West Coast wildest

Waterfront lodges, racetracks and ranches build team spirit

West Coast Wilderness Lodge is a short trip by plane from the city, but a world apart | West Coast Wilderness Lodge

Getting away from it all in the city can be tough. You can turn off your phone, but you might run into someone you know on the street. Many people find it takes at least a day for the reality of a break to sink in. Pacific Yacht Charters takes groups on the water and the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish will land you on a mountaintop, but nothing quite matches leaving the city behind altogether.

Coastal disconnect ■ West Coast Wilderness Lodge in the fishing hamlet of Egmont on the Sunshine Coast shows that you don’t have to go very far to get away from it all. Just 25 minutes by float plane from Vancouver (or an hour from Seattle), cellphone coverage is spotty at best. Paul Hansen, who launched the property in 1997, doesn’t even have one.

“We’re definitely a great place to be unplugged,” he says, though he notes that some guests find it unnerving. “We had the president of Telus in here for lunch, and he was so upset that his phone wasn’t working.”

Hansen established West Coast Wilderness Lodge 20 years ago on a 10-acre parcel to bring people closer to nature. Telus ran a high-speed fibre-optic connection through to Egmont last year but streaming videos isn’t encouraged.

“We had to be a part of that game,” Hansen explains. “But without the cell coverage … it’s hard not to feel that you’ve stepped back in time, you’ve gone miles away from home and you’re in a different environment. The noises of city life are far, far away.”

Hansen and his staff will work hard to ensure that groups get what they’re looking for, whether it’s a secluded business retreat or a team outing to remote mountain lakes or night kayaking.

“There’s no lodge in B.C. that comes anywhere close to the diversity and experiences that we offer our guests,” Hansen says. “Our adventure team is really a strong team, so what we like to do is design experiences around that corporate goal – whatever that goal might be.”

Hansen’s goal is keeping up with demand. Peak-season occupancy often runs 98 per cent, making the shoulder season a better bet for snap getaways. The purchase last year of an adjacent property should ease the crunch.

Hansen plans to build an additional 30 guest rooms and 7,000 square feet of meeting space on the property in time for the 2018 season. The addition will boost the lodge’s capacity to 56 rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

Unplugged, unleashed ■ Distracted driving is against the law, making the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit in Duncan the ideal venue for the corporate team that wants to roar away from it all.

Operated by Gain Group, a top-end vehicle importer owned by Toronto radiologist Sylvester Chuang, the circuit is affiliated with Villa Eyrie Resort. Chuang acquired the resort formerly known as the Aerie in spring 2016 and refurbished and repositioned the 38-room resort with motorsport groups in mind.

Villa Eyrie will helicopter groups from its location atop the Malahat Summit to the driving track in Duncan, where executives can meet in a 15,000-square-foot clubhouse before breaking out to drive an Alfa Romeo 4C or Porsche GT4 Clubsport around the 2.3-kilometre track with a professional driver coaching them. The circuit has hosted Porsche executives as well as teams from various financial and health-care groups.

“There are very many accents at the resort that continue the automotive theme,” says Gigi Choy, who oversees sales, catering and corporate events for the two venues. “After a full day at the circuit, guests can return to the Villa Eyrie Resort for a Driver’s Massage in our Tuscan Spa and enjoy Italian-inspired cuisine in our Driver’s Lounge and Summit Restaurant.”

Drinking and driving is prohibited, but with a wealth of wineries – including award-winning Averill Creek – not far from the auto track, there is plenty to indulge the senses and distract from business concerns. Back at Villa Eyrie, rooms and meeting spaces offer stunning views across Finlayson Arm and the Georgia Strait to Mount Baker and south to the Olympic Peninsula.

“With such relaxing views, it is really easy to focus and brainstorm on the goals of each retreat,” Choy said.

Saddle up ■ Ranch life corrals the romance of the West, the bucolic home on the range where the skies are not cloudy all day. When guests arrive at Echo Valley Ranch & Spa north of Clinton, co-owner Norm Dove often asks them to listen close.

When they say they can’t hear anything, he tells them that’s the point.

“You no longer hear the traffic noise, and definitely no siren noise,” he says. “The human-made noise is replaced by the birds.”

B.C.’s oldest guest ranch, the Flying U, is a couple of valleys over near 70 Mile House. Cell coverage is poor and the vistas are stunning – ideal for those seeking an escape. But the isolation underscores why looking out for each other is even more central to ranch life than rugged individualism.

“Everybody here eats together, family-style. And there’s tons of activities – they play together as well,” Dove says, adding it’s the kind of mix a professional team-builder told him was next to perfect. “She said, if you can work together, eat together and play together, that’s as team building as you can expect to get.”

Communal life, experienced for a minimum of two nights but more often three, helps business groups establish common ground.

“When you’ve got a group of people together it’s not just the business that’s going to be discussed,” he says. “That’s an important part of it, but it’s the mindset of the people attending those meetings. If there’s more of a team spirit type of attitude, they’ll get more from what’s trying to be conveyed to them.”