Concept image of aerial transit over the Bow River

Concept image of aerial transit over the Bow River


Aerial Transit

Aerial transit, or a gondola, is not a new idea. Ski areas use it to transport thousands of skiers per hour. Many cities and towns around the world use aerial transit to overcome vehicle congestion, mountainous terrain or other constraints of a surface system, or avoid the cost of tunnelling. The Banff National Park Management Plan considers it on the north side of the highway to further protect wildlife corridors. It also has the best potential of recouping operating costs because it's a visitor experience. 

With aerial transit:

  • Go alone or with friends, just like your car. A family or group travel together, alone; each carrier holds six to eight persons
  • Go when you want to go, just like your car – carriers travel continuously; no need to schedule your departure
  • Avoid travel delays; no getting stuck in traffic, unlike your car
  • Go regardless of driving conditions; snow and ice do not impact operations, though gondolas may not operate in severe winds

In this concept, several alignments have been investigated. In all, the visual impact is the main consideration, along with ensuring the alignment:

  • Should not travel over private property
  • Should minimize the visual impact for residents and principal viewpoints
  • Should connect to visitor destinations like downtown, Banff Springs Hotel, Sulphur Mountain Gondola/hot springs
  • Should avoid, if possible, visual intrusion on Banff Avenue

Noise impacts:

  • Minor between towers, as there are no moving parts
  • Limited at the towers as carriers travel over sheaves (wheels)
  • Similar to bus stop noises at stations as the carriers arrive, disengage from the cable, open and close doors, reengage and accelerate. Some noise mitigation possible through station design



Telluride, Colorado - Transports 2.6 million people annually. Provided as free as transportation between the town of Mountain Village and the town of Telluride. Originally built to help improve air quality while expanding the ski area.

Portland, Oregon - Transports 1.3 million people annually. Passengers are charged $4.55. The system connects The Oregon Health and Science University to a nearby street car station. The upper site has limited parking while the lower site is served by transit.

Medellin, Columbia - System was originally built to connect communities around the city's central districts. Prior to the gondola, commutes were in excess of two hours. With the gondola, it's 10 minutes.

Roosevelt Island, New York City – Aerial tramway connects the island with midtown Manhattan. By surface the commute is 30-75 minutes. By tram, it's less than 10 minutes.

Telluride's aerial transit system

Telluride's aerial transit system

Aerial transit concept from Wolf Street/Banff Avenue to Sulphur Mountain, with five gondola stations.

Aerial transit concept from Wolf Street/Banff Avenue to Sulphur Mountain, with five gondola stations.

We showed concepts with a number of different potential routes. A downtown to Sulphur Mountain route was the recommended concept. At 3.9km, it would have had a base at Wolf Street/Banff Avenue, travelled up Tunnel Mountain Road to the Banff Centre, Banff Springs Hotel, and Sulphur Mountain gondola, for a total of five gondola stations.


  • Shorter alignment, fewer stations
  • Best option to minimize costs and visual impact
  • Deviations from this route are possible
  • Connects to major visitor destinations


  • Visual impact on Wolf Street (impacting residents) and crossing of the Bow River (12 metres above the river, 300 metres upstream of the crest of Bow Falls)
  • Requires surface transit shuttle from intercept lots
  • Surface transit to Cave & Basin required


  • If 26% of people who currently cross the bridge take aerial transit with a $6 fare for one-way travel, the system would cover its operating expenses
  • Operating costs are $6 million (est.) per year
  • Capital costs are $66 million (est.) for the recommended concept

Concept Summary:

Aerial transit has the capacity to solve Banff's vehicle congestion issues for the long term while creating an additional visitor experience. Fares generated from this form of transit could offset or eliminate operating costs. It would have a visual impact on the community. Public discussion on this concept is required before further investigation.

Conceptual image of a gondola station on Wolf Street/Banff Avenue.

Conceptual image of a gondola station on Wolf Street/Banff Avenue.


What you said:

The idea of aerial transit had mixed reactions. Some concerns from survey respondents included the aesthetics of a gondola system in town, the noise it might produce and the general impact on residents. Other survey respondents believed it would be a positive visitor experience, an environmentally friendly option, and could be a source of revenue for the town.

Next steps:

As there was no overwhelming support for this proposal, council voted against further study of aerial transit. 

Survey Results: Aerial Transit