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Sand And Snow

Sand And Snow

A winter road trip in search of a –40 degree beach party takes an unexpected turn.
By Emily Blake
Jan 29
2020
From the January/February 2020 Issue

As many northern transplants learn, the key to making it through the long, dark, cold winters is keeping busy. When the sun sets before dinner time, the temperature plummets below –30 C and summer is nowhere in sight, it’s important to have plans to pry you from your warm, cozy bed, whether it’s a curling bonspiel or just a date with friends.

Dominic Berleth knows about that cabin fever all too well. The German immigrant moved to the North over a decade ago, settling in Mayo, in the heart of the Yukon along the Silver Trail. One winter five years back, daydreaming about sandy shores, he set his mind to making a –40 C beach party a reality, and a tradition was born.

Ever since, in the depths of January and with the help of a group of friends, Berleth trucks sand into his former carpentry shop and adorns it with plastic palm trees, colourful party lights and tiki huts that would look right at home on a tropical beach.

I first heard about the famous beach party and how much fun it was after moving to Whitehorse in 2017 to work as a court reporter for the Whitehorse Star, the then-daily paper in town (which now publish-
es three times a week). So a friend and I decided to embrace the Yukon spirit and headed out to see what it was like for ourselves.

Driving from Whitehorse, we watched snow-covered spruce, mountains, lakes, and even a snowshoe hare pass by; the landscape looking like a picture-perfect Christmas card. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect but we were excited to find out.

We arrived in the sleepy village four-and-a-half hours later and settled into the hotel—the only one open in town that week as the other was closed due to the arrival of a baby. After nightfall, we trudged through the snow in parkas, hats and mitts, big flakes landing softly on our shoulders. We were shrouded in the comfortable silence of a snowy winter’s eve... until we began to hear the faint thud of a bass line and spotted twinkling lights in the distance.

Stepping inside the indoor beach party, we were hit with a warm blast of air from a collection of space heaters. We shed our winter gear and I felt the sand between my toes, normally tucked away this time of year in thick wool socks and boots with beaver fur.

Soon the ‘beach’ was packed with almost 100 people wearing grass skirts, sandals, Hawaiian shirts, and floral leis. Everyone was drenched in sweat dancing to the electronic music pumping from the speakers. Berleth intermittently appeared among the crowd, swathed in a sports jacket and sailor hat, greeted by the applause and shouts of partygoers.

It was in the early morning hours when we decided to call it a night. Legs sore from dancing and faces decorated with glitter, we had made it through the winter beach bash. We stuffed our sandals back in our bags, pulled our socks back onto our feet, and slung scarves around our necks, preparing for the winter outside this balmy oasis. We looked like two Michelin men as we headed back out into the snowy cold.

The next day we began our journey home. We were outside of town when a pickup truck sped past us, kicking up a cloud of newly fallen snow, obscuring the road in its wake and sending our car into the ditch. Firmly stuck in the snow, there wasn’t a house in sight and we were far away from cell service. We were brainstorming what to do next when a snowplow appeared in the distance. The driver stopped and while he couldn’t pull us out of the ditch—against government rules—he did give us a drive into town.

I sat in that cab, watching the beautiful winter landscape pass by from on high as we headed back to Mayo. We spent the next few hours at the local RCMP detachment drinking coffee and petting the commander’s pug as he called around town to see who could help us (the closest tow service was located at least an hour-and-a-half away).

After some time, a little work and the kindness of strangers, the car was back on the road. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was just beginning to set as we headed home. It was a long drive in the dark but we made it to Whitehorse. We were home safe, having experienced both the cold and the warmth the Yukon has to offer, from its people to its beachy carpentry shops.