The ski into Skoki Lodge is not for cross-country beginners. The 14-km trail winds its way up and down two steep mountain passes in the backcountry of Banff National Park and takes about five hours for someone who skis at an intermediate level. It’s a hard slog in spots, but the views from the top of the passes are spectacular and skiers know that at the end of the trail they can look forward to a gourmet meal and an overnight stay in a registered national historic site.
In February on Family Day weekend, 10 members of the Parkland Cross Country Ski Club set off from the Lake Louise Ski Hill area to spend the long weekend at Skoki Lodge.
“Skoki was a trip of a lifetime for me,” said Marilyn Strilchuk, group leader. “The scenery is amazing and staying in the lodge is really an experience because it’s where some of the pioneering backcountry skiers have been.”
On the ski in, the group was able to bypass the first three km of the trail by arranging a vehicle pickup for them and their gear. Whenever you are skiing in the backcountry, you need a significant amount of safety equipment and the nice thing about travelling in a large group was the fact that they could spread the gear out between all the skiers.
“Our club has a safety policy for backcountry skiing and, among other things, all skiers must wear avalanche beacons, you have to have shovels, a good first-aid kit, repair kit and supplies in case you get lost and don’t make it to your final destination when planned,” said Strilchuk.
“Backcountry skiers are more aware than ever before of the dangers of the sport but if you take proper precautions, the backcountry can be enjoyed safely.”
The group was fortunate to enjoy great weather for the entire weekend. Skiing in was a pleasure with great views and challenging skiing. They had to pull out their skins to climb Boulder Pass and Deception Pass.
“Deception Pass is aptly named,” said Strilchuk. “You think you’re almost at the top and then you realize you’re not even halfway there. It’s a tough ski but when you finally get to the top, the 360-degree view is amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen.”
After a long downhill ski past Deception Pass, with some tricky places, they arrived at the lodge at about 4:30 p.m. and were greeted with hot soup, fresh bread and herbal tea. Later that evening, they enjoyed a backcountry gourmet meal by candlelight and relaxed in the lodge.
The lodge is rustic — there is no television or radio and the bathrooms are outdoors — but that is part of the appeal of Skoki.
“I found the history of the lodge fascinating,” said Strilchuk. “I really enjoyed looking at the historic photos and antique wooden skis and beaver skins on display. I also found reading the copy of the lodge register from the 1930s interesting.”
The next day, the group split up and had the choice of skiing around Red Deer Lake or the more challenging Skoki Mountain Trail.
“Skoki Lodge sits in the middle of five mountain valleys and is surrounded by mountains and snow, so there are many wonderful ski trails to explore once you get there,” Strilchuk explained.
“The lodge puts out supplies so you can make your own lunch and then you can get out and enjoy the scenery. We spent about five hours skiing and then just enjoyed relaxing at the lodge.”
The group was fortunate to enjoy a light dusting of fresh snow for their return trip to Lake Louise and the ski out from Skoki went even better than the trip in. They all agreed that Skoki Lodge is a special place that is worth the visit — in summer or winter.
If you go:
• Skoki Lodge can be accessed on skis or snowshoes during the winter season (which often lasts until late April) and by hiking trails in the summer months. Regardless of the season, the trail is roughly 14 km each way and an individual must be fit to make the trek. Skoki is also a registered national historic site. Accommodations are rustic (toilets are outdoors and there are no showers), but the food is a cut above — actually classified as backcountry gourmet.
• Rates for Skoki Lodge start at $109 per person per night, including meals. If you plan to visit over a weekend, you usually need to make a reservation months in advance. For more information, visit www.skoki.com or call 1-877-956-8473.
• You can find a list of suggested supplies for skiers on the Skoki Lodge website. The list includes such items as light backcountry metal-edged skis and climbing skins, which are vital for the ski in. If you don’t own the suggested equipment, it can be rented from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre (www.calgaryoutdoorcentre.ca).
• The Parkland Cross Country Ski Club organizes ski outings throughout the season. Membership in the club is $25 per year for adults and $15 for children and students. To find out more about the club, visit their website at: www.parklandxcskiclub.org or phone club president Mike Spencer at 403-887-5859.
• Recommended reading for backcountry skiers: Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies 3rd Edition, by Chic Scott.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.