More than 200 Sea to Sky gondola workers face job uncertainty as vandalism closes attraction
Full economic impact of gondola's closure unknown
Over 200 people who work at the Sea to Sky gondola face an uncertain end to summer after the cable of the gondola, located along Highway 99 in Squamish, B.C., was deliberately cut, closing the major tourist destination for the foreseeable future.
RCMP said on Saturday that the cable was intentionally cut around 4 a.m. that day, sending almost all of the 30 gondola cars attached to the cable crashing to the ground.
The gondola, which wasn't operating at the time, normally carries up to 240 passengers at a time on its 30 cars. The trip from the base to the summit — 885 metres above sea level — gives visitors views over Howe Sound.
Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott said there are more than 200 people who work at the gondola, from the core team of leaders to seasonal workers.
She said the impacts on their jobs are still unknown, and that the community hopes to have a plan in place for workers by early next week.
"You can imagine that a disruption like this might have an impact but I don't want to speculate," she said, adding that the Sea to Sky team is working with suppliers to determine a timeline for repairs.
"We rally when someone needs our support, so I would expect that if the staff need to find new employment temporarily, this community will come in behind them and figure it out."
Economic impact unknown
Elliott said the town is still reeling from the act of vandalism, describing the mood as "utter shock and disbelief that something like this would happen, but also a lot of gratitude that no one was on the gondola and no one was hurt."
The cable that was cut is 55 millimetres in diameter and made up of six strands. It regularly transports several tonnes when the gondola cars are loaded, and is made to withstand most weather events.
Inspector Kara Triance with Squamish RCMP said that in order to access the cable, the perpetrator could have hiked the trail underneath the gondola and climbed up one of the maintenance poles on the route, which have ladders attached.
Triance said the vandalism caused more than $1 million in property damage, not to mention lost revenue.
The Sea to Sky gondola first launched in May 2014 and is open year-round. The summit features a restaurant, family activities, and regularly hosts weddings and special events.
In a written statement, Lesley Weeks, executive director of Tourism Squamish, wrote: "Sea to Sky Gondola is one of Squamish's key attractions and it's very saddening to lose a main experience during the busy summer months."
Weeks wrote that she is confident the gondola will be back up in full operation "as soon as they are able," but declined to comment further on how the town might be impacted.
Rachael Lythe, with Sea to Sky Celebrations, an event planning company that regularly hosts weddings at the summit, wrote in an email that several wedding ceremonies were scheduled to take place there over the next weeks and months.
She said many clients are "heartbroken" but also "understanding and horrified, like us, over what has taken place."
"We ... would like to pass on our sincere condolences to the wonderful staff of the venue, the community of Squamish, and all of those affected by this tragedy," she wrote in a statement.
Elliott said in the five years she has been mayor, she's never once received a complaint about the gondola, and stressed that tourists are very welcome in Squamish.
"There's no doubt that the gondola really helped put us on the map. It has attracted people from all over the world — but we were already attracting people from all over the world. We have an amazing backyard," she said.
With files from Deborah Goble