The Banff Sulfur Mountain Gondola

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Kary WrightIt’s not very often that we quads get to the top of a mountain, but here I go. “Are you going up alone?” asks my wife, a little concerned.

“Looks like it,” I reply. There’s no turning back now.

The door closes to the cable car. I look at the attendant with a smile and can feel the swing of being suspended in the air. Cool. Then they hit a button or two and zoom … I take off, high above the mountainside. What a rush, I love it!

I look up through the glass ceiling and see the beautiful blue sky. There are pine trees and rocks below, and off to the right a picturesque mountain town. What a blast to be sitting in this small capsule and zooming up the mountain by myself on the Banff Sulfur Mountain Gondola.

We are camping in the area with some friends, Jim and Sheila. You may remember Jim from a previous story when he and his brother successfully thwarted Murphy (and his law) after I got my chair soaking wet and it quit in Ketchikan, Alaska. He is definitely a handy guy to have around, and he adds a huge element of safety to these adventures (I may even have to step up my “breaking-stuff” game).

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The four of us decided to take a ride on the gondola to experience a new view of the area, check the wheelchair-accessibility of the facility, and just have some good old fun. We had assumed that I would be loaded on board first and then the others would jump in with me, but this isn’t the case.

The attendant sees me coming and grabs a wooden ramp they use to load wheelchairs into the cars. They do advertise that the gondola has four-person cabins. But apparently when you have a fairly large (or so I have heard) person sitting in a wheelchair that is similar in size to a 1974 Buick, putting four people inside the cable car is a bit optimistic. I have no trouble driving up the ramp as it is only about 6 or 8 inches high, but once inside it is quite cramped, and I’m sitting sideways. None of us really like that set-up as the power chair may be able to accidently open the doors, which could be quite counterproductive at 100 feet above the ground. So the workers flip the benches up at the front and back, then I fiddle my chair back and forth until I am facing frontwards. It then becomes evident that with no place else to sit, I will be riding by myself.

“I’ll leave my chair shut off with brakes locked until the top. Should be no problem,” I say to my wife and friends.

“See you at the top, Kary!” Jim laughs.

And then I’m off. Since the help loading me was fantastic, I have no apprehensions about going alone as I am sure the workers at the top will be as attentive. I am soon zooming up the mountain, enjoying every second. What a fantastic experience. All too quickly the eight-minute journey is over, and I’m slowing down to enter the upper terminal at about 7,500 feet. Offloading goes very smoothly. After my car stops, a ramp is quickly placed up to the door and two people grab ahold to stabilize it. Then the doors open, I anti-fiddle-about and drive out. By the time the others arrive in the next gondola, I am down the hall waiting.

The amazing 360-degree views from the top of the mountain and in the cable car (left) were as good as Kary Wright imagined they would be.

The amazing 360-degree views from the top of the mountain and in the cable car (left) were as good as Kary Wright imagined they would be.

Although there are attractions inside, what we really want to see are the amazing 360-degree views from the top of the mountain outside. It is as good as I imagined. To the northeast is a spectacular view of the town of Banff. To the west a highway follows a meandering mountain river towards the scenic Lake Louise.  To the south, the valley leads to the area we are camped in. It is so amazing to see it all from this vantage point. The view is of particular interest to me as I regularly fly this area on a glider simulator that has photorealistic scenery — it all seems so familiar.

As a wheelchair user I am confined to the terminal area, but there is so much to see from so many angles that I never get bored, and the walkway circles the facility.  The girls hike to nearby Sanson’s Peak, named after a man who walked there every week for over 30 years to check the weather. Jim and I stay put and take in the sights of the stunning mountain valleys and photograph everything multiple times. We watch the gondola cars arrive and leave the terminal, enjoy the small mountain creatures scurrying around, solve all of the world’s problems twice, and just generally enjoy being at the top of a mountain.

Too soon it is time to go. I get loaded into a car just as smoothly as on the way up. It is exhilarating as it moves forward quickly and then drops to start the long descent to the lower terminal. This time I have my video camera mounted to my wheelchair for the ride down and I film the whole thing. What a blast — and now I can enjoy it over and over.

While up there we noticed several other people in wheelchairs enjoying the trip. I would definitely recommend this to anybody who wants to experience being on top of a mountain, whether in a wheelchair or not.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it wheelchair accessible?
Absolutely. The new facility is just being finished and is designed to be completely wheelchair accessible.

Is it scary?

Not at all, just exciting to zoom up the mountain.

Where is it located?

In the Rocky Mountains near Banff, Alberta.

Is it expensive?

It cost $49 Canadian (about $37 in U.S. dollars).

Where can I find information on it?

At www.brewster.ca/activities-in-the-rockies/brewster-attractions/banff-gondola/.

By | 2017-01-13T20:41:12+00:00 December 1st, 2016|