With a pair of new managers at the helm, a Comox Valley lodge switches gears to service both locals and tourists.
High on the verdant slope of Forbidden Plateau rests a craftsman lodge overlooking the Salish Sea. Though the area is at the mercy of deep snow in the winter and cooling rains in the spring, warmth is the defining characteristic of Wood Mountain Lodge: a honey-toned Douglas fir interior, a wood-burning fireplace framed by stonework in the centre of the main floor, and at the heart of it all, the lodge’s welcoming hosts.
Max Gerth and Martina Kirchner are coincidentally both from the Bavaria region of Germany, but met for the first time in Tofino while Kirchner was working at the Wikaninnish Inn. Though she has a marketing background, she’s maintained a long-term interest in hospitality, and this venture allows her to put both to use. Gerth’s background in forestry initially brought him to the island; he’s been living in an off-the-grid cabin below the lodge for the past three years, which the couple now shares.
Formerly known as Coastal Trek Resort, the lodge was operated as a health and wellness retreat by Andrea and Shayne Stuchbery and their family. The business was conceived and brought to fruition by Andrea’s father James McLeod, known to friends as “Big Jim.” It has 12 rooms (each with a private bathroom) lining a hallway with floor to ceiling windows looking onto the sloping rear of the property. The lower level has a spa and recreation space ideal for yoga or other group classes. There is an outdoor hot tub underneath the expansive deck, both showcasing a view of the Comox Harbour and Powell River across the Strait. The Lodge was erected by Island Timberframe, and the craftsmanship and location remain as central to management as when Coastal Trek opened for business in 2003.
When Kirchner first moved to Forbidden Plateau, her interest in hospitality was piqued by the resort. After seven years of camp work, Gerth was ready to do something hands on and put the couple’s business sense to use. McLeod decided around the same time that he wanted to retire, which meant simplifying his life and loosening his grip on operations. The couple started discussing a business arrangement with their neighbours, and eventually took over management. “I always wanted my own bed and breakfast… this is a little bigger than that,” Kirchner laughs.
Renamed Wood Mountain Lodge, they now run it as a boutique hotel. They also plan to open the doors to local guests wishing to take advantage of the scenery and dining experience without staying overnight. The Stuchberys remain involved, with Andrea continuing to put her culinary knowledge to work as the lodge’s chef, and Shayne clearing snow that heavily and unpredictably blankets the Plateau. Gerth can be found chopping firewood and maintaining the 15 acre property in the summer. “It’s a family run business,” he says, “and we want to keep it that way.”
The location makes it the ideal base for year-round activities, including hiking and mountain biking in the summer months and heli-skiing in the winter (with plans to build a helipad on the property this spring). They also facilitate outdoor packages on their guests’ behalf.
Wood Mountain Lodge holds future bookings for weddings, corporate events, and private parties. Sitting on the deck with a drink in your hand, one’s mind easily wanders to the many events that such a space is ideal for. The lodge is accessible for how remote it feels. The open plan common room is as attractive as it is comfortable. The spectacular view, a fully equipped commercial kitchen, and the closest neighbours acres away are all ideal attributes for gathering and celebration.
Not to mention the collaborative hosts. The two are interested in any ideas future guests bring forward; executing the unexpected taps into Kirchner’s skill at pulling different elements of the hospitality process together. Wood Mountain Lodge hosted a New Year’s party this past year, complete with a long table dinner, fireworks, and an evening bonfire. They’re also considering a nod to their origins with an Oktoberfest-inspired event down the road.
One of the biggest changes they plan to make is to engage more with local residents and businesses, extending their love of the property and Lodge by hosting the surrounding area as well as clientele from afar. “We want to find out what people are into,” says Gerth, “because the resources are all here. It would be awesome to sit down with people and collaborate. We want to be a part of the culture of the Comox Valley.”