A woman after my own heart, Elena Sonnino recently decided to make health and wellness a priority in her life. To jump-start healthy habits, she spent a week at Mountain Trek luxury fitness retreat and health spa in British Columbia. Here’s her report. — Kara
The expansive views of 90-mile long Kootenay Lake resting between the Purcell, Selkirk and West Kootenay mountains are the first sign of the beauty that lies ahead. My brain tried to process the passing landscape as our shuttle bus curved along the winding roads. With every turn, my breath slowed as we approached the lodge at Mountain Trek – a luxury fitness retreat and health spa – 45 minutes from the burgeoning artistic town of Nelson, British Columbia.
My desire to spend time at a wellness retreat was born after high school, when I first started to struggle with my weight, self-confidence and stress management. Unlike other spa and health retreats, Mountain Trek distinguishes itself as the only mountain-based, hiking fitness and weight loss program in North America. After one week at the timber-frame lodge with a view of the Purcell Mountains and Kootenay lake, I realized that these seven days were just a beginning – a recommitment to myself and my health.
The program’s main goals are to reset metabolism and lower cortisol (primary stress hormone) levels – through four pillars: nutrition, fitness, detoxification and sleep health/stress management. Unlike retreats that offer a menu of options, at Mountain Trek – the choices are made for you. The only decision I had to make each day was which herbal tea to drink or whether to pick the infra-red sauna or steam room for my evening detox routine. After one week, I left British Columbia a new person – determined to bring the experience home with me (and hopefully go back for periodic resets).
Here are five reasons to embark on a Mountain Trek adventure.
Fitness at Mountain Trek
The mountains that surround the lodge make it easy want to be outside – deep in the forest canopy – hiking three or four hours a day. While Mountain Trek relies heavily on hiking; daily yoga and fitness classes help guests move, strengthen and stretch for a total of six or seven hours of movement each day.
Truth be told, I have not always loved yoga. But something about sunrise yoga overlooking the mountains, hooked me on day one. By day three, my sore leg muscles appreciated and craved the hour of gentle Hatha style yoga.
It would be easy to say that the hiking trails are stunning, because in fact, they are. But more than the natural beauty around every twist of the trail or top of a climb; the sometimes rocky paths bordered with carpets of fern-moss are an invitation. A chance to strengthen and build endurance. My lungs were not sure what I had gotten them into when I was huffing and puffing after my first strenuous climb. By day five though, my breathing had settled in and the vertical climbs no longer seemed unsurmountable.
Gourmet Mountain Trek Cuisine
Food takes center stage at Mountain Trek. While that might seem strange; the importance of real food to fuel metabolism and muscles for high energy output became obvious early into my week.
There are six meals a day, starting with a 4 oz. protein smoothie before yoga, continuing to breakfast, lunch and dinner AND a morning and afternoon snack. Jennifer Keirstead –Mountain Trek’s holistic nutritionist – describes the food plan as a “mission” instead of a a “diet,” designed to balance blood sugar and hormones to raise and maintain anabolic metabolism.
One thing that I loved was the attention to food allergies, sensitivities or dislikes. The amazing kitchen staff creates alternatives on a case-by-case basis. For instance – I am not a fan of hard-boiled eggs so for snack one morning, instead of an egg in my pack, I found cheese.
Beyond the science of timing and meal composition that goes into each plate, the presentation was on par with gourmet restaurants around the world. Even with calorie-controlled meals I never once felt hungry. Not only that, but the action-packed nutrient rich food was so delicious that I have already re-created several of the meals since being home. An added bonus: the head chef emails full recipes for any dishes that are not already listed in the program guide upon request.
Education at Mountain Trek
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of my Mountain Trek experience was the quality of education delivered each day. While curling up for a nap after a long hike might sound appealing, every single lecture was both informative and inspiring. Session topics included fitness, nutrition, metabolism, sleep health, stress management and goal setting.
The lectures empower guests with the full context and knowledge that enables the “induction” program to be integrated into daily routines. Beyond the content, it felt like the flow of the topics fit perfectly with the evolution of the week, dovetailing our thoughts and progress. Everything seemed intentional, with each piece fitting together like a puzzle.
It is hard not to be inspired when Kirkland Shave – Mountain Trek’s program director – outlines the historical context for understanding our metabolism – dating back to hunters and gatherers. “You have to believe in it – and the hormones will follow” Shave told twelve of us around a fire in the living room of the lodge. By the end of the week, I definitely believed.
The staff at Mountain Trek
As much as I enjoyed the hiking, the food, the education and the relaxation during my time at Mountain Trek – the one aspect of the program that stands out above all else – is the staff. I now understand why the first thing that a veteran attendee told me during our shuttle from Spokane, was that “the staff is so nurturing.”
For Shave, his wish for each Mountain Trek guest is to “feel triumphant when you walk up a hill and lighter of being.” On the trail, in the lodge, from the kitchen and on our yoga mats – the passion and heart that each staff member brings made me feel like I had an army of allies to support and encourage me. Echoes of “…engage your core, take small steps and use your poles” could be heard on the trail as each guide led their group up a climb.
With 15 different guests (the maximum is 16) of varying abilities, the staff challenged and encouraged each individual with just the right amount of support to overcome obstacles. I will never forget how on our last day, one woman wanted to opt out of the daily hike. Despite the prescribed schedule of the program, guests are encouraged to make decisions based on what they need and how they feel throughout the week (several guests opted out of hiking on our mid-week day, which the staff affectionately calls “Wacky Wednesday”). But on this last day, Cathy Grierson – lead guide and fitness director – privately encouraged the doubtful and deservedly tired hiker that the trail would be a gift to herself, a reward for all the progress made during the week. Returning back to the lodge that evening, it was clear that the encouragement worked. The now confident and bubbly hiker smiled as her group told tales of crossing a creek on a cable-car and trekking along the Galena trail near the charming town of Kaslo.
While a week at Mountain Trek is physically and emotionally challenging, the rewards of improved vitality and health are priceless. What makes this program unique compared to other health spas is the camaraderie that develops among the guests and staff, combined with the natural backdrop of British Columbia.
Mountain Trek offers both a one week “reboot” and a two week “renewal” program in British Columbia from early May to late October each year. The program also runs twice a year in November and February from Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.
Elena Sonnino spent twelve years teaching children to chase their dreams before finally taking her own advice. She writes about finding everyday wellness in life through travel, food and running at Live.Do.Grow. She was hosted by Mountain Trek for her one-week reboot. However, all opinions expressed here are her own.