Better Kids & Much Better Kids
“We produce two things at the Chilko Experience that I’m very proud of,” says owner Phil Huston. “Better kids and much better kids.”
Parents seem to be pleased with both. Parents will do almost anything to improve the lives of their children, but many times don’t know what to do. The Huston’s have a strong opinion about something that benefits all children and adults: Connect with nature at the highest level possible.
The Hustons own the Chilko Experience located in the wilderness of southern British Columbia. It’s a very special place. In the late 70’s, Phil discovered BC and never forgot it. In 2000, they bought an old guest ranch as a summer place for their family. In 2002, a five year build project began that resulted in a seven home $10M estate for the use of friends and family. Results can be seen here- http://chilkoexperience.com/. With their family grown, the Hustons recently opened their estate to the public.
“One of the indirect results of summering in the BC wilderness was we got much better kids,” says Anne Huston, mother of five. “We had typical city kids who never had a chance to connect with nature. That changed big time at Chilko. Our location is on a five million acre pristine wilderness tract that is so vast that it defies most people’s sense of size. Most think a 10,000 acre ranch is pretty large. Now combine 5,000 of them and you’ve got the right size.”
Phil says he is often asked their exact location and he has come up with a standard answer that most can understand. “We are 200 miles from the nearest grocery store and cell tower, 50 miles from a post office and 40 miles to the power grid, but at night you can touch the stars. The vastness and purity of the area will overwhelm your senses upon arrival.”
Huston observes, “I have had a unique opportunity to observe what few others have. As a father and someone who has spent 17 summers in the BC wilderness and hosted 1,000 plus guests, this is what I know. Exposure to nature at its highest level makes better kids and families. Disneyland is fun, but that is all it is. A bit like cotton candy- fluffy, but hollow. Take the same 10 year old and teach him how to catch his first fish, ride a horse, hike a mountain trail, watch salmon spawn and eagles soar and that experience has substance.
Chilko is a special place like no other. We have snowcapped mountains with 10,000 year old glaciers forming rushing streams that feed blue rivers so pure, all locals drink from them. Chilko Lake is the largest alpine lake in North America. It’s 50 miles long and so beautiful, it makes Tahoe look like a mud puddle. The outflowing Chilko River has world class fly fishing and was named Outside Magazine’s ‘2014 Top White Water River in the World’. In the fall, a million Sockeye journey up the Chilko River to spawn and dozens of grizzly bears come to its banks to dine before winter. Photographers from around the world come for this event. Surround this with millions of Aspens turning bright fall colors and you have something wonderful. In short, Chilko is the Augusta National of nature.”
“Experiencing nature at its highest level changes people. It inspires and humbles at the same time. We realize man is not as significant as he thinks he is. The ‘How’ of this experience is important. We experience nature by doing cool things in the middle of it,” says Huston. “Exploring the length of Chilko Lake on a warm sunny day by cabin cruiser is unforgettable. We stop at points of interest, test the fishing and enjoy a picnic lunch. Guests enjoy both four legged and four wheel touring. Horseback trail riding to a hidden mountain top fossil bed takes a full day, but well worth the effort. Chilko also has 500 miles of backwoods to explore by ATVs- probably the favorite guest activity. Some teens forget they have legs, but find them for a hike up Tulin mountain. There is lots to do on the water. Kayaking, canoeing, paddleboards and swimming are all options. Everyone loves Chilcotin darts. It’s a competition course where guests learn how to throw Viking axes at wooden targets. A few minutes of instruction is all that is required. There is something fun for everyone to do every day, regardless of age or experience.”
When the activities are done its time to go back and ‘rough it’ at the “Four Seasons,” as one guest called the Chilko Experience. Huston believes sleeping in a tent is over rated and hasn’t done so in decades. “I enjoy my wilderness adventures in four to eight hour increments,” says Huston. “Then, I like returning to a hot shower, a soft bed, a good drink, a chef prepared meal and interesting company. Most guests do, also. Generally this is difficult at most facilities, due to transit time to and from activities, but not here.”
The architecture at the Chilko Experience is stunning for many small reasons that combined to create something special. Pioneer Log homes of BC is the best log home builders in the world and they are located in nearby Williams Lake. They ship homes around the world and last December delivered four homes to the President of Kazakhstan. He was so pleased he ordered sixteen more as they were exiting. The owner is Byran Reid. He and Huston meet on a fishing trip and have been friends since. When it was time to build, Pioneer was the natural choice and the five year project was done on a handshake.
“It’s pretty old school, but this project was so fluid,” says Huston. “It was the only way it could have worked.” The talent at Pioneer are now TV stars on HGTV Canada’s top rated reality show called Timber Kings. It’s in its fourth season and airs in over 128 countries.
“Luck was also with us,” says Phil. “When we landed three ship carpenters who were here for nearly four years doing all of our finish work. Ship carpenters have to build water tight, so their skill sets are remarkable. A local friend was an electrical engineer and he designed our entire off grid electric system, including solar. He stayed for another 13 years as our general manager. Anne Huston, who has been an antique collector and dealer for over thirty years, decorated all the homes. She had a warehouse full of treasures she had been collecting for just the right application. Everything contributed to the finish product.”
Huston says, “The Chilko Experience does three things exceptionally well that makes me proud. Our architecture is world class: no tents here. Our location is a pristine 5M acre wilderness tract in southern BC. Travel is shorter and the season longer, drier and sunnier than Alaska. There are no lines, tour buses or cruise ships for hundreds of miles. Lastly, guided activities are absolutely essential to defining the experience. Hands on, laugh your tail off real fun is what we do. Boots on the ground, paddles in the water, fish on the line, sights seen by few- are what we have. Doing fun things in the middle of beautiful scenery is the ultimate way to encounter nature. Add family and friends and it just does not get any better. As a result, we make better kids and families.”