Natural high: Skywalk opens on the Malahat

Even someone with a fear of heights can enjoy the Malahat SkyWalk, which opened for business Thursday just north of the Malahat summit, offering a stroll that goes up and up and up before cresting with a 360-degree vista.

For acrophobics like me, the fear of getting too far off the ground isn’t really a factor. That’s because the path to the top is wide enough for the height-averse to hug the inside track and stay away from the edge as they climb the 10-storey spiral tower that is the focal point of the new attraction.

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The biggest surprise for me was having the chance to take a 20-metre slide from just below the top level to the starting point. The average time per slide is 13 seconds.

Screaming is optional on the way down, but very common. I somehow managed to stay quiet.

“Many people are doing it multiple times,” said general manager Ken Bailey.

Let’s just say once was enough for me.

I took on the altitude of the SkyWalk with some hesitation, but enjoyed the experience on a postcard-perfect afternoon. For those familiar with viewpoints along the Malahat, the SkyWalk’s vantage point brings you much closer to Saanich Inlet and Finlayson Arm than those spots ever will.

Salt Spring Island is there to the north, along with other Gulf Islands, and Mount Baker seems to be within touching distance on clear days. There is a prime view of the Mill Bay ferry.

For the not-so-chicken, an 84-square-metre “adventure net” on the top level allows for a full view down to the base.

At the other end of the spectrum, anyone choosing to lie low can relax at a cantilevered lookout on the ground level while the more adventurous in their parties head up.

The SkyWalk experience begins with a 600-metre elevated walkway — known as TreeWalk — that takes you as high as 20 metres through the forest in an area full of Douglas fir and Arbutus.

“The tower is the most impressive visually speaking and the elevated walkway is probably the most impressive from an engineering perspective,” said Bailey.

The walkway is about 2.4 metres wide and has a five per cent grade, making it accessible to wheelchairs.

“You’re effectively talking about a sidewalk through the forest,” Bailey said.

The spiral tower is at the end of the route, and is also built at a five-per-cent grade.

Going back and forth on the walkway and climbing the tower in between is a combined distance of about 2.1 kilometres.

Up to 600 guests turned up on the first day, Bailey said, including tourists from Manitoba and the Yukon.

He said the Yukon visitors just happened to see the SkyWalk sign and came in. “They were blown away.”

Deborah and Gary Leskiw from Shawnigan Lake bought season passes and were intent on being there for opening day.

“We were so excited for this,” Deborah Leskiw said. “As soon as we heard about it a year and a half ago we hoped it would go forward.

“What a facility. It’s clean, it’s friendly, it shows off nature, the First Nations.”

Bailey said he has seen many people who are afraid of heights get to the top of the tower with no problem.

“I think one of the things is the top is wide open, so when you get here you can stand back,” he said. “You can still enjoy what it’s all about without having to go right to the edge.”

The $17-million attraction is on the traditional territory of the Malahat Nation, and owned and operated by the Malahat SkyWalk Corp in partnership with the Malahat Nation.

The site was once a gathering place for First Nations moving north and south, Bailey said.

He said there are no plans for any other structures in the area, but themed events for Christmas and Halloween could be coming.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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