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|March 26-April 1, 2009
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Ride with a view
Get an awesome eyeful at Peak2Peak Gondola
by Craig Hill
From his perch in a gondola 1,472 feet above Fitzsimmons Creek, Ian Mackinnon was in awe.
“Wow, we are high,” Mackinnon said looking through the gondola’s glass floor at the valley below. “Now they’re just showing off.”
In a time when all of southern British Columbia is putting on its best face for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler Blackcomb has outdone them all by linking its two mountains with a gondola.
The record-breaking Peak2Peak Gondola runs between the mid-mountain lodges on Whistler and Blackcomb peaks. It cost the resort $50 million (Canadian) and took 18 months to build. Peak2Peak set world records for the highest gondola and the longest stretch between lift towers. The cable is unsupported for 1.88 miles as it crosses the valley.
Impressive as it may be, at first it left some Whistler regulars scratching their heads. “It just seemed like a strange idea,” said Mackinnon, a Whistler Blackcomb regular who lives in Bear Pitts, B.C. “I’m not sure why they really needed it.”
While the lift tickets include unlimited use of the gondola, the resort offered discounted season passes at the beginning of the year for those who opted not to use the gondola. Whistler Blackcomb spokeswoman Tabetha Boot didn’t offer numbers but said many early season pass holders chose the $69 savings over access to the new gondola.
But the allure of the gondola, which can be seen stretching between the mountains from almost everywhere in the village, changed most of their minds. Boot said about 75 percent of the pass holders that decline the Peak2Peak option have since upgraded their passes.
Count Mackinnon among those won over by Peak2Peak. “Once I rode it, it seemed pretty cool to me,” he said.
Boot said the gondola is more than just North America’s largest ski resort showing off. “For me, the biggest difference is in the way I ski,” she said. “Pretty much every time I ski, I use P2P. What wasn’t even an option before is now an option.”
Like most skiers, Boot used to choose one mountain for a day on the slopes. Getting from the top of Whistler to the top of Blackcomb, or vice versa, required skiing a vertical mile and riding as many as four chairlifts — a rather large chunk of time to carve out of a day.
Now switching mountains takes only 11 minutes. “It’s taken the stress out of skiing because you don’t have to worry about making a mistake like your friends going up the other mountain and not being able to meet them,” Boot said. “Or if you get a sudden urge to ski trees but you are on Blackcomb [where tree skiing is scarce].”
While the ride is stunning from any of the 28 cabins, workers and locals recommend asking a gondola attendant for seating in one of the two silver cabins. Unlike the red cabins, the silver cabins have glass floors.
Peak2Peak is already finding its place as a fixture in Whistler and it seems destined to get plenty of TV exposure during next winter’s Olympics. (The bobsled track is just down the valley from where the gondola passes.)
“It’s been received very well,” Boot said. “People are blown away with the experience.”
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