attraction in Squamish since it opened in 2014. The ten-minute gondola ride took tourists more than 2,900 feet up to a viewing point overlooking Howe Sound, where they could access hiking trails, rock climbing, and views of the area, a network of fjords northwest of Vancouver. Officials say they intend to fully repair the gondola and resume operations as fast as possible, but added that it will take a significant amount of time to replace the cable and a majority of the cars. The tourist attraction employs over 200 people, and some fear that those jobs are now in jeopardy while the gondola is inoperable.
“This is a big deal,” says district council member John French. “At this point we don’t know how long the Gondola will be down. If it takes a significant amount of time, I imagine a fair number of those employees will be laid off indefinitely.”
Any question of motive is speculative at this point. But Mark Bee, the president of Doppelmayr USA, a subsidiary of the company that built the Sea to Sky Gondola, is doubtful that the vandal decided to cut through the heavy-duty gondola cable on a whim. “I suspect there was some planning and know-how,” says Bee. “He didn’t walk up with his pocket knife and do it.”
“There is no reason I can think of that would lead to anyone wanting to cause any damage to the Sea to Sky Gondola,” says Squamish mayor Karen Elliot. And both Mayor Elliot and Constable MacKay said that the town does not have a history of high-profile vandalism.
French could only recall one major incident of vandalism in the area. In 2016, a company called Woodfibre LNG met fierce resistance from environmental activists when it proposed building a liquefied natural gas facility in the region. That November, the company’s Squamish office burned. Authorities concluded that it was arson, but no suspect was ever caught.
The Sea to Sky Gondola also met resistance from environmentalists and wildlife advocates in 2012, during the initial stages of the project. Prior to that, in the 1990s, when a different company pitched the idea of building a gondola in the area, it met so much local opposition that the project never made it past the planning stages. But in 2013 the Sea to Sky project received a building permit, and according to local officials, opposition largely faded after the gondola opened and became a successful tourist attraction.
For now, the plan is to replace as quickly as possible the broken cable and gondola cars, most of which were badly damaged in the fall. “We are confident that the Sea to Sky Gondola will resume operations,” says Mayor Elliot, “and we will be working closely with them to do whatever we can to support the Sea to Sky Gondola and their staff.”