By now you’ve probably noticed the new addition to the Vancouver skyline. High atop the North Shore mountains – and easily visible from most spots downtown- is a snow-white wind turbine, sprouting from a background of pine trees. This is Grouse Mountain’s new Eye of the Wind attraction: a 65-meter-tall, fully functional turbine that doubles as an observation deck offering some of the best views in the city.
The Eye of the Wind opened to the public just last May. I decided to check it out yesterday, on a clear day when the views promised to be spectacular.
Getting to the turbine is half the fun. It starts with a trip up 3,700-foot Grouse Mountain aboard the SkyRide, at more than a mile long, North America’s largest aerial tramway (The SkyRide is included with Grouse admission, which is $39,95 for adults or $64.95 if you’d like to experience the Eye of the Wind, too). Packed inside the cable car with a few dozen other people, I cruised up the mountain, skimming over the tops of hemlocks and cedars as downtown Vancouver and the Georgia Strait came into view below. Another option if you’re looking for a workout: Instead of taking the SkyRide, hike the Grouse Grind, an “invigorating” 2.9-kilometer trail up the mountain.
From on top of Grouse, a separate chairlift takes you up another 400 feet to the base of the turbine. Up close, it’s huge. Each of the three blades is 37 meters long, about twice the length of a city bus. Standing underneath the blades, I could feel the air shudder with a deep, low vibration as they spun around. High atop the turbine tower hangs the glass-walled observation deck, shining in the sun like a tiny suspended bubble.
The Eye of the Wind is, of course, not just for show. Once hooked up to the power grid, the turbine will generate about 25 percent of the energy needed at Grouse Mountain. It’s part of a larger eco-initiative designed to reduce the resort’s carbon footprint. Other new earth-friendly projects include the zipline adventure, five separate tracks that whip riders across the mountain at speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour – all without burning any fossil fuels. There’s also a unique bear habitat, home to two orphaned grizzlies that now weigh nearly half-a-ton each.
But back to the Eye of the Wind: Access to the the observation deck on the turbine is via a special elevator built right into the shaft. For 35 seconds, the elevator rises, before finally opening its doors to the specially designed viewPod plaftform. The view from inside is incredible, above and beyond the spectacular vista from atop Grouse. Not only can you see all of Burrard Inlet, the sprawling city of Vancouver and even the hazy outline of Vancouver Island, but you can also see in the other direction – deep into the snow-capped Coast Mountains.
A few notes for thrill-seekers First of all, I was surprised to discover that the viewPod platform actually moves. Every thirty seconds, the turbine reorients itself to face into prevailing winds. As it slowly turns, so does the platform, creaking around hundreds of feet up in the air. Second, part of the platform has a glass floor. Most people yesterday gingerly stepped around the glass panels, afraid to test fate. But I did see one little kid crawl right onto the panels, press his face against the glass and stare at the ant-like crowds milling around far, far below.
Has anyone else been up to the Eye of the Wind turbine yet? What did you think of the view?