We arrived at the Logpile Lodge, on a rocky knoll outside Smithers, farther inland on the Yellowhead Highway. This is a lively town of 5,500, but it still has an undiscovered feel, as if you've time-traveled into Boulder, Colorado, in the 1960s. "There's tons of people here who really chose the place not for economic reasons but because of lifestyle," said Christoph Luther, who came from Switzerland with his wife, Barbara, then built the seven-room lodge, with its massive spruce and pine logs, eight years ago. Wooden skis lean against the dining-room fireplace. Hudson Bay Mountain, 7,648 feet high, towers outside the front door. Other émigrés have come to Smithers from Vancouver, Quebec, Europe, even China and Vietnam.
Not long after you arrive in town, someone will likely repeat to you the truism that Smithers has a higher percentage of Ph.D.'s than anywhere else in western Canada. The main draw is not just a dazzling menu of adventure-sports venueshiking in Babine Mountains Provincial Park; whitewater on the Skeena, the Bulkley, and other rivers; climbing on Mount Rocher DeBoule; and skiing in the Telkwa and Howson rangesbut also the solitude. "You don't see another person here!" Barbara said. "It's always said Smithers is the best-kept secret. Sometimes too well kept."