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Boreale Ranch broadens horizons beyond biking

The Boreale Ranch is still a work in progress. They're still hanging art on the walls, Marsha Cameron says. Then she points outside, to the snowy yard ringed with trees.

The Boreale Ranch is still a work in progress.

They’re still hanging art on the walls, Marsha Cameron says. Then she points outside, to the snowy yard ringed with trees. That’s where the sauna and the hot tub will go, she says. The fire pit is already in place. The pale walls of a handful of large yurts are visible in the forest beyond the main yard, and the line of mountains known as the Seven Sisters fill up the horizon.

This past summer was Boreale Mountain Biking’s seventh summer of operations, and its first at the new ranch. For six seasons, the all-inclusive mountain biking retreat was based on Long Lake Road in Whitehorse. Owner-operators Cameron and Sylvain Turcotte lived out of a camper; their guests stayed and ate in luxury yurts set up on the property in the spring and taken down again in the fall, and each day a team of guides led them along the network of mountain biking trails on Grey Mountain and around Carcross. Business boomed: many vacation packages sold out months in advance.

In August 2013, Cameron and Turcotte made a big move. They purchased a property - 16 acres and a house - near Lewes Lake, just off the South Klondike Highway between Carcross and Mount Lorne. They spent the fall, winter and spring renovating the house and constructing a massive addition. When the summer 2014 biking season rolled around, Boreale Ranch was ready: four large guests rooms with space for up to 12 people, a commercial kitchen, comfy communal spaces with big views of the mountains, and a separate living area for Cameron, Turcotte, and their toddler, Malina. The yurts, set up outside, offered additional sleeping areas for guests.

“It was a really good summer for us,” Cameron says. “Being able to take so many more people increased our capacity.” And the expanded indoor space was a relief - Yurtville, as the old location was known, could sometimes feel restrictive in bad weather. “I don’t have to apologize when it rains anymore,” she adds.

Now, with the first summer at the ranch under their belts, Cameron and Turcotte are tackling their next challenge: year-round operations. Beginning this winter, the Boreale Ranch is open as a B&B and licensed event venue, and bookings are already brisk. The company has partnered with local winter tour companies like Alayuk Adventures and Northern Tales: Boreale provides accommodation and meals, and the tour operators provide activities.

The plan, eventually, is to roll out some homegrown winter activity packages, too - though nothing on the scale of Boreale’s jam-packed summer offerings. “We’re going to start offering a few simple winter packages,” says Cameron. “One thing that I’d like to get into is cross-country skiing. I think that’s a large untapped resource.” A couple of their summer biking guides are also trained ski coaches, so that’s a natural fit. The growing winter fat-bike craze is another potential area to exploit.

The move hasn’t substantially changed the classic summer biking tours that the company was built on. They had already been splitting their time roughly 50-50 between Montana Mountain and the Whitehorse trails, Cameron says, and that’s still the same. The only difference now is that their groups often spend more time in Carcross after their rides, sipping coffee or eating in the expanding Carcross Commons. It’s true that at Yurtville guests could ride right onto the Grey Mountain trails from their yurts, no commute necessary. But the ranch has other advantages.

“The other place wasn’t perfect,” says Cameron. “There’s a lot of partying that happens on that road.” Besides, Yurtville was set up on government land each year: Cameron and Turcotte were unable to buy the property, or to expand beyond their seasonal yurts. “This way we can open year round, we can take more people, and we can run more trips.”

Every detail of the ranch is carefully chosen. The decor is modern and understated. Cameron, a social media whiz, is always thinking about the Instagram effect: People will share photos of everything, she says - down to the in-room coffee makers. So she makes sure that every element is photogenic.

Just as they did at Yurtville, Cameron and Turcotte emphasize excellent food, locally sourced wherever possible: beer from Yukon Brewing, coffee from Midnight Sun. The goal is to blend a tasteful, modern experience inside with the best of the Yukon wilderness outside. “Our clients are generally 40 to 60 years old, urbanites, wealthy,” Cameron says. “We want to provide a place where they can feel like they’re on vacation, in a style that they like. It’s a stylish place in the wilderness.”

Eva Holland is a freelance writer in Whitehorse.