Even the near-blizzard conditions couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those gathered below the mammoth new Peak 2 Peak gondola station at Whistler Mountain’s Roundhouse Lodge on December 12. Red-coated Mounties, speechifying politicians, assorted VIPS and a noisy riot of skiers and boarders crowded around the elaborate stage to watch history unfold.
British Columbia’s Whistler, already a world-renowned mountain-sports resort, was about to add yet another iconic drawing card: a $52 million gondola that can whisk skiers from the Roundhouse Lodge all the way over to the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain in just 11 minutes. No longer must skiers and riders descend to the bottom of one mountain before heading up the other. The new mountain to mountain gondola adds fast and easy access to all of the resort’s expansive terrain, including 17 alpine bowls and more than 200 trails.
It’s an impressive feat of engineering. The gondola—not just the highest in the world at almost 1500 feet above the valley floor, but also boasting the longest unsupported span (almost two miles) between the center towers—was built in just two six-month bursts of activity, and just 18 months from start to finish. It’s no secret why there was urgency to move fast: As host to next year’s Olympic Games, Whistler Blackcomb wanted it’s showcase thrill ride sailing regally above the action.
The opening-day excitement was palpable as singer Ali Milner finished the national anthem, O Canada, and the big machinery (designed by Swiss and Austrian engineers) began to whir above the station house. Those lucky enough to be in the first few gondola cars—lottery winners, politicians, members of the media, friends of Whistler—surged forward as the first cars left the station.
From Roundhouse Lodge GreatOutdoors.com captured the action (see the video)
as the car glided smoothly—almost imperceptibly—out of the station and over the first two towers before descending along the 1.88 mile-long expanse of unsupported cables to the bottom before rising gracefully up toward the towers on Blackcomb. It was everybody’s first ride, which explains all the yelling and whooping on that inaugural trip. But here’s the thing about the Peak 2 Peak: it is destined to become not just a symbol of the resort’s anything-goes vision, but a well used conveyance enabling everyone to better enjoy these mountains in winter and summer.
The halfway point is above Fitzsimmons Creek, flowing 1,427 feet below. Even in the snow and fog of opening day, it was an impressive sight from the gondola windows. (Two of the cars are actually equipped with glass floors to offer an even better view.) From the low point on the cables the cabs ride gracefully up to the first tower on the Blackcomb side, over to the final tower, and into the Rendezvous Lodge station. Total elapsed time: 11 minutes from mid mountain to mid mountain. It’s quite a ride.
“It’s a tri-cable system,” Whistler Blackcomb vice president Stuart Rempel told GreatOutdoors.com. “The two track ropes support the cars, and are stationary. Think of them as railroad tracks in the sky, weighing in at about 200,000 pounds each. The haul rope is what moves the gondola cars between the peaks at about 18 miles per hour. Unlike a tram, the cars are not fixed on the haul rope, they are detachable.”
Even though the gondola was built in record time, it was many years in the planning process, said Rempel.
“The idea first came up in the 90s,” he explained, “but the decision to build wasn’t made until after the Olympic Games were awarded to Vancouver. Groundbreaking began in May of 2007, which gave us only 18 months to complete the entire project. And six months of that was the dead of winter, when we basically couldn’t do much at all on the ground.”
“The Games will be a showcase for us,” Rempel concluded, “introducing the Peak 2 Peak to the whole world. We believe that Whistler is already known as a world class resort, but the Peak to Peak is unique in the world, it’s a real differentiator for us. We can’t wait to share it with the world.”
The Peak 2 Peak opened to the public by early afternoon, and was soon hauling skiers from the top of Whiskey Jack to the top of Springboard. Now, anyone, even non skiers, can do laps: Whistler Gondola up to Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler, Peak 2 Peak, over to Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb, down Solar Coaster and Wizard Express to reach the bottom.
Even though the grand opening was over, this is, after all, Whistler, so the parties and celebration lasted all weekend. Headquartered at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler
, the preeminent address at Whistler Blackcomb, GreatOutdoors.com was able to catch all the action. This, the last year before the Olympic Games come to town, promises to be a fun one at Whistler Blackcomb
with its new Peak 2 Peak