In the old days, you didn’t need to be in Whistler very long before experiencing a classic “gondola hot box”. But while times have changed, or evolved (both ski hills prohibit smoking anything anywhere), homegrown freeski slayer Callum Pettit has discovered a new way to bring the heat to some of those old Whistler Village gondola cabins.
Completed for the 1988-89 ski season, and originally slated as a ten-person cabin (technically only possible if three or more passengers were kids who stood the entire ride), the gondola whisked eager shredders (including Callum and younger brother Sean) from the village straight to the Roundhouse in one warm, cozy, fell swoop. When the cabins were replaced in 2015, the original 1200-pound gondolas were auctioned off for up to $1200 each (#69 was recently seen offered online for $3000, fair enough). Since then, most have sat in local yards serving as flower pots or empty sentries of nostalgia.
Thinking inside the box, Pettit came up with an ingenious DIY hack—a sauna inside a gondola, aka, the “saundola”.
However, when Pettit became the lucky recipient of a piece of Whistler history, he felt driven to find an actual use for it. Thinking inside the box, he came up with an ingenious DIY hack—a sauna inside a gondola, aka, the “saundola”.
Mountain Life: For innovative local upcycling projects, this one is beautiful in its simplicity. Why turn a gondola into a sauna?
Callum Pettit: Basically, it came about because I just wanted to make a sauna. I had some other ideas, but one day I noticed the gondola sitting in the back corner of my yard, not really serving any purpose other than as a piece of memorabilia. My girlfriend at the time and I were talking and just said, “Why don’t we use the gondola?” It’s like it had been waiting for us to repurpose it all along. I think the real question is, “Why not turn an old gondola into a sauna?”
ML: With all the curves and shapes, was it a challenge to get to a finished, usable product?
CP: Yes! The gondolas are very much not square so it took a lot of fine-tuning and angled cuts to make everything fit together nicely.
ML: How long did the project take to complete?
CP: I started on my saundola in the fall of 2018 and finished it in the spring of 2019. It took time to figure out the best way to optimize the limited space and how to fasten the wood inside the shell. When I converted my brother’s gondola in the fall of 2019, it went a lot faster the second time around.
ML: What do you love most about your saundola?
CP: I love that it’s right out my back door, that it uses minimal amounts of wood to heat—and that I was able to make use out of something I already had. Not to mention you always feel amazing after a sauna sesh.
ML: Are you considering turning other old gondolas into saundolas?
CP: I did my brother’s in a couple of weeks, so yeah, if there are Sea to Sky people with gondolas that are just collecting dust… it’s definitely the best use for these old vessels that I know of. It’s so nice to have your own spa zone at home, especially these days.
ML: There is an old Finnish proverb, “One should behave in a sauna the way one behaves in church.” Do you have a personal sauna philosophy?
CP: “More steam!”
If you have one of the old gondys gathering dust somewhere and want to put it to good use, fire a DM to @killahcal.