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NOTY Shortlist: The Snow Bikers

NOTY Shortlist: The Snow Bikers

Marsha Cameron and Sylvain Turcotte went from offering seasonal mountain biking tours, to year-round, near Carcross, Yukon
By Eva Holland
Dec 04

The young couple behind Boréale Mountain Biking aren’t the new kids on the tourism block anymore. This past summer marked their eighth season of all-inclusive mountain biking vacations, but 2015 was still new terrain for them: it was their first full go as a year-round operation. Back in fall 2014, they moved out of their original seasonal yurt encampment above the Yukon River and into Boréale Ranch, near Carcross. They now offer all-season accommodations and winter tourism packages on top of their standard summer fare. And they’re not done yet. Their success in making that transition, and their ambitions for the future, earned them a spot on our Northerner of the Year shortlist.

Up Here: How has it been this year?

Marsha Cameron: Very busy. Winter is a different beast than summer adventure. In a lot of ways, the Yukon tourism industry in the winter is a lot more dialed [in]. Companies really work together a lot more—it’s more of a shopping cart kind of experience: you can put together packages and you just buy from [tour operators] Up North, Muktuk, Alayuk, or Northern Tales. It’s really nice to see. In the summer, it’s not like that yet. Everyone still seems to want to do all their own things.

Why do you think the winter scene is so different?

I’m not too sure. It’s kind of a well-oiled machine, almost. There’s the company that you rent the clothes from. There’s the company that takes them dog-sledding. Maybe in the winter there aren’t as many options of activities to do, so it’s not as customized. Basically they’re going to go snowmobiling, dog-sledding, fat-biking, and aurora-watching. Maybe ice-fishing. There’s not too many other activities they can do. So why would you re-create the wheel? Why not just hire somebody to do the ice-fishing, instead of my guides having to learn how to ice-fish?

What’s your vision for Boréale as a year-round operation?

Our big picture for this place is we want this to be an adventure hub of the Yukon. We want to go after our same clientele that we have in the summer: So that’s the urbanite, the weekend warrior, who likes to play. 

What Boréale does in the summer is, we really like to show why we live up here, and why we choose to live here. And so we’d like to do that in the winter as well. You know, we live in the Yukon in the winter, are we crazy? Well, maybe. But this is what we do in the winter. We go to the [Carcross] desert, we go tobogganing, we have a bonfire at the bottom. We have hot chocolate. That’s what I did growing up, and it’s an amazing experience if you live somewhere like Seattle or San Francisco. We’ve never believed that everything has to be hardcore. 

Is there growing interest from visitors in winter tourism here?

A client this morning was saying, all of a sudden a lot of people [in Vancouver] are thinking of the Yukon for Northern Lights viewing. So Air North is working. They’re doing a really good job of getting that message out: Yukon’s not so far away. And that’s our company’s market, is western Canada, western U.S.

What’s your biggest challenge these days?

This is the year that we’ve invested a lot into human resources, and to take this to the next phase—I think it’s easy to make money in the winter, just simply because there’s a shortage of places for people to stay. But I need to be inspired if I’m going to be keep working, so we’ll be doing pretty much what we did for mountain biking—we put the Yukon on the map as a mountain biking destination. So we’re going to do that for winter. We want to be one of the top destinations in Canada. That’s our goal. 

Edited and condensed.