It’s 11:30 a.m., and we’re running late. After four days of snorkeling our way through faceshot after faceshot of deep, dry, Canadian powder, followed by obligatory beers and cocktails, our team is running on a kind of empty that can only be righted by rest. Hungover, blistered, and exhausted, all with a waning sense of being “high-on-life,” we load up and make way to the third stop on our tour of Banff National Park’s ski resorts: Lake Louise.
By the time we make it to the lodge at Lake Louise, it’s two hours past the suggested departure time for guests spending the night at the famous Skoki Lodge—a full-service backcountry hut where we’ll spend the next three days—and we begin to wonder if they’ll even let us go. The 11-kilometer trek can be an arduous task for ill-prepared guests on borrowed cross-country skis, who haven’t gone farther than couch-to-kitchen in the past year. Staff has been known to enforce a cutoff time for departing guests to avoid related issues. Luckily our guide is still in jeans and munching granola—clearly in no hurry to depart—so we grab our AT gear and get ready for what ends up being one of the most breathtaking ski tours any of us have taken.
After 20 minutes on the trail, we begin to appreciate why William and Kate’s royal Canadian tour included a stop at Skoki Lodge—the heart-stopping scenery is enough to make you feel like a Japanese tourist bearing witness to Godzilla on skis. Even if just seen from the road, Banff itself is entirely stunning, and from the Skoki Lodge trail (far from the road) it becomes drastically more impressive.
Adventurous skiers first came to Skoki Lodge after it’s completion in 1931 thanks to the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies. It was the first facility built to cater to backcountry skiers on a commercial level in Canada, and possibly North America. The lodge started as a one building and later expanded to include a second dormitory floor and several other small cabins to increase capacity. Today the main lodge and surrounding cabins can sleep up to 26 guests every night, and spaces are booked well in advance.
Walking in the door at Skoki erases all memory of earlier hangovers and exhaustion. On the table is afternoon tea: a full spread of meats and cheeses, fresh homemade bread, and piping hot, made-from-scratch, just-for-us soup. Just as we sink into a cushion on a window seat by the fire, my ski partner, MJ, and I decide that we are exactly where we need to be. This is definitely what the doctor ordered.
A full staff keeps the place running in tip-top shape while we warm up. They chop wood, light candles and kerosene lamps, keep drinking water stocked, show us to our rooms with freshly made beds, and of course, they cook. Our expectations were low when we left; we packed our bags full of oatmeal and Pro Bars. Previous experience had led us to believe we were heading into the woods to spend the night on a dirty cot where we could be busying ourselves with building fires, melting snow, and dining on whatever packable meals we’d managed to scrounge together. We were dead wrong. Experienced chefs plan meals weeks in advance. Every morning starts with freshly baked bread, and nights often end with freshly caught fish, homemade sweets, and, of course, wine.
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For three days we ate like queens. Avalanche conditions outside were high, so our daytime adventures were mostly spent reading via candlelight. As much as we considered ourselves ski-junkies who’d traveled to the Canadian Rockies to find the best snow and terrain, we had to admit the ambiance, food, and fellow guests were steering us in a new, uncharted direction that we could definitely get used to.
When our time at Skoki was up, and we found ourselves back on the trail, we realized there had been a few inches of new snow. We forgot about our formerly exhausted bodies and started moving our feet faster to make it back in time for a run in that fresh snow. We had one more day to spend in Banff, and there was a snorkel in my pack I wanted to break out again.
(Photos by Crystal Sagan)