First there was nothing. Then there was bike-friendly yurt accommodation.
Perched amid the high bluffs of Long Lake Road lies a hobbit-like gathering of wood and fabric yurts.
Raised slightly above the ground on short wooden stilts, and tastefully camouflaged into the surrounding wilderness, the yurts seem almost like a small colony of giant woodland mushrooms — woodland mushrooms with a magnificent view of downtown Whitehorse.
The illusion is soon betrayed by spandex-pantalooned characters emerging from the huts pushing their well-oiled steeds of mountain bikery.
This is Boreale Mountain Biking: environmentally friendly forest accommodations mixed with mountain biking tours. It is the vanguard of a changing direction for Yukon mountain-bike tourism.
Only two months since it opened, founders Marsha Cameron and Sylvain Turcotte have been unexpectedly hit with waves of enthusiastic guests.
“We really just expected to take it slow for the first year, making sure we were doing everything right,” said Cameron.
But now, armed only with a small ad on the Yukon tourism website, the camp has been booked almost consistently since opening in May, and spots won’t become available until early August.
The concept of Boreale is simple: accommodation geared towards the growing waves of visitors coming to the Yukon specifically for mountain biking.
The idea first flashed across Cameron’s mind when she picked up a 2005 study by the Cycling Association of Yukon entitled Exploring the Market for Yukon Mountain Biking Tourism.
For a sport as elaborate as biking, tents or hotel rooms don’t always cut it.
“When people bring up a bike that’s worth three times more than their car, they want to have the security of knowing that it’s stored in a safe place,” said Cameron.
They also need space to do necessary tweaks and repairs to their machines. Boreale answers both needs by providing secure storage and a small repair shop (contained, of course, within a yurt).
Then there is location. Boreale carries the added benefit of being located directly at the heart of a “700-kilometre, world-class mountain bike trail system,” says its website.
“Sort of like a ski resort, the ones where you can ski to your doorstep are more successful,” said Cameron.
For Cameron and Turcotte, it’s your standard Yukon story — boy meets girl, boy and girl drive around Western Hemisphere in VW van, girl takes boy to Yukon, boy and girl found semi-utopian forest paradise.
The well-travelled van still survives, nestled against the couple’s own tiny yurt accommodation.
Boreale Mountain Biking stands out as the manifestation of the pair’s dual love of nature and mountain biking. For the first year, Turcotte is handling the tour side of things — leading squads of visitors on epic bike voyages uniquely tailored to their particular abilities.
Cameron, also an avid mountain biker, is taking care of the yurts.
So far, the operations have actually been surprisingly separate. Mountain bikers are staying elsewhere and the yurts are being rented by non-cyclists.
But anything goes at Boreale, as long as people are out in the clear air.
“I’m very passionate about the environment and about nature. And if you can have people come and have a great experience, the more likely they are to think that there’s something worthwhile to save,” she said.
Already, some guests have been amazed at the wildness they’ve seen around them. British guests are always quick to nervously eye the bear spray positioned in the kitchen yurt.
Just a week before, guests were treated to a friendly conversation between two resident dogs and a nearby coyote.
But by September you’ll never even know Boreale Mountain Biking was there.
In a matter of days, the Boreale Mountain Biking yurt village can be completely dismantled, leaving behind only a small network of lightly trodden footpaths.
“It’s a very low-impact place,” said Cameron.
Though spacious and robust when assembled, the yurts are models of portability. Someone with adequate yurt-assembly skills can put up a full-sized unit in a matter of hours.
Originating from nomadic tribes on the steppes of Central Asia, yurts are lattice-framed wood structures covered in felt or canvas. The yurts composing Boreale Mountain Biking all originate from Yurtco, a manufacturer from Hope, BC.
The centrepiece of the Boreale yurt village is the 8.4-metre-diametre kitchen and living room yurt. Simple furniture decorates the space, as well as a high-quality stereo powered by exterior solar cells.
Two six-metre-diameter bedroom yurts can accommodate up to 12 guests. Both are accommodated with plastic dome skylights, admitting generous quantities of sunlight.
A very small, elevated yurt stands on the western side of the camp. The middle of the wilderness may be the last place you’d expect a luxury bathroom, but stepping inside reveals a hot shower, toilet and chic wooden décor.
Propane-heated water is piped into the shower by means of a solar powered water pump. The toilet turns sewage into compost. After months of use, the only by-product is rich, mineralized soil.
Two friendly dogs dart in and around the yurt structures, nipping at each other’s noses.
“They’re named Jack and Scotch — but they’re not named after liquor,” said Cameron.
The setup skillfully mixes ruggedness with self-sufficiency.
Residents can hear the wind, they can hear the birds, but propane heating and down duvets still offer a delightful measure of comfort.
Self-serve cooking and bicycle repair facilities also ensure that guests will still be able to maintain their independence.
With their business only two years old, Cameron and Turcotte are still testing the waters of this new Yukon brand of cycle-tourism.
The market has potential, but it will never turn into Whistler, said Cameron.
Nestled amid the sounds, smells and crisp air of truly virgin wilderness, Cameron said it’s probably better that way.
More information on Boreale Mountain Biking is available at www.borealebiking.ca.