Tantalus with a Twist 
Enter the Wildwood World of Warren and Janice Brubacher, A tent full of gnarly tree limbs and a cosy guest chalet - just two of the many charms at Tantalus View Retreat.

by Rob Howatson ~ Photography by Ron Sangha Feature article/ winter spring 2004 issue of 99 North magazine. (Sea to Sky Adventure Guide)

A chalet at the end of the goat trail: 
Soaking up 99 square metres of wildwood 
laced luxury at the Tantalus View homestead.

The Sea to Sky Highway is dotted with 18 designated viewpoints - most of them consisting of a paved pullout, a litter barrel and some kind of jaw-dropping glimpse of Howe Sound or the Squamish Valley. But the Tantalus Viewpoint - 12.8 kilometres north of Squamish - has two distinct features that set it apart from the other park-and-peeks: a funky wildwood bench and a tourist info map that hands on one of the most ornate log-art kiosks ever to grace a provincial highway shoulder. On an early winter road trip, we take a seat on the surprisingly comfortable red cedar bench with its flowing armrests and crescent-shaped back support, and find ourselves looking out at the Tantalus Range - a craggy, glacier-packed section of the Coast Mountains that towers against the sky with the same sharpened-arrow-flint peaks normally associated with the Rockies.

Thousands of Whistler-bound tourists stop and stretch their legs at this scenic spot before pushing on for the final 25-minute drive to the ski resort. Very few travellers, though, take the time to carefully read the flipside of the map sign, missing out on the facts that not only does the wood artist who created these whimsical roadside accoutrements live a scant one km up an adjoining logging road, but he and his wife also rent a chalet on their property that enable guests to "own" that awe-inspiring panorama for as long as they care to book. It's this promise of artistry and hospitality unfolding on an impressive homestead in the bush that lures us off the highway. All we have to do to get there is endure a 1,000-metre first gear crawl up the forestry service road. 

(If you're SUVing, you won't find it that arduous; on the other hand, our Mazda Protégé 5 hatchbatch with low-profile tires requires patience behind the wheel.) The tree-lined dirt road twists, climbs and then levels off just before we pass a pair of wooden rails that scoot up the side of a rocky escarpment. A crude sled attached to a pulley system sits on these tracks at the base of the cliff - a set-up resembling an old hardrock mining operation. (It is, in fact, the luggage elevator, but more on this later.) We drive a bit further to a little clearing in a bowl, comprising a work yard hemmed in by a creek, a mountain, a ridge and a rocky bench. Amid this natural splendour sits an assortment of vehicles: an ex-BC Hydro truck with a hydraulic boom, a German Unimog flatdeck that looks like a Hummer on steroids and a green pickup with wooden roll bars - the greying, weather-bleached timbers arching over the truck's bed to form a headache rack. Similar wooden tendrils weave a fence around the small pergola garden on the creek side of the property. These untamed shoots are in stark contrast to the regimented red cedar poles that create a perfect washboard effect on the walls of the combination home-workshop-office in another corner of the acreage. We spy a doggy door set into one of the building's entrances, and from that swinging flap bolts the concierge, a four-year-old German shepherd who greets all visitors and does not stop barking salutations until we're checked in (at which point Bella goes quiet and stands watch, as part of her other role - self-appointed bear liaison officer).

Tall Tree Tales 

Nature knows many ways to introduce a twist into the life of a tree. A blown- down cedar may send branches into the ground to become new trees, or a tree growing on an avalanche slope will develop a curve at the base of its trunk as the tree struggles to remain upright. The stories are all in the wood. And Warren Brubacher preserves those tales by incorporating flowing timbers into flowing designs.

The hosts, Warren and Janice Brubacher, emerge next. The easygoing couple in their 50s has built almost everything on the property and supplied it with power and water from Swift Creek, the source of that babbling sound from the edge of the yard. The only original structure on the lot is the guest chalet, and even that was just a dilapidated cabin when they bought it in 1996. "The floorboards were so loose," Warren says, "you had to be careful you didn't sit too heavily on the living room couch or you might launch someone off the porch." The newly renovated retreat is tucked out of sight atop a small cliff that rises up behind the Brubacher home. Janice knows we're eager to traipse up "the goat trail" (actually wooden steps built into the side of the rock) to check out the $200/night accommodations and drink in more of that wrap-around alpine vista that was so alluring down by the highway. "But first", she says, pointing to the luggage tram, "we've got to load your stuff onto the stone boat."

"The wuh?"

Stone boat. Nova Scotian for "a type of wooden sled, " this new phrase elicits a dollop of Brubacher family history, and we learn the Tantalus View homestead is not the first one the couple has sod-busted.