March 8, 2021 | Words by the CMH Bugaboo Management Team
There are two operating seasons in a regular year at CMH Bugaboos: summer and winter. In between are ‘off-seasons’ when the lodge is cared for by a small team of managers and maintenance crew.
This past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced CMH lodges into a dormant state – sort of an extended version of a typical off-season. This resulted in out-of-the ordinary occurrences and projects that are unique to this year.
Read on to hear, in the combined words of the current CMH Bugaboo crew, what it is like working and living at the lodge during this dormant season.
Our commute to the Bugaboos no longer looks like a 12-minute heli flight but instead a three-hour-plus journey on forest service roads involving trucks and snowmobiles. Transferring food and other supplies in and out of the lodge by helicopter would normally take no time at all, but now an average exchange takes from morning until afternoon.
Adjusting to a commute that takes most of the day is different, and pretty physical! We monitor avalanche paths and logging traffic, and do our best to thoughtfully navigate the route to the lodge. We recently made a slow and vain attempt at grooming out the snowmobile ruts that had formed, as the road resembles a washboard more and more each day. We’re all going to need intensive physio after a season of commuting to work by snowmobile!
Our snowiest supply run this winter left four staff (and one dog) with 500 kms (310 miles) of total snowmobile travel between them. Not often does a snowmobiler ride right up to the pump at a gas station in B.C., but that’s where I found my colleagues as they re-grouped to tackle the road back in after that day’s epic, deep escape from the lodge.
With La Niña in full force, there was more than a metre (a yard) of settled snow at the lodge by January. This year’s snowfall was well above average. A storm producing 40-60 cm (15-24 inches) of snow also produces 8-10 hours of shovelling and snow blowing around the property. With multiple outbuildings and fuel storage areas, the snow removal program has been nothing short of a full-time job.
CARING FOR THE LODGE
Caring for the lodge has turned out to be a pretty big task! I’m getting my steps in and averaging somewhere between 7-10 kms per day just walking through the lodge as I work.
Each morning I compile a daily to-do list after looking through my big-picture checklists. My tasks are diverse, as I’m covering duties from all of the departments that would normally be here: kitchen, bar, shop, laundry, massage and house.
I try to spend time walking through each area of the lodge at least once a day so I can keep tabs on if things change or feel different. I like having a sense of how the lodge is feeling.
I’m routinely flushing and scrubbing our 67 toilets to prevent hard water stains from forming. I also wipe out our 60 bathtubs and showers to keep them sparkling.
As CMH’s very first lodge, the Bugaboos has lots of great history, which means hundreds of picture frames to dust! The vacuums are staying active as I tackle large swaths of carpet that still collect bits and bobs, even with fewer people travelling across them.
Recently I took a foray into the culinary world, cooking for seven participants who were here for four days of Guide Development Training. It was great to get out of my comfort zone and plan and prep meals for this small group of folks with big appetites. I got to practice our COVID protocols, and it was great to put the framework to the test and see how they’ve progressed and developed over the past months.
Connecting with other lodge managers through project work and meetings has been a nice way to mix up my day-to-day at the lodge. We are working on standardizing many things from the hospitality side across all CMH areas, and I’m participating in an inclusive management group talking about diversity and inclusion at CMH.
A huge silver lining in this dormant season is getting to host other lodge and area managers from different CMH areas. This is something we would never get to do during a regular winter. It has been such an opportunity for reciprocal learning and collaboration. With the help of visiting managers, we are getting to tackle some amazing organizational projects and deep cleaning that we would never get to in a normal year. We plan to continue this cross-pollination from lodge to lodge to strengthen our teams and build community.
TIME TO LEARN
We just had the Guide Development Training program here for four days, where aspiring guides-in-training come to be mentored by CMH guides. The days were early starts and included some longer trips into the field. Sometimes we started with headlamps on, but fortunately, we didn’t finish with them. What an amazing opportunity our company is providing the next generation of guides. I’m honored and grateful to be a part of it.
Not operating this season has also given us time to do deeper work on projects like a terrain and run database for each CMH area, and learning to use software that will help us maintain our lodges to an even higher standard. We’ve also been able to tackle bigger lodge maintenance projects.
Planning meetings and calls remain consistent, as we all navigate these new and uncertain waters. It’s good to stay connected with everyone. The positive attitudes and direction stemming from this dormant season is pretty cool to witness. I like that we are thinking outside our usual box and challenging the norm.
I work on the maintenance team, so having an entire lodge devoid of staff and guests is not that out of the ordinary for me. The majority of CMH maintenance staff knows all too well what it’s like to walk the empty halls and quiet floors of a resting lodge during a regular ‘off-season.’
I’ve thought a lot about the similarities and differences between regular off-season quiet days and this year, and there certainly is a different feel.
When I’m at the lodge all alone, the world doesn’t spin quite so fast. The passing of days is less defined. It’s easy to get engrossed in the work at-hand, not having to account for the needs of others (or some of your own.) You don’t have to go to the store, you don’t get to meet up with anyone for coffee — you only have to take care of yourself. If I don’t see or interact with another human for days, those social skills become less finely tuned and the soul becomes slightly less nourished without that social element.
A few times this summer, I experienced the complacency of walking out the lodge doors, not expecting to see anyone, only to find a deer, black bear, or grizzly just throwing distance away, happily chewing on flowers and grass. Being alone doesn’t mean there’s no one to talk to; the wildlife tend to be great listeners … as long as I don’t mow the lawn too short!
Something as simple as a surprise visit from nature can spur you to reflect. On where you are, what you are doing, or why you are doing it. It can pleasantly shock you out of whatever rabbit hole your mind has gone into amid the silence of the day.
During the stretches of time I’m working alone, when I do finally return to reality, it can be overwhelming. It takes me a minute to crawl back out of my shell, and the lights and noises of the real world seem brighter and louder. It really is like a reemergence.
This winter, there are more staff on-site for safety and practical reasons, which is great. The social interaction is uplifting and there are more hands to get creative with bigger tasks. Not having a chance to be completely alone this winter means reality seems less far away.
The rest of humanity is currently experiencing some sense of isolation, so returning home from a shift now presents a different kind of reality. Going from my CMH bubble to another is not as much of a contrast…it’s a smoother transition.
Editor’s note: A big thank-you to the Bugaboos team for sharing their experiences. Thanks to Lexie Morgan, Lodge Manager; Stephen Crean, Maintenance; Brodie Smith, Assistant Area Manager; Peter Macpherson and Jesse Seguin, Interim Area Managers.