British Columbia

Swiss cable-splicing expert oversees installation of Sea to Sky Gondola's new 4-km span

A new 120 tonne steel cable has been installed at the Sea to Sky Gondola, replacing the 4-kilometre cable that was maliciously cut in August.

Hannes Koller led the precise operation to replace the vandalized cable

A crew does the arduous work of splicing the ends of a four-kilometre cable together on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's a chilly, clear day at the foot of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, but Swiss rope-splicing expert Hannes Koller has sweat dripping off his face.

Steam rises off his clothes, as Koller wrestles a thick steel cable apart with metal levers and slowly works the new strands into place.

Koller is in charge of the dozen or so workers taking part in the intricate, but extremely laborious job of splicing a new 120-tonne cable's ends together to create a four-kilometre loop, but he's at the centre of it all, working harder than anyone.

"It's not bad," said Koller. "Just a hard job."

On Monday, for the first time since officials say someone maliciously cut the sightseeing gondola's old cable, the cable appears taut as it makes its way up the mountain.

A new steel cable weighing 120 tonnes was strung up on the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, as the operation works to repair damage from an apparent act of sabotage in August. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Squamish RCMP said the previous cable was intentionally severed in the early morning of Aug. 10. Most of the 30 gondola cabins were destroyed when they came crashing to the ground, but no one was injured.

The business was well insured, according to general manager Kirby Brown, but the vandalism, for which nobody has taken responsibility, has cost Sea to Sky Gondola more than $5 million, including replacement cabins, cable, and lost business.

The cable had been cut above the high cliff overlooking the base of the gondola.

"That location was presumably chosen for a reason — it did a tremendous amount of damage, as I believe was the intention," said Brown. "It's a horrible thing."

Squamish RCMP say someone deliberately cut the cable of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, B.C. in early August, 2019. (Squamish RCMP )

He said nine or 10 of the cabins have been inspected and can be re-used, but an entire set of 30 has been ordered from Europe, and are currently en route. 

On Monday, Koller and everyone helping him carried out the tricky job of weaving the strands of each end of the new cable together. They pried, hammered, wrenched, and cut metal as they went, creating a 70-metre span where the ends of the 52-millimetre cable blend together seamlessly. 

"I connect the rope with just the friction — there's nothing welded, absolutely nothing. It's only really the friction," said Koller, who travels around the world doing cable-splicing jobs. He'll tend to a couple more at ski resorts, before his time in Canada is over.

Swiss rope-splicing expert Hannes Koller pries a metal bar between strands of cable as steam rises off his back. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Koller, who has been doing this type of work for 23 years, said there aren't many people trained to splice cables.

"They send us around the world, because it's also a question of the warranty," he said.

Brown looked on admiringly as the crew muscled the shiny new strands into place.

"He's the conductor of a very specific orchestra," he said of Koller. "He moves fast — there's no breaks. You do what you're told."

Watch Koller and the crew weave the strands of steel together:

A crew led by Swiss rope-splicing expert Hannes Koller connects the ends of a steel cable together, creating a 4 km loop. The previous cable was cut in an act of vandalism in August. 0:54

Brown is looking forward to the day the gondola re-opens to the public. He said there are new security measures going into place to prevent another act of sabotage.

The length of cable that needs to be used to blend two ends together must equal 1,200 times its diameter, according to splicing expert Hannes Koller. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We've rolled out new security measures already, and they're increasing by the day," he said. "Eyes and ears on lift towers, deterrents, things that inhibit climbing."

The RCMP said there are no updates regarding the August incident, and that it appears the investigation into who cut the cable won't be wrapped up any time soon.

Brown says the repairs are going a little faster than expected, but the operation won't be re-opened before February or March.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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