CANMORE, Alta. – You can't get much further into the backcountry than Mount Engadine Lodge, a boutique property an hour from Canmore, Alta., and two from Calgary. But Castleavery Hospitality Ventures, composed of Calgary area investors, has moved occupancy from 32 per cent to 85 per cent in three years.
As the only guest house in Spray Valley Provincial Park, Mount Engadine started operations in 1987. It is a backcountry lodge and nature retreat rich in creature comforts. The Castleavery team has preserved the lodge’s longstanding approach to sustainable tourism, which has garnered awards and is a respectful fit for the gorgeous provincial park around it.
Castleavery began in 2015, with the stated goal: “We design exclusive hotel experiences.” Their original idea was to have three to five properties in five years, but so far they just have the one property, after finding that it required more work than they anticipated.
They bought Mount Engadine Lodge in January 2015. “It was our first venture into hospitality,” said Gair Fryers, who founded the company with his father, Clifford. “It's pretty gorgeous,” Fryers told CLN. The lodge consists of nine guest rooms plus five glamping tents.
They spent a year doing due diligence, and found that given Mount Engadine's remote location and the upgrades needed, they needed to concentrate on the one resort, located in the Spray Valley. The work involved close relationships with the Peter Lougheed Park, Alberta Parks and the Kananaskis Improvement District. “We made sure everything was to code when we were upgrading the building, including floors and electrical.
“Everything we've done is behind the walls so far,” said Fryers, but now they will have the opportunity to redo the floors in the rooms and paint — changes more visible to the clientele.
“When we bought the place, it had 32 per cent occupancy year round, partly because it closed for a couple of months. Now it is open year round and we have 76-85 per cent occupancy,” said Fryers. “In January, February and March, we are at 92 per cent occupancy, and that includes the increase because we added the glamping tents.”
They put in hardwood floors into the glamping tents, and a 6-foot by 12-foot deck at the front. They insulated underneath and put a full propane fireplace inside. Each glamping tent has a king bed that can become two twins, a pull-out couch, plus a full heated bathroom.
“We started Castleavery Hospitality with the goal of finding properties in unique locations with under 30 rooms. A family friend mentioned that we should look at Mount Engadine. We looked at the place and the area is quite spectacular, and has a road that is open year round,” said Fryers.
“The clientele is 80 per cent Calgary adventurers, people who want to snowshoe, cross-country ski and get into the backcountry. People do fat tire biking — mountain biking on the snow. The High Rockies Trail, part of the Canada-wide trail system, runs right by our property. We also get people stopping by while they are doing the High Rockies Trail.”
Mount Shark, located close to the lodge, was going to be the Nordic Centre for the Olympics that were held in Calgary area in 1988. While the Nordic Centre ended up being closer to Canmore, Mount Shark trails are still groomed, available and free.
The lodge is also a great place for low-key all-inclusive weddings. Over the three years, they have hosted 20 engagements and 15 weddings.
“We have a huge number of return guests, especially in the high season. We have people who have been coming for 20 years. Age 30 to 60 is our main demographic; before it was 45 to 60. We have a lot more young people, and a lot with families including friends from Calgary. It's not unusual to have a baby monitor in the room, so that the adults can lock the room and come downstairs. It's like running upstairs [to check on the baby] in your own house.”
Fryers adds that the rate is all-inclusive, with room rates including afternoon tea on arrival, complete with a charcuterie board and desserts; a three- to four-course dinner; breakfast and a packed lunch. “Once people figure that out, our prices seem pretty low for the value,” he said.