For local BASE jumpers, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola would be the ultimate leap.
Watching it soar between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains daily is so tantalizing that at least one pair of jumpers has formally sat down with Whistler Blackcomb in an attempt to arrange a sanctioned jump — like Shane McConkey and Miles Daisher did as part of the gondola's opening in 2008.
In part, that's why it stung when a video surfaced last week showing a jumper from out of town pry open a gondola door and make the fabled leap illegally.
"Even before I moved to Whistler, when I found out they were building it, it instantly became one of the crown jewels of BASE jumping," said Suzanne Graham, an experienced jumper who moved from Utah to Whistler a year and a half ago. "The Peak 2 Peak is a beautiful jump. We live here and it would mean so much to us to jump. That would be the jump of a lifetime. We could go do the same thing (the alleged illegal jumper) did, but we don't because we respect the mountain. Personally, that's not the kind of image I want to put out for myself or BASE jumping. It is frustrating."
According to RCMP, the suspect, a 25-year-old Ontario man, allegedly made the leap from the midway point of the line — which spans 4.4 km — on Feb. 6 around 3:45 p.m. He landed on a road below and fled towards the Whistler Sliding Centre before patrollers spotted him and contacted RCMP.
"We attended immediately to the area with four vehicles," said RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair. "One officer was able to get a snowmobile from a commercial operator, went up and met with ski patrol and found out where the patroller had last spotted the suspect. Then a police dog was taken in and a track commenced through the wooded area."
The suspect disappeared into the trees. Police have not yet been able to locate him.
Last Wednesday, a 23-year-old woman was arrested and is facing charges of mischief over $10,000 for the damage to the machine and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to officials about her connection to the jumper. She was released from custody with a promise to appear in North Vancouver court on April 2.
The story was picked up by media across the country, which concerns Whistler jumpers. The sport, they said, is already misunderstood. "There's a 'leave no trace' policy when you're doing jumps," said Braden Dean, a Whistler snowboarder and BASE jumper. "You don't want to damage any property or anything like that. It's really important in BASE jumping to have a mutual respect between the people who are jumping and the people who are in charge of law enforcement and search and rescue. We want to be able to continue doing it and you don't want to have a bad reputation with those people."
The local community is small, with around 10 BASE jumpers in the Sea to Sky corridor, he added. Dean said he has crossed paths with the alleged Peak 2 Peak jumper, though he doesn't know him well, and was surprised to see his face in the YouTube video. "I don't think he went out of his way to try and break anything on purpose," he said. "I don't think he was thinking 100 per cent. But moves like that are generally not how BASE jumping is done."
Dean got into the sport about a year ago, under the mentorship of Graham, who later became his girlfriend. He's racked up around 100 jumps while she's made 600 leaps over the last seven years.
Both said the appeal isn't the adrenalin rush, but the meditative clarity you achieve mid-air. "When you're up there, anything that's happened in your past, anything that's happening in the world, none of it bothers you," Graham said. "It's a pure, mental clarity that you achieve that you cannot get doing anything else. That and we get to fly."
- with files from Brandon Barrett