No mountain too high for ETC

Date Posted: 2/14/2017

Banff Gondola Terminal

Written by Marshall Bissett

The recently opened Banff Gondola Terminal represents quite literally a high point in lighting installations for ETC. Perched on a mountain peak with an elevation of 7,486 feet, the four-story structure gives visitors access to restaurants, bars, retail stores and stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. Brewster Travel Canada, working with a team of subcontractors, completed the 35,000-squarefoot, $26 million reconstruction in 12 months. Video screens, reading panels and three-dimensional displays depict information of the park’s iconic flora and fauna, designed specifically to thrill and entertain the roughly 600,000 visitors who take the gondola annually, says Dave McKenna, president of Brewster Travel Canada.

Following a very “green” mandate from the end users, the entire facility uses ETC LED fixtures to create theatrical interior looks to match the spectacular exterior vistas. The project was not without its logistical challenges, as Michael Pyatt, of GES and project manager for the design team, explains: “We had to complete the install in three phases while the attraction was open to the public, and during the better weather months.” 

Aerial view of Banff Gondola Terminal

With no access road, all the equipment had to make the eight-minute gondola ride to the oxygen-scarce heights, and – as opening day approached – the gondolas were running 24/7 to meet deadlines. Many of the bulkier pieces of gear had to be delivered by helicopter or in a specially enlarged gondola that could only be used outside public opening times. 

Pyatt’s previous experiences with GES, on their very successful touring exhibitions (Harry Potter and the soon-to-be-launched Avatar) were very much at sea level. He hired lighting designer Josh Starr whose background was exclusively in New York theater and live events. “They wanted a theatrical twist on a permanent install, and I jumped at the opportunity,” says Starr. 

LED fixtures in Banff Gondola Terminal

Working only from renderings and photographs, his design uses ETC Source Four Mini™ fixtures and Selador Desire® D22 track-mount units. “I wanted to streamline the building, and these fixtures gave me the texture, color and templates I needed for the job.” Because of Park Canada regulations on the exterior lighting of high-profile buildings, the design focused on the indoor retail, performance and interpretive spaces. After an initial contact with Warren Mays of Los Angeles-based ETC representative MPA, the sale was handled by Christie Lites’ Calgary office. Comparing this project to lighting a Broadway show, Starr says: “In the theater, you get the electrician to move a light a few feet and it’s no big deal. In buildings, you are part of a huge team, where if you don’t plan ahead, you will have to live with your mistakes.”

With approximately 150 D22 LED luminaire packs, 100 Source Four Minis and 150 GDS by ETC ArcSystem Pro One-Cell fixtures, the Unison Paradigm®-controlled system has an amazingly small, three-phase, 25-amp power requirement. 

ETC service technician Tyler Martin, who worked through Field Service CA, explains: “The whole building is automated for convenience using Paradigm control and the astronomical time clock feature.” At 7:00am as the sun is rising over the Rockies, the lighting system executes its early-morning look and at the end of the day, as the guests dine in the fading light, another cue dims fixtures that reflect on the glass surfaces to create an unimpaired view of the scenery. 

Starr makes full use of the color palettes in the Paradigm controller to “make the images pop.” Foliage breakups in the Source Four Minis add to the displays depicting Canada’s natural majesty. Unison racks drive the Source Four Minis, sconce lights, relay switches, and house, emergency and décor lighting. In another ‘first’ in this remarkable installation, a GDS ArcSystem is running wirelessly at 8,200 feet above sea level.

Despite its tiny power requirement, the building is well-prepared for future expansion as it gains popularity as one of Canada’s premier tourist destinations. The lighting tracks are powered but not fully populated, and each floor has extra nodes and push-button stations to allow for additional fixtures. “We are using about 1,500 channels of control, but have the mains power and control capability to add more universes in the future,” adds Tyler.

Despite “challenges associated with a project being on top of a mountain,” Michael Pyatt and the entire design team are more than ready to take a deep breath and move onwards, if not upwards.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Martin