Growing up, I spent every summer at sleep-away camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As an adult, I’ve never come across a place that could match the excitement, camaraderie and joy I found at summer camp. That is, until I spent two days at Island Lake Catskiing outside of Fernie, British Columbia last spring.
Island Lake is like sleep-away camp for adults, except you get to trade in mess hall gruel for five-star dining, drafty cabins for luxury accommodations and the camp bus for a Piston Bully 400 snowcat that accesses Island Lake’s 7,000 acres of pristine private bowls, valleys and glades.
Island Lake offers a myriad of catskiing trips that include skiing, meals, lodging and powder board demos over a two-, three- or four-day trip. The following is an account of my two days spent in the spectacular Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies:
Following a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the Calgary International Airport (check out Kalispell, Mont. and Cranbrook, BC for airports closer to Fernie), my co-worker Nancy and I arrived at the Island Lake Catskiing parking lot. The towering piles of snow surrounding the plowed parking lot were a sign of plenty of powder to come. Leaving our car behind, we gave our bags to the Island Lake staff and hopped aboard the snowcat for a 30-minute ride up to the lodges that comprise Island Lake’s facility.
The cat dropped me off at the Cedar Lodge—a huge timber-framed log cabin with eight guest rooms, a gym and outdoor hot tub. My room was spacious yet cozy and had a deck overlooking the Lizard Range. The en-suite bathroom had an oversized soaker tub with a pass through window allowing you to have a soak in the tub while looking through the room to take in that same breathtaking view of the mountains you’ll be skiing. The earth-toned room featured handcrafted wood furniture and hardwood floors throughout.
Nancy was staying in the Tamarack Lodge. Much like the Cedar Lodge, Tamarack also has eight similarly appointed guest rooms and an outdoor hot tub. In addition, Tamarack houses a full wellness spa and Island Lake’s state-of-the-art kitchen and grand dining room where meals are served for all guests.
In addition to the Cedar and Tamarack lodges, there are also the Red Eagle and Bear lodges. The Red Eagle Lodge was built in 1996 and is more rustic than the others but is quite comfortable. The Bear Lodge is the original Island Lake lodge and is where Greg Stump, Craig Kelly and Scot Schmidt used to post up back when it all got started in 1988. Today, it’s where you gear up each morning and where you sip your first après beer each afternoon. The spacious main floor features a full bar, media room, pool table, foosball table, guitars and the Island Lake pro store.
After having a pair of K2 powder skis dialed for me in the basement of the Bear Lodge, I head upstairs for a few happy hour appetizers and cocktails while mingling with our equally giddy fellow guests. After aprés, we head next door to the Tamarack Lodge for dinner. The Tamarack dining room has a number of large tables surrounded by soaring views, a roaring fireplace, an open kitchen and bar, and Island Lake’s 3,000-bottle wine cellar.
Communal dining puts you at a table alongside the guests you’ll be skiing with the next day. We trade tales of our previous ski adventures while dining on braised lamb and sipping on Californian Pinot Noir.
While I came to Island Lake to ski, I was blown away by the French-inspired Rocky Mountain cuisine prepared by world-class chefs. The dinners were hearty and the breakfast buffet offered everything from fruit and granola to eggs and bacon; preparing you for a long day of powder skiing each morning—try the Moose Eye, a Prosciutto cup filled with a cooked egg and topped with Gruyere and herbs.
Island Lake’s history of fine dining has even inspired a cookbook from both past and present chefs. Check out a sample dinner menu here. Chef Keith Farkas and his staff are also able to craft special menus for those with specific dietary needs.
After dinner, many of the guests went back to the Bear Lodge to saddle up to the bar and keep the good times rolling. Instead, I retired to my room to get a good night sleep and prepare to tackle the flakes that were beginning to fly amidst the nighttime sky during my walk back to the Cedar Lodge. Continue Reading...