Ski Cape Smokey Gondola on track

The lofty ambitions at Ski Cape Smokey remain on track even as COVID-19-related restrictions continue to hamper development at the Cape Breton mountain resort.

A month after announcing a delay in the opening of its much-anticipated tree walk attraction that was initially forecast to be operational sometime this year, resort management now says the launch of its new gondola lift may also fail to meet its expected summer opening.

Patrick Austin, chief operating officer with Ski Cape Smokey Holdings, said the gondola’s projected Canada Day opening is in jeopardy due to factors beyond its control.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that date will come through, but we’re in an unfortunate situation because the COVID-19 protocols now in place are slowing that down,” said Austin, who added that the slowdown is a direct result of the temporary but strict regulations at the provincial border.

“We’re continuing to build the gondola. We’re working on the structure at the bottom, but we’re still waiting for some equipment to come in that is stuck at the Nova Scotia border. And the people that are bringing the equipment in are also the ones who will install it.”

“We certainly understand that the province is doing what it needs to do to keep us all safe but at the same time, we are not able to get the equipment and people in here to continue with the construction to maintain our schedule. Maybe it would be good to have a little more reasonability put into some of these exceptions.”

The above conceptual drawing shows what Destination Cape Smokey’s planned tree walk might look like. The opening of the much-anticipated Ingonish-area attraction has been delayed until 2022 after the resort was unable to secure the necessary supplies.

Once fully completed, the Leitner-Poma gondola will feature 28 gondola cars, although only half that number will be utilized upon opening. Each car holds up to eight people. The speed of the lift can be controlled and at top speed will be able to whisk passengers to the top of the 320-metre hill in just three-and-a-half minutes. At peak capacity, the gondola will be able to accommodate 2,400 passengers per hour.

The delay may be disappointing, but Austin and his team overseeing the 162-hectare Ingonish area facility remain committed to transforming it into a year-round resort.

Development plans also include the aforementioned $12-million tree walk attraction, lodge upgrades, a new snow-making system, the establishment of mountain-top viewing platforms and the construction of mountain biking trails.

“There will be three different viewing platforms from the top of the gondola to allow every person to get up there for the great views by climbing the mountain without actually having to climb the mountain,” said Austin, a triathlete and recreational enthusiast whose pastimes also include mountain biking.

“We want everybody to be able to get to the top and get the experience that a hiker gets after making it to the top. We want that experience and the views to be open to everybody.