Yukon Escape Games offers breakout form of entertainment

I'm trapped in a log cabin with three of my friends as we frantically search for clues that will lead us to finding my grandfather's gold.

I’m trapped in a log cabin with three of my friends as we frantically search for clues that will lead us to finding my grandfather’s gold.

In the span of five minutes, my emotions have run the gamut from pure joy and excitement to anger and the desire to throw something across the room.

All of a sudden, an omnipresent voice crackles from a small walkie-talkie in my pocket.

“Look closer to the object in front of you,” the man says.

We’re not in the middle of a multi-player video game, although it sure does feel like it.

We’re inside a building at the Hot Springs Campground and Hostel, where owners Andrew Umbrich and Lauren O’Coffey have set up Yukon Escape Games, the first escape room north of Prince George, B.C.

From a computer screen in a different building, they’re watching our every move as we navigate through a series of logical and mind-bending puzzles.

This month, the couple has had about 18 teams try out their brand new venture. But only a quarter of them have managed to beat the game within the allotted time of 60 minutes.

Escape rooms have been popping up all over North America in the past five years. As of last summer, there were 15 of them in Vancouver alone.

Originally from Japan, the concept of the game is simple. Small teams need to work together in order to solve puzzles and earn their freedom before time runs out.

There are clues scattered all over the place. They can be in pictures, locks, combinations or props. Your job is to figure out how it’s relevant to the mystery at hand.

It was during their honeymoon last summer that Umbrich and O’Coffey discovered escape rooms.

“We were in Gothenburg, Sweden looking for something to do and came across one,” Umbrich said.

“As soon as we tried it we were instantly hooked. You’re not doing this on paper, it’s face to face with your friends, you’re moving around,” O’Coffey added.

“There’s a real sense of discovery and there’s such a rewarding feeling when you get that puzzle.”

They liked it so much they did four more on their honeymoon. The toughest one was in Turkey – its clockmaker theme had a 15 per cent success rate – but they managed to beat it.

“We’ve failed much easier ones,” Umbrich said.

“After that first one we started thinking, could we make this work in Whitehorse and how much would it cost?”

By the time they had returned to the Yukon five weeks later, they’d already mapped out puzzles and planned what their escape room would look like.

Umbrich, who organizes gaming sessions in Whitehorse, said coming up with the puzzles was the easy part. It was harder to actually build everything, though.

To find the objects that would fit in well with their Klondike theme, they regularly monitored Facebook, eBay and Kijiji.

They also found a lot of older items at Rustic North, a Whitehorse business that sells a variety of reclaimed products.

When everything was almost ready to go, they flew down to Vancouver to try four more escape rooms.

“We wanted to make sure we had a good business model,” Umbrich said.

“Once we had that worked out we were ready for our first team.”

That was a nervous experience, they say, but so far every team has come away with a positive experience – even though only 25 per cent have beaten the game.

Umbrich and O’Coffey have invested about $20,000 in the business, not including their time. For six months they worked over 60 hours a week, each, to put it together.

“It’s the kind of business that’s only really possible if you own land and see a lot of tourists,” Umbrich said.

“If you tried this downtown you’d go bankrupt.”

They also want to cater to local businesses who might be interested in trying something new when it comes to team-building exercises.

If everything goes well this summer, they say, they’ll build a second room next year.

For the couple, the greatest thrill is watching people go through the motions as they advance through the game.

From the hostel building about 50 feet away they can sometimes hear teams cheering when they’ve discovered something.

As time elapses, frustration and excitement builds. As they wait for the game to end they can usually hear a lot of scrambling and yelling.

“Even though it’s a one-time only business model for now, if we succeed in getting people to think about this for days and weeks after, that’s all we really want to give them,” Umbrich said.

Yukon Escape Games (yukonescapegames.com) will officially open at its location near the Takhini Hot Pools once its wheelchair ramp has been installed, which should be within the next two weeks.

The cost is $30 per person and games can only be booked by appointment.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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