Escape is a word that’s often used to describe healthy getaways, but it’s somehow not quite enough when you’re talking about Mountain Trek, the Canadian fitness retreat where I recently spent a week. The program’s equally serious about fitness, weight loss, and life change. It’s a wake-up call, not just a getaway.
The main mechanism for reaching all those lofty goals is simple: Nature. Specifically, the gorgeous Kootenay Mountains of eastern British Columbia where you hike every day for three to four hours past fields of wildflowers and through lush forests. It makes your asphalt-covered life feel weird.
The hikes are rigorous—if you can carry on a conversation, Mountain Trek’s leaders make you walk faster—but with 16 guests, divided into four groups going at different paces, they’re also accessible to everyone. I can’t think of another way to do intervals (which hiking is, if you think about it: chugging up a steep path, then catching your breath on a straightaway) that’s simultaneously relaxing.
And that’s the point. Stress management is behind just about everything at Mountain Trek, both because cortisol messes with hormones and impedes weight loss, and because the program is grounded in the belief that emotions are as essential to wellness as good nutrition. Each day begins with 6:30 a.m. sunrise yoga, and there are talks about sleep and stress, along with the more conventional diet and exercise curriculum that are the cornerstones of many retreats.
Of course, for many guests, weight loss holds some appeal, and Mountain Trek delivers on that promise. Everyone during my week dropped at least a few pounds of fat, with surprisingly little pain, and it left motivated to continue. While much of the calorie-crushing takes place on beautiful trails, there are also evening cardio classes that are varied and generally fun (a boot camp circuit, kickboxing, CrossFit lite).
The meals and snacks are protein-rich, beautifully presented, and relatively abundant. It was sometimes hard to believe all those full plates I ate, as well as the trailside thermoses of soup I slurped, added up to just 1,200 calories a day (1,400 to 1,600 for men). And most important? It was delicious.
Here are three other highlights of my recent trip:
1. The food! (Yes, I’m mentioning it again.)
While North America’s other serious luxury health retreats lean to the vegan, the diet at Mountain Trek is closer to Paleo, though they warn against adhering to any food dogma, and serve the occasional quinoa or Manna bread. There’s lots of red meat along with the vegetables, though pescatarians and vegetarians are handily accommodated. The menus provide plenty of protein snacks for rigorous treks, and remind you that healthy but hearty options abound when they’re back home, cooking for yourself.
2. Detoxing in the Ainsworth Hot Springs
Detox hydrotherapy is a core part of the program, and guests are urged to sweat in the steam room or sauna every evening—or have a staffer drive them down the road to the local hot springs, where the water is loaded with good-for-you minerals and the people watching is fantastic.
3. The actually inspiring lectures
As a spa travel writer, I’ve sat through more health workshops and lectures than I can remember—and few, I’ll admit, have really sunk in. Mountain Trek director Kirkland Shave’s lectures were the first that got me to take action: Before I checked out, I’d already bought a stability ball to replace my desk chair, made a grocery list inspired by the cuisine, and booked five classes at Brooklyn Bodyburn. —Ann Abel
Weeklong program: $4,500; two weeks: $8,550. Mountain Trek also offers a snowshoeing week over New Years; November and February residencies at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico; as well as an annual trip to an exotic locale like Peru or Nepal.
For more information, visit www.mountaintrek.com