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Three micro-getaways in the Bow Valley

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2Chiong's admonishment was intended to get a reaction out of his co-pilot (me), but a case of the nerves kept me unusually quiet.

Just as quickly as we'd cut through the choppiness, (which I later found out was performed at the request of my husband), we were back in calm conditions and I relaxed and settled in for what became an IMAX-like view of the Rockies-meets-prairie landscape. It's what you never get to see when you're zipping along the Trans-Canada in your car.

Within a 15-minute ride from the Kananaskis Helicopter Tours heli-pad, next to the Stoney Na-koda Resort and Casino, we'd crossed over the highway, a deep canyon and snow-covered peaks up to an elevation of around 3,000 metres.

We approached a forest of fir trees with surprisingly little snow and landed on the shores of one of the three Broken Lakes, under more than a metre of ice.

The sudden silence was striking. A slight breeze carried the smell of dormant pines. We walked across the shimmering ice of these hidden lakes, through the woods, looking to spot a moose. But all was unusually quiet on this day; we could only hear the trees creaking in the breeze and our footsteps crunching over the frozen ground.

An all-too-quick heli-ride whisked us back to the heli-pad, after experiencing a little slice of our winter landscape from a new perspective.

IF YOU GO: Kananaskis Helicopter Tours, based at the Stoney Nakoda Casino on Highway 1, offers many heli-experiences, from snowshoeing and dogsledding in winter to hiking and yoga in summer. It's also seen its share of heli-marriage proposals. ( or call 1-888-844-3514.)

Digital detox in K-Country

At first, it seemed unsettling not knowing what time it was. I took a break from my book to watch the sun disappear behind the dark mound of pine trees under a gentle snowfall.

No clocks. No TVs. No Wi-Fi. Detox for the digitally dependent is closer than you think. Just 40 minutes south of the Trans-Canada Highway is one of my favourite places to hunker down for the night after a day on nearby trails.

Mount Engadine Lodge, enveloped at this time of year in a m eringue-like metre of fresh snow, is the only building for miles, just off the Spray Lakes Road in Kananaskis Country. The nine-room lodge, part of the dozen-strong Charming Inns of Alberta, has been something of a secret to many Albertans. But the sleeper of a hideaway has gained the attention of professional hockey players, Canada's national cross-country team and outdoor enthusiasts.

They know at this time of year the 150 kilometres of snowshoeing and cross-country trails are just beyond the front door of the lodge, where a dozen pairs of frost-covered snowshoes await action. In summer, the wide veranda overlooks a meadow, with nearly guaranteed sightings of moose.

On a cold day, it's warm and welcoming inside. Logs crackle in the fireplace in both of the sitting rooms where Nala the cat always finds a warm spot in the sunlight. The kitchen buzzes as the small staff, including innkeepers Chris and Shari-Lynn Williams, are setting up afternoon tea service, which includes lemon squares and brownies.

Despite the busyness of running the lodge since 2006, the Williams always have time for conversation with their guests. They've collected fantastic memories and friends in this the latest gig as the "Gypsy innkeepers."

At the end of the day, the embers are slowly dying in the hearth and everyone is starting to feel the pleasant fatigue from the salubrious winter air. A cloud-like bed and pillows call. When you wake as daylight breaks, you might not know what time it is as you look out the window over mounds of snow, but you won't really care.

IF YOU GO: Mount Engadine Lodge is open from May to September and reopens in mid-December for the winter. Rates include all meals (eaten family style) and afternoon tea. Details about staying at the lodge, plus upcoming events at

Pathway to bliss and health

The timing was brilliant. After carving up the ski slopes for two days, I'd booked a massage before the drive home to Calgary. My achy first-ski-of-the-season thighs would thank me.

One Wellness Spa in Canmore is the newest spot in the Bow Valley to soothe away aches and pains, but it's not just another pamper-me-please spa. Rather, it incorporates the ideas of both holistic and participatory wellness.

One Wellness, in the Solara Resort and Spa, is owned by physiotherapist Hugh Simpson, who practises in Canmore and works with dancers from the Banff Arts Centre.

The soothing decor in the 9,500-square-foot spa is all Rocky Mountain-mood colours, greys and mossy greens, playing off light woods and textured slate tiles. The pre- and post-treatment area is outfitted in grand high-backed velvety couches with foot stools, befitting a royal sitting room, warmed by an ultra-modern wall-mounted fireplace. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the nail salon are filled with light and mountain views.

I was booked for the Pathways massage, one of the spa's signature treatments. Lead massage therapist Lindsay Kearns explained: "Five Pathways are used in the spa's massage and facial treatments: Release, Clearing, Joy, Sleep, Transition." The idea is each treatment is a journey, which you build on moving toward optimum health.

The 90-minute release massage is intended to "stop stress in its tracks." Kearns asked me questions about my health, stress level, sleep patterns, energy level and pains. I told her I didn't want to feel sleepy afterwards, but instead energized enough for dinner and a few drinks with friends.

Lulled by heady aromatherapy oils, I had a heated roll under my neck and feet and began my journey through "guided imagery." Kearns uttered soothing words about a mountaintop, a pond and tossing a pebble; it was all I needed to go to a dreamy place.

The massage left me energized, but I decided to relax and let the experience sink in as I reclined on one of those opulent couches with a cup of organic chai tea.

IF YOU GO: The spa has a comprehensive menu of services, including wellness and life coaching, nutrition counselling, active-motion physiotherapy, a variety of body treatments, such as scrubs and massages and facials, a nail salon and fitness facilities.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 D3

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