Living on Mount Washington

Bonnie Orel was seeking a quiet place to live, away from the bustle of city life.

Bonnie Orel was working at a busy restaurant in Courtenay and seeking a quiet place to live, away from the bustle of city life. She had narrowed down her choices to two: Bowser, or Mount Washington.

“I was looking for something remote,” says Orel. “I have lived in big cities most of my life; I grew up in a small town and I guess my roots started showing through.“Sirens and cars, I was done with.”

She had grown up in the hot, humid climes of Texas and Louisiana, about as far away from snow as a person could get.

Mount Washington won out though, thanks to the enthusiasm from Orel’s landlords, Paul and Penny Vroom. “I fell in love with it instantly.”

Orel has a condo in Ptarmigan Ridge on Henry Road, just outside of the Alpine Village, and has lived there full time since April 2014.

“I’d never lived anywhere near a mountain, or skied or snowboarded or anything before. The outdoor life like that, it was just camping. So it was a bit of a stretch,” she said.

“But it was affordable. It ended up growing on me. I found my soul up here, so I stayed.”

She also left the restaurant and now works as the seasons pass and groups office supervisor. “I learned how to snowboard the first year I was up here and it’s become my life. It’s who I am now.”

With her job in the seasons’ pass office, Orel hasn’t been able to pursue her passion of snowboarding in the morning; she would take a ride break on Thursdays, and from then until Sunday she would take advantage of night skiing.         

“I try and get out as much as I can, especially when the kids are up here (her partner has children and they all spend most of the winter at Mount Washington with her).

“This year I’m changing my schedule so I can do the ride into work.” From Ptarmigan Ridge she can walk to the beginning of Foster’s Place and take the ski cut beside Blueberry Hill to the Hawk Chair. She will take the chair to the top and rides back down to work - sometimes twice, if she can.

“I have a favourite, it’s the Sunset,” she said. If she has time for a second run she’ll go back up the Hawk and take Reverse Traverse back down to the Alpine Lodge.

That first year was a challenge for Orel to learn to live in the snow. “I didn’t realize before the mountain opens no one clears the parking lots. I would be out there with my shovel. It wasn’t enough for me to give up. Now, it’s old hat.”

Scheduling trips to town - “budgeting my time” - was another lesson learned. There are full-time residents who go down the hill to town every day, but Orel prefers to go once a week.

“Once it starts snowing I tend to stock up for a month; I won’t leave here,” she said. 

“If you choose to live up here you need to learn to budget your time and stock levels.”

The Resort is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the shoulder seasons, but the General Store is only open during winter and summer, so one can’t simply run to the Lodge if they’ve forgotten something.

“I appreciate it a little better because that’s what taught me to slow down.”

She’s glad she took the chance to live at Mount Washington even though she was still working down the hill in town. “This is one of the most beautiful places you can be,” she said.

“I would suggest if people are looking for a place to re-invent themselves…they should look at the mountain, definitely. It’s peaceful; it’s good for the soul. “t’s good for children as well.”

Although Orel appreciates the solitude at Mount Washington, she said there are enough families living on the mountain full time that a small community has really developed.

“A lot of us come up here for the same reason - to be around the quiet and nature, and like-minded people,” she said. “I finally realized I’m an extroverted introvert: I can be social even though I like to be alone.    

“The community up here is very solid. We have our own Mount Washington residents Facebook page. A lot of the people in the village have get-together nights.

“It’s not like you’re alone up here. There is a lovely community; everybody likes everybody else. It’s a village sense of feel.

“There are a few families that live up here full time and it’s nice that those kids get to play together. It’s a nice little community up here, for sure.”