3 WAYS TO “DO”
WINTER AT SKOKI LODGE
By Crowfoot Media / Photos by Abby Cooper
Drop “Skoki” into a conversation around these parts, and you’ll be met with some predictable reactions, usually a reminiscent sigh or a sense of deep longing for this near mythical mountain experience. Everybody wants to go to Skoki Lodge and anyone who has been wants to go back. And that’s what’s so great about it: it doesn’t matter if you’re the type to tackle the ski in and rest up for the remainder of your time or if you’re ready for more adventure the moment you arrive. Skoki is ready to greet you with its warmth and magic all the same…
Many people know the Skoki story, whether they’ve read a dreamy review online, cruised past the lodge on a trek through Banff’s backcountry (perhaps longing to stay), or been washed over by the magic of the place on a two-night stay.
The log home plan cabin, nestled between the great Wall of Jericho and the more diminutive cone of Skoki Mountain oozes with folklore and charm – tales from a bygone era and new stories emerging each day as visitors re-enter civilization. It is well-known for its heritage of warmth in all aspects: friendly smiles from staff and piping hot soup greeting you when you come in from the cold, crackling fires to sit by, deliciously warm gourmet food, and cozy beds with fluffy duvets to sleep in.
It isn’t full-on luxury, but it isn’t roughing it, either. What is truly luxurious about Skoki Lodge, in this day and age, is the lack of a WIFI/cell connection, giving you the space to disconnect from the outside world.
The Skoki story that’s often left out of the picture is the world outside the historic lodge and what you might do when you’re not indulging in food or sleep. That’s where we come in.
11km one-way, departs in winter from the Lake Louise Ski Area
The journey in and out of Skoki Lodge is a large part of the experience. Guests often arrive at the lodge elated that they “made it!”, while experienced skiers set off for some more turns shortly after making the trek. The path is similar in both directions, moderately climbing up to the high point – Deception Pass – before descending down the other side. Flat bits offer some reprieve (though splitboarders and skiers on AT gear may want to consider a changeover). The trail is well-marked with wands (if you follow them, you won’t end up in avalanche terrain), so there’s little stress around route-finding.
No matter, the views are astounding, so look up on the way! Your journey in will take you through forest before spitting you out in the sub-alpine and more open views. Once you’re at the aptly-named Boulder Pass, the vistas become more breathtaking, with Mt. Temple piercing the sky behind you and Mt. Richardson and Redoubt Mountain flanking you on either side. Once you’ve made the ascent of Deception Pass, you’re greeted with Skoki Lakes (Zigadenus and Myosotis), the Wall of Jericho and the forested Skoki Valley. The descent from Deception Pass starts gently then gets more exciting, depending on how much you can control your speed. When the trail relents, it’s a sure sign you’re close to the lodge.
The access to Skoki Lodge is the same for all, but it’s up to you what you want to strap on your feet to get there. Most people ski, whether on cross-country or alpine touring gear, but those who don’t want to worry about speed on the descent from Deception or Boulder Passes often use snowshoes. If snowboarding is your style, a splitboard is remarkably efficient.
One of the best things about Skoki Lodge is that, once you are there, you can customize the experience according to your own style:
1/ The Explorer
You have a curious spirit, but enjoy a balanced experience: fresh air, new discoveries and great reading by the fire.
- On your way in, make a stop at the Halfway Hut, just prior to Boulder Pass. Built in 1931, this hut now functions as a day shelter, but used to be a refuge for those venturing to Skoki Lodge from the Lake Louise train station.
- Snowshoe or ski out to the scenic Merlin Meadows, then hunker down for an afternoon reading about the lodge’s history and looking at vintage maps.
- Ski the Skoki Loop, if you’re feeling energetic (9km, 4-5 hours round-trip), and be back in time to relax with Afternoon Tea.
- Step outside when night falls and stargaze from just outside the lodge.
2/ The Insider
The journey in concludes your outdoor time until you’re set to leave. Lodge life is all about comfort, crackling fires, coffee and conversation.
- Grab a book from the lodge’s library, full of historic Canadian Rockies books, guide books and novels left behind by past guests.
- Take a nap on the window settee (it’s unlikely you’ll be disturbed!).
- Peruse the lodge’s historic photographs and old guest registers. You’ll find some recognizable names in there if you know a bit about Rockies history!
- Strike up a conversation or play a board game (there are plenty in stock) with other lodge guests or staff. Fascinating people congregate in these remote locations.
- Bring in your own sketchpad or notebook and find inspiration in the quietude and magic of this historic lodge.
3/ The Snow Enthusiast
Relaxing can come later; you’re in the search for fresh snow, smooth turns and adventure off-the-beaten-path.
- On the descent from Deception pass, find some turns in the “Bunkers” (in the trees, skier’s right of the pass).
- Find more turns: Skoki Mountain, Packers Pass, Wolverine Slopes (west flank of Fossil Mountain), in the slopes above Lake Merlin, and the glades at the base of the Wall of Jericho. These require avalanche training and gear, as well as good beta (see recommendations under ‘Tips’ below).
- Go for a bigger tour around Fossil Mountain (11km, 5-6 hours round-trip).
- Venture out to the Drummond Glacier (for experienced skiers and route-finders only).
- Grab your headlamp and venture out for a ski under the stars.
- Practice using your transceiver at the Lake Louise Ski Area Beacon Plot (on Pika Run) to brush up before heading into Skoki, especially if you plan on venturing into avalanche terrain.
- Look for ski and snowboarding ideas in Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies and the Summits and Icefields series, both by Chic Scott, published by Rocky Mountain Books.
- You’ll find a thorough packing list under Winter General Information here. We’d add earplugs if your room is in the lodge itself. The squeaky floors are charming, but a tad noisy if you’re a light sleeper. Of course, it’s all part of the charm.
Writer, adventurer, outdoorsy mama and summit cartwheeler, Meghan J. Ward is the editor and co-founder at Crowfoot Media and lives for backcountry getaways.
A lover of all things outdoors, Abby Cooper is a splitboarder, climber, hiker, adventurer, photographer and writer. She’s living life one adventure to the next with her dog by her side.
Dee Medcalf is the co-founder and Art Director/Designer at Crowfoot Media and a freelance graphic designer at Phaneric. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her outdoors, where she loves ski touring, snowboarding, mountain biking and hiking.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles on CrowfootMedia.com are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.