A Day Hiking at the Sea to Sky Gondola

Sea to sky gondola image

From sea to sky. That’s the promise that Squamish’s newly built gondola and mountain adventure destination promises its visitors, including both tourists and locals alike.

If you were to ask me whether or not I would pay $39.95 for a day pass up this coveted gondola adventure for the day, I would vigorously shake my head, and then proceed to tell you a story about how over crowded many of Greater Vancouver’s “secret” spots and hikes have become thanks to projects such as these. But if you asked me that question again and told me that I could hike to the top of the summit and pay only $10 to download, well, I might not react quite as negatively. In fact, I might just take you up on that offer.

As a seasoned Vancouverite and avid hiker, I’m quite protective about my favourite hikes and supposedly locals-only destinations. It’s not that I don’t like to share these secrets with tourists, but when my seclusive sunset spot or go-to weekend hike turns into an Instagram-worthy craze, I can’t pretend that I’m overly ecstatic about it. As much as I hate to say it, this is exactly how I felt about the development of the Sea to Sky Gondola (SSG).

The Stawamus Chief hike, which parallels the SSG, has been fairly popular among many visitors and locals in the Vancouver area for quite some time now. But with the development of the SSG, I feared that the popularity of both the Chief and the Sea to Summit Trail would escalade significantly, eventually taking away from their serenity. As it turns out, I was partially correct in assuming this, but at the same, despite having some cons associated with the SSG, my experience at the summit may have been positive enough to remedy my unrest.

Sea to sky gondola image

Gondola? You mean money maker? At first when I heard about the proposal for the SSG, I was bitter. Why would the government ruin a beautiful spot like the Chief just to make more money from summertime tourists? Was that not a stab at our province’s integrity? Negativity aside, I was also uninformed about the exact details of the project or that there would be an alternate hike constructed beside the Chief trail, which would lead to the top of the Sea to Sky Summit. I was simply under the impression that it would be a lose lose for Vancouverites like myself who would never pay $40 to get to the top of the mountain (Hello…? That’s what legs were made for…). Later on, however, when I learned more about the project, the idea of having one of my favourite hikes overpopulated by tourists seemed less frustrating because of what they were planning to do with the land.

On the one hand, they were planning on making a restaurant and bar, which would clearly be a money trap (because where else would you be able to buy food on the top of the mountain), but on the other hand, they were also planning to build creative outdoor walkways, cliff walks, and bridges—now we’re talking. I remember the day I found out that you could actually hike to the top of the summit instead of paying your way up; I started to feel okay with how things were turning out.

Sea to sky gondola image

Now fast forward one year, and I have just climbed the Sea to Summit Trail for the first time with my boyfriend. I am exhausted, sweaty to the point where I look like I have just stepped out of the shower (sorry, but it’s true), and my legs feel like Jello as a result of hoofing it to the top in a mere 1 3/4 hours (you’ll have to ask my boyfriend himself how much he likes hiking with me after this). My opinion of the hike? Well, to be very honest, it was just as busy as I had predicted. Granted, it was a Saturday, but still, it was not normal for the Chief that I knew from two years ago.

During the hike, I felt my anxiety levels rising because not only was I slightly claustrophobic at times from being surrounded by so many people on such a tight trail, but also because I felt obligated to pass the many herds of people around me or I would never get anywhere (or worse, I would be stuck behind the bum of some stranger for the next three hours). As I’m sure you know, these are not feelings anyone should have while hiking. In fact, going for a hike should set you up to experience the exact opposite temperament. When I finally reached the summit one hour and 45 long minutes later, I was feeling only slightly better.

Sea to sky gondola image

At the top, I made my way to the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform, and of course, I walked across the highly photographed suspension bridge. But again, I was not content with my experience because these too were immensely crowded with other locals and tourists; I was lucky to get some semi decent pictures without other people in the frame.

Now, I am not here to blame tourists for ruining anything because there could have very well been more locals up there that day, but instead, I am just looking to point out the sheer volume of people that were visiting the site.

Taking all of this into consideration, I have had to reflect on this experience from two different perspectives: as a local who is desperate to keep Vancouver’s “best secrets” exactly that, a secret, and as a humble Vancouverite, who should be willing to share the beauty of my province with people from around the world. The latter has been a harder POV for me to adopt, yet, I am slowly beginning to realize the importance of this kind of humility and generosity.

Sea to sky gondola image

They don’t call our province “Beautiful British Columbia” for nothing; it truly is a stunning place that I should feel more grateful to live in. So why do I also feel reluctant to share my home and its best spots? I think that with being an insider comes a sense of unnecessary entitlement that makes me feel like I have the right to access these spots without any disruption. Where these feelings stem from, I cannot say for certain, but what I do understand now is that the surging popularity of hiking among tourists and locals, especially in Vancouver, should be regarded a positive thing, regardless of how it affects my personal hiking experience.

Some people get outdoors to connect with nature and feel a sense of peace, and others do so to take a good photo for Instagram—and that’s okay too. Whatever the reason for getting out there, as BC residents we should be content with sharing our trails and hikes with other people for the sake of extending a sense of appreciation for nature to others. Perhaps not every person who walks on the Sea to Summit trail will develop the same level of reverence for the nature that surrounds them, but from personal experience, I know that this kind of mindset takes time to develop and has to start somewhere.

There will always be other secret spots, and there are always more beautiful hikes in Vancouver to be explored. What has been the best kept secret in the past won’t necessarily stay that way in the future, which is a critical catalyst for discovering new locations and places to explore.

Sea to sky gondola image

We live in this province to share its wealth of outdoor adventure opportunities and show people why we enjoy living here as much as we do. We travel to other countries to see and experience things that we cannot at home and this is precisely the same reason millions of tourists come to Vancouver each year.