Romancing the snow

Island Lake Lodge a powder hound's paradise

Photo by Mark Gallup

Editor’s note: We’ve seen Calgary writer Lisa Kadane take to the slopes and, to be honest, there’s no keeping up with her. Which is why when it came to featuring Island Lake Catskiing – an internationally-renowned dream destination for powder hounds everywhere – Lisa was our girl. We hope you enjoy!

 

My husband and I met on a sun-soaked Greek island 20 years ago. But it was love at first “talk of turns” that did us in.

We spent an entire day stretched out on the hot sands of this exotic Mediterranean locale swapping ski stories and talking about nothing but mountains and snow. I spoke passionately about the moguls of Vail and Steamboat, while Blake waxed poetic on the backside charms of Lake Louise and the steeps of Tee Pee Town at Sunshine Village.

So it makes total sense that 10 years, two children and a family dog later we’ve come to the splendour of Island Lake Lodge (located near Fernie, B.C.) – up a winding, snow-covered road accessible in winter only by snow cat – to reconnect over the sport that brought us together.

Here, every day is powder day. The sacred maxim of skiing — No Friends on a Powder Day (you’re free to ditch whoever you’re with) — should not necessarily apply.

The white toques topping the peaks of the Lizard Range in southeastern B.C. have been mountain accessories for months now.

“Stay to the right of my tracks,” lead guide Corrie Wright instructs our group of 12 before plunging onto the downy robe of white covering Mt. Fernie’s southern flanks. “Start skiing when you hear me yodel!”

One minute, my guy is standing beside me, his fat K2s pointing downhill, and the next moment he’s gone. All I see is an impressive white rooster tail of snow obscuring him from sight. When the airy spray settles, he is history – lost in the towering spruce trees that punctuate these slopes.

When I finally catch up with him he sheepishly shrugs and says “I heard the yodel and I just had to go.”

We’ll all have a chance to be first to follow Corrie’s alpine melody over the next two days as we carve up first tracks on 22 runs in this famous backcountry – a place where the majestic scenery of jagged, limestone peaks plays second fiddle all season to the snow that falls between them.

More than a few times Blake will chase my tail and all will be right in the ski universe.

Since we’ve become parents, our winter passion has been neglected. We don’t ski as often as we used to. We’re lucky to make powder tracks once a year. Cat skiing at Island Lake Lodge is like powder porn: its 7,000 acres of terrain — shared between a maximum of 36 guests at any one time — is cloaked in snow that blows in from the west to settle seductively on steep pitches between perfectly-spaced trees and in open alpine bowls.

I whoop down every run and am reminded why I love skiing. Temporarily freed from the laws of gravity, I float effortlessly inside this picture-perfect snow globe world – each new run holding the promise of something better.

Deeper pow. Steeper pitch. Sunnier exposure. Scenery more photo-worthy.

Sharing that thrill of discovery with someone who is just as zealous about skiing as you elevates the experience. Bonus if he’s your hubby. It strikes me that with like-minded riders regularly coming together in Island Lake’s backcountry, the lodge must surely have sparked a few love affairs.

Corrie, who met his wife — a fellow cat ski guide — at Island Lake, nods his helmeted head toward our tail guide Greg Inman. “Ask Greg. He knows a thing or two about romance.”

Noted. I’ll inquire later rather than putting Greg on the spot inside the snow cat where he has a large audience. So casual and conversational is cat skiing, you forget that less than a day ago you and the folks sharing the cat were strangers.

We’re getting to know the other skiers: two families of four from Calgary (with four adult children between them), a couple from the U.K. and a solo hot dogger from the U.S. Half the guests are women, including three in their 20s – a fact that challenges the idea that cat skiing is a pursuit exclusively for dudes.

While Island Lake Lodge attracts plenty of hardcore male skiers and snowboarders thanks to some high-profile movies filmed here over the years — most recently Sherpas Cinema’s award-winning ALL.I.CAN. — there’s a softer side of the experience that appeals to women and couples seeking snowmance.

It starts après ski with beer or wine and nibblies by a roaring fire in the original Bear Lodge, with its killer view of the Three Bears peaks across the valley. Then there’s the invitation for a hot tub or a massage at the spa, an indulgence that prepares city muscles for another day of skiing. And did I mention the well-appointed rooms with inviting duvets?

We love this quiet time of evening at the lodge – between the rush of a day well skied and the prospect of a nourishing meal.

We dine as a group inside Tamarack Lodge, one of four timber buildings on the property. Over a delicious dinner of fresh trout ceviche and Alberta beef tenderloin, the conversation takes a sexy turn. Two in our group, Bernard and Gemma, who were born in Great Britain but who live in Sweden, tell us about the preferred pastime in their adopted country: relaxing in saunas, naked.

We tell them about one of Canada’s top après-ski pastimes: shot skis, which involve shots of liquor poured and balanced atop a ski and then gulped back by four people all at once. Since Island Lake has its own custom shot ski, we ponder how to combine Canada’s hobby with Sweden’s.

“First shot ski, then naked hot tub!” yells Greg. He’s joking, of course, but I’m beginning to see how a Burt Reynold’s shot (with spiced rum and butter ripple schnapps) might facilitate slopeside romance.

Later, by a crackling fire at Bear Lodge (after a shot ski, naturally), Greg finally tells me his tale – a goosebump story that involves a young Swedish woman, a snowmobile and a glass or two of wine by the fireside long after the lodge guests had retired.

I’m not at liberty to say more, but I could see in Greg’s eyes that it was an occasion to remember.

His story stays with me the following day as we wake to 10 centimetres of new snow and powder blue skies.

People are always looking to create those perfect moments with that special someone, I think, whether it happens over a drink in a secluded lodge in the dark of night, or in broad daylight on the side of a mountain.

Blake stays by my side on this bluebird day – helping to turn my turns into perfect powder eights.

We whoop it up through glades of stoic spruce, lose ourselves down steep pitches that reach up to grab our skis, and glide over unblemished rolling hills that sparkle in the sunlight.

Like our conversation on a foreign beach so many years ago, you might say we are having a moment.

 

*Note to reader: Our writer was hosted by Island Lake Catskiing. The operation did not review or approve this article.

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    • Lisa commented:

      If you are fairly strong intermediate skiers, go for it! Experience skiing powder is also beneficial. You can also just ski a half day then head to the spa, or snowshoe around the lake. It’s a total bucket list experience 🙂

      Reply

  1. Boomergirl commented:

    Okay, it’s been awhile and I didn’t cat ski in Fernie area but I’ve skied Fernie’s bowls. We used to draw straws to see who could enjoy the apres ski and who would have to drive us all the 2.5 hours home (Fairmont Hot Springs). We were powder hounds and we lived for our days off when we could crowd into my buddy’s old Volkswagon squareback and head for Fernie or Kimberley powder. It was THE best skiing of my life.

    Reply

  2. Leigh commented:

    Would love to try some turns out of this place. We’ve got Alta, Utah in our plans for downhill skiing and loads of cross counry skiing from Shadow Lake Lodge to the Laurentians planned over the next 5 weeks. Let it snow.
    And maybe next year we can try this place.

    Reply

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