Industry responds to Sea to Sky gondola collapse

Crews working to recover a fallen Sea to Sky gondola cabin . Photo ES Media

On Sept. 18 Technical Safety BC released its technical investigation report on the Sea to Sky gondola collapse that occured in Squamish on Aug. 10.

The report confirmed suspicions that the gondola’s haul rope was deliberately cut resulting in approximately 30 gondola cabins falling to the ground.

The incident has caused millions of dollars in damages and lost revenue so far. However, with the RCMP yet to release details of its criminal investigation of the incident, it remains to be seen what, if any, changes will be made to aerial lift operations in B.C. to prevent similar criminal acts..

According to Christopher Nicolson, chief executive officer of Canada West Ski Areas Association, the results of the RCMP investigation are key to determining whether changes within the ski industry are necessary.

“Within industry there’s been a lot of dialogue, certainly in our conferences and between our ski areas and with our regulators, in terms of that all of the systems continue to be safe as they have been,” he added.

The Sea to Sky incident took place outside operational hours and there were no reported injuries.

Incidentally, Nicolson assured that cutting the haul rope could not have occurred on an operating lift.

“I think there was some lack of clarity on that during the incident, but it would be impossible to have this kind of incident happen with a cable that’s moving,” he said.

The 66 page report by Technical Safety BC noted the towers of the Sea to Sky gondola, which run through Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, were accessible from a public hiking trail via maintenance access trails.

“Installed ladders on the tower provided access to the working platform from which the haul rope was also accessible,” the report stated. “There were no barriers preventing access to the tower ladders.”

Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) and other resorts have similarly constructed towers that are reachable by users of the mountain. However, Aidan Kelly of SPR stated in an email, they don’t permit public access to lift towers under any circumstances.

“At this time, there isn’t enough information available on the specifics of the incident to know how it may or may not affect other destinations throughout B.C., such as Sun Peaks,” Kelly added.

“We will monitor any developments with existing investigations and will play an active role in any recommendations from Technical Safety BC for future operations.”

For its part, SilverStar Mountain Resort has increased lift security in response to the Sea to Sky incident. 

“We have added extra security to our lifts with 24-hour patrol on duty during our winter and summer seasons,” said Chantelle Deacon, SilverStar’s communications manager. “We have also increased security cameras at all lifts and we are diligently doing daily 100 per cent enhanced line checks before opening, during the seasons our lifts are in operation,” she added.

As resorts move towards winter operations, and with the RCMP’s report pending, it remains to be seen what ripple effects are felt further afield in the industry following the gondola collapse in August.

The Sea to Sky gondola is slated to reopen in Spring 2020.