Gondolas: A Local and International Glance

Gondola Venice

Ahhhh, a warm September afternoon in Venice, leisurely making your way along the centuries old canals, as your capable gondolier serenades you and your partner in  Italian with songs of love and romance. How wonderfully romantic and evocative....

Oh, oh, wait.  Sorry, what's that? Oh.... you wanted a blog post about a SKI gondola. Right, sorry. Okay, let's try that again from the top...

Cape Smokey Gondola

Ahhhh, a cool, crisp January morning at Cape Smokey. Just cold enough to see your breath as you give your boots a final tightening, a quick check of your bindings and some last minute fidgeting with your helmet and goggles. The morning java is finally starting to hit your brain and your eyes light up, as you look up the hill and see a thousand feet of Cape Breton Highlands vertical towering before you.  With the ocean glistening behind you.

With an excited hop in your step, you amble towards the gondola, skis and poles in hand and your pass at the ready. You may not have been the first one up the hill this morning.  The trophy of "first tracks" went to someone that was up and at 'em just a little earlier than you this morning. But there is barely any wait and the four-person Cape Smokey gondola is ready to whisk you a thousand feet up the hill and plunk you at the summit of the mountain, with a days worth of adventures waiting for you.  

Cape Smokey in the 1970's

Let's take a moment to go way, way, way, back in time in Cape Breton - almost so far back in time that we can hardly imagine what life was like in such an ancient time (KIDDING!!). Referring of course to the early 1970's when Cape Smokey was just starting operations:

It was a simpler time then. A time of polyester, bell bottoms and disco and as you can see from the picture above, bright yellow chairlifts. And just as all the bad music and fashion choices of the 1970's are long behind us, so too are these old school chairlifts.

Fast-forward nearly fifty years and the Cape Smokey of 2023 has the finest in Italian-American gondolas at your disposal. The Cape Smokey gondola was designed and built by Leitner in the shadow of the Italian Alps of the South Tyrol region and Leitner-Poma in Grand Junction, Colorado - nestled on the western slopes of the Colorado Rockies. Leitner has been making lifts and rope tows and gondolas since 1888.  So to say that these guys know a few things about the mountains and ski lifts is a bit of an understatement.

Loading Gondola

Here at Cape Smokey the gondola is obviously one of our main ways of letting you access the hill, with the poma lift being the other. In order to access the upper slopes and the more challenging black diamond and double black terrain, it is the only way to get up there. So, with the beep of your pass, a few short, clunky ski boot steps, and the satisfying thump of the door closing, you find your self quickly whisked upwards, towards the summit of Cape Smokey.  Nestled in the comfort of the gondola.

Cape Smokey Skiing

After you disembark and slide away from the summit lift station, you'll probably want to take a minute or two (though probably more!), to take in the view; with the Cabot Trail hugging the coast line below you, passing around Ingonish Harbour and through the village of Ingonish. In the far distance. looking out towards the open Atlantic you can see the Keltic Lodge and Highland Links completing this picture perfect view.

Also, take a moment to tear yourself away from the ocean and coastline views in front of you, and glance behind you at the flat, boreal forest of the Cape Breton Highlands spread out before you. Though some of you may be headed in that direction, as you came up here to go snow shoeing through the Highlands, not carving down the mountain.

Gondolas Around Canada and the World

As much as we love Cape Smokey and all the amazing activities that you can do here and all around Ingonish, it is also fun from time to time to learn about far away mountains and other adventures. 

Le Massif, Quebec

The next closest gondola to the west, is almost 1400 kilometers away at "Le Massif", in  Quebec's Charlevoix region and to the east, you're going to have to cross the Atlantic and make your way to Pyreneese Mountains, on the border of France and Spain. 

Le Massif

The Vanoise Express, Paradiski

Needless to say, our European cousins are no slouches in the gondola department, with such gems as this double-decker gondola linking two French ski resorts, reminiscent of the gondola connecting Whistler and Blackcomb closer to home, in British Columbia.

double deck gondola

Tignes, France

Or this crazy gondola in Tignes, France, which is the world highest open top gondola, taking passengers to over 11,000 feet in the French Alps for sightseeing and summer glacier skiing.


Matterhorn Glacier Ride, Zermatt

And this unassuming glass box is notable for a couple of reasons, though for you fair weather types out there, the heated seats are probably the biggest draw, though the thrill seekers among you will probably love the glass floor. Where you can watch the Swiss Alps pass under you on your way to nearly 13,000ft on the side of the iconic Matterhorn.


Mi Teleferico in La Paz, Boliva

Just in case you thought that gondolas were solely the domain of ski resorts, we give you Mi Teleferico in La Paz, Boliva - Basically a giant subway system, but in the sky. It is the longest gondola system in the world, the biggest gondola system in the world, with ten separate routes totalling over thirty kilometers of lines and the highest altitude system in the world, operating at heights of nearly 14,000 feet. 


One last thing. The person in the stripped shirt singing to tourists in a gondola in Venice, he's a gondolier, the people that help you on the gondola at Cape Smokey, are called a liftie.  And they may or may not be singing - its totally optional. See you on the slopes!


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