Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

June 28, 2017

© Paul Zizka

Bookmark and Share

Backcountry paradise

Ski or heli in to these stunning gems in the heart of the Canadian Rockies

As a rule, I prefer summer to winter. I ski, but hesitate to call myself a skier. I skate and try to get in a couple of pick-up games of hockey at the local rink between the holidays and Spring Break, but seldom manage it. I’ve made peace with those annual few weeks of very cold weather when daytime temperatures plunge below -25ºC and I even delight in those few black, icy nights with their great sprays of stars. I’m a Canadian afterall. Some taste for cold weather is bred in the bone. And there’s one thing I like about winter that I wouldn’t care to give up for all the beaches in Florida and Phuket combined: the chance to spend a few days and nights at a ski-in lodge that feels far enough from civilization that you might have skied or snowshoed right into the 19th century. You only get that true wilderness-the-way-it-was feeling in the West. Here are four such places where you can experience just that.

Skoki

Skoki Lodge sits at an elevation of 2164 metres in the heart of Banff National Park. You reach it by skiing cross-country over an 11-kilometre trail out of Lake Louise. The rustic log cabin was built in 1931 and has been a National Historic Site for more than 20 years. It’s a place you owe it to yourself to see at least once before you pass on to your great reward.

Speaking of passing on, seeing it is not entirely a cakewalk. That’s as it should be. The work equity you build up getting there makes the arrival all the more satisfying. The trail through the Ptarmigan Valley goes over two steep passes. The second, Deception Pass, requires skins on your skis to make the climb. Don’t let that discourage you. Anyone who is reasonably fit can manage it, no worries.

Now the rewards. Most guests arrive in the late afternoon, not long before dinner and that’s a good thing. There will be as many 22 of you at the table — the lodge and nearby cabins are usually fully booked — and what a table it is. Chef Katie Mitzel has commanded the kitchen for 16 years. Her meals have earned her a certain reputation and the guest list is all the proof needed. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate, visited in July 2011 as part of their cross-country tour. The heir to the British throne chose the beef tenderloin, butternut squash, roasted potatoes with candied pecans and the Amazon chocolate cake for dessert. If those particular items are not on the menu don’t despair; all Skoki meals are quite wonderful.

After dinner, guests usually linger in the main lodge to socialize. If there’s someone who can play piano, there may be a group sing. Board games usually come out as well. Given the exercise expended each day, most make it early to bed. After a night tucked under a duvet and a big breakfast in the morning you’ll be ready to explore the lakes and trails around the lodge before skiing out toward the end of the afternoon. Or if you’re one of the lucky ones, stay another day to enjoy the beauty, silence and that irreplaceable feeling of being in the great outdoors. tel: (888) 997-5654; skoki.com; opens December 21; from $169 a night, including meals.

Assiniboine

Built in 1928, Assiniboine Lodge in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park near Canmore, BC was the first backcountry ski lodge in the Rockies. The property now accommodates 30 guests with five rooms in the lodge and seven private cabins. You ski in over a 28 kilometre trail or take a short helicopter ride ($175). You can also arrange to ski in and fly out.

Stunning mountain views embrace the visitor — the sheer grandeur of the place can take your breath away. Mount Assiniboine (3618 metres) is considered Canada’s Matterhorn. Visitors have called it one of the most beautiful places on the planet, others simply describe it as “paradise.” Spectacular as the wilderness setting is, guests need not want for anything. Go off exploring on your own or take part in one of the many guided tours on offer. When you get back, relax in the sauna before launching into a gourmet meal in the warmth of the fire-lit main dining room. tel: (403) 678-2883; assiniboinelodge.com; February 13 to April 6; $250 per person, per night for a double-occupancy room, $310 for a private cabin, including meals.

Brewster’s Shadow Lake

The trailhead for the ski in is on the Trans-Canada Highway 19 kilometres west of Banff, AB. Park your car in the free lot, strap on your skis or snowshoes and set out for the lodge a relatively easy 14 kilometres away — no daunting mountain passes to climb.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be hungry when you get there and that’s a good thing. Shadow Lake is famous for food and comfort. Homemade bread and afternoon tea will be waiting for you. Save room for dinner. Alison Brewster serves a fantastic family-style meal. Guests rave about the leg of lamb, the beef tenderloin, roast chicken, baked salmon, herbed potatoes, buttered squash etc. etc. etc. Enjoy wine or beer with dinner. For some, the desserts alone are worth the trek in.

But it’s not all about the food. This is one “ski in” that includes many of the creature comforts found in hotels close to Banff Avenue. Private cabins offer a choice of king, queen and double beds, and there is a central shower, and a sauna. After a tasty breakfast, build your own lunch in the kitchen and head out to enjoy the many trails to lakes and passes in the surrounding area. You won’t want to tear yourself away. tel: (866) 762-0114; shadowlakelodge.com; January 29 to March 22, Thursday to Saturday only; $260 per person, per night for a double-occupancy cabin, including meals.

Powder Creek

Power Creek is an entirely different beast. As the name suggests, it’s all about downhill skiing in powder and on most days through February there’s good powder thanks to the elevation. The lodge is in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy in southeastern BC, an 11 minute helicopter ride from Kaslo on Kootenay Lake. Fly in and spend a week skiing your heart out. The stunning area is home to several peaks over 2700 metres and a plethora of small lakes.

The newish lodge was built in 1998 and it’s a big, rough-hewn place with six, two- to three-person private rooms; no dorm sleeping here. There’s an open area that houses a generous kitchen (guests have the option of preparing their own meals or having them catered), dining and living room. Other comforts: inside liquid toilets, a spacious sauna and showers.

You’re here for the outside, not the inside, and it’s here Powder Creek comes into its own. Over 7000 hectares and a huge number of wonderful touring possibilities await your pleasure right on the doorstep. This is skiing many only dream about. The lodge is functional and tucked away enough to give you a strong sense of adventure.

For a solid idea of the Powder Creek experience watch the seven-minute “Powder Creek Lodge” video on the Backcountry Skiing Canada channel on YouTube. Like what you see? Group bookings are the norm. Call the lodge to find out if they can fit you into a group. tel: (250) 359-5916; powdercreeklodge.com; Christmas through April for seven days starting on Saturdays only; $1400 per person, self-guided and self-catered; $2450 guided and catered.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

Post a comment