Mention an overnight stay in the BC Backcountry in January and many think of hardened mountaineers huddled inside a small lightweight tent in sleeping bags designed for Antarctic expeditions. This kind of scene from a North Face Steep Series advert leaves many a mere mortal weekend skier heading for the après bar comes dusk rather than a chilly night under canvas surrounded by a howling icy wind.
However, this does not have to be the case. There is another option for the aspirational overnight backcountry adventurer that involves a log burning fire, a 3 course dinner, a pool table and a warm cozy queen bed all served up at 4500 feet surrounded by a cauldron of mountain peaks. The solution for those that fear frost bite or being uncomfortable close to their friends is a night at the Journeymen Lodge in the Callaghan Valley.
The wooden Journeyman Lodge is situated in the Solitude Valley where the tree line meets the alpine all set against the backdrop of the impressive Solitude Glacier. The lodge boosts 8 bedrooms, a well maintained living room (including pool table), kitchen and dinning room. Despite the location, the lodge has all the amenities expected in a city hotel including hot showers, heating, electricity (hours are limited) and a constant supply of freshy made cookies!
The development of the lodge is a fascinating story of human vision, strength and perseverance. With no road access, local craftsman (living in tents) built the lodge using materials delivered by helicopter or snowcat between 1996 and 1998.
Entry to the lodge is through the Callaghan Valley, which is located about an hour’s drive from North Vancouver on Highway 99. The lodge base facilities can be found in the Ski Callaghan car park (turn left at the junction with Whistler Olympic Park).
Check in is between 9am and 11.30am at the Ski Callaghan base where a luggage transfer is provided. The ski into the lodge is between 12.5 to 13.7km km depending on your desired route– a blue run or a black run (Wild Spirit). The later is shorter but involves the steepest pitch for a Nordic run in North America (average 11%). Just remember though it is all downhill on the way back as you claw back your 580m elevation gain!!
Once you are up in elevation, there are some gentle green cross country routes that take you around Conflict Lake. The highlights are some up front and personal views of Solitude Glacier. You can also take out the complimentary snowshoes and break your own trail!
For those that like to earn their turns (ski touring), the surrounding powdery alpine offers some fantastic skiing opportunities without the crowds found at the local ski resorts. The lodge contains a guide on suggested lines to ride.
With tired legs, the lodge boast a rustic wood fired sauna a short 5 minute walk from the front porch. The warm ambiance is complimented by the traditional glacial creek drip and /or snow bank body roll with refreshes both body and mind instantly!!
Dining & Entertainment
While weary backcountry campers are tucking into a can of half heated beans, the guests of Journeyman Lodge are served up a delicious tray of appetizers by the wood burning fire at 5.30 in the lounge. This is followed up by a 3 course dinner served in the candle light dining room!
Post dinner entertainment is by way of good conversation with other guests, a pool table, cards or numerous board games. The lights go out at 10pm literally as the generator goes off to be replaced by lanterns!
- If you plan to visit on a winter weekend, book well ahead at the lodge is a popular destination. There is currently much more availability midweek.
- If you are just heading up for 1 night, it’s worth getting a sled transfer in so you can enjoy the pristine alpine cross country skiing and touring.
- Bring swimwear for the sauna, torches for lights out and your own tipple (no liquor is sold on site).
What makes this lodge unique beyond the luxuries not usually found in the backcountry, is the friendliness of the staff. From Brad the owner, to Darcy who manages the base operations, everyone takes the time to make you feel welcome and answer any questions you have to make your trip as memorable as possible. A truly unique backcountry experience which we intend to make an annual trip!
If the fresh powder gods have gone on strike for the past two weeks over pay and conditions in heaven, or Mother Nature has decided that the ski hill should be covered in thick mist so that you can’t tell the difference between up and down, then the fair weather downhill skier can often find themselves asking ‘what shall I do now?’
Well if you’re in Whistler, a possible answer is to try cross country skiing! It’s not just for those ultra-fit good looking Scandinavian types who regularly model see-through lyrca for Lululemon – downhill skiers who rely lazily on gravity for their perpetual motion are also allowed to join in the fun provided they are fit enough!
So one day when the snow report said “hard packed,” (which for seasoned users of this code means “ice”), we decided to give cross country skiing a go knowing it at least would mean we would be able to justify a 3000 calorie lunch!
Based in the Lost Lake Passivhaus Daylodge, Cross Country Connections offers Whistler Village’s only centrally maintained cross country ski tracks (as well as snowshoe trails). Other marked trails are available at Whistler Olympic Park, known as Callaghan Country (16km south of Whistler Village) and for the more experienced cross country skiers there is a small place called the Backcountry (not for us just yet!).
Reasons to try Cross Country Skiing at Lost Lake
– Great value beginner lesson packages – $89 (plus tax of course) for a 75 minute group lesson (max of 6 people but we lucked out and had an instructor for just the 2 of us), all day rental package of boots (so much more comfortable than ski boots) and skis (really light and thin), and a full day ski-pass (unless you are an ironman competitor or have an advanced energy saving technique 3 hours is definitely enough). If you know what you are doing full day passes are around $20, with rentals at $25 per day. See the website for more details.
– Lost Lake Cross Country Park has lots of different trails to choose from ranging from green (easy) to black (Canadian) in difficulty, and they are only for cross country skiers….those on snowshoes have their own trails and hikers are banned!
– The athletic lycra clad folks that go cross country skiing tend not to rip past you at 90kph with their pants around their legs spraying you with snow – participants are much more mellow (in their attitude not their agility), polite and happy to help you up if you have fallen down (something you do quite often within 10 minutes of putting on a ski which is only attached at the toe).
– We discovered quickly there are two types of cross country skiing…”classic” which follows carved train like tracks and “skating” which is more free form (it’s meant to be like ice skating on skis) and uses the whole path!
– Our instructor was excellent – Jarka (we hope we spelt it correctly) from the Czech Republic was super encouraging and did not laugh at us too much as we ate snow a few times after comedy errors, including stabbing our poles into the ground in front of us in a desperate attempt to slow down, but which only resulted in us spearing ourselves in the midriff and hitting the deck! Not one to try at home!
– Going uphill was surprisingly easy as the skis feature special grips on the bottom which are initiated under pressure (when you get good you can do something we like to call the Haribo – apparently its actually Herringbone). Going downhill was a little more challenging….you could either get in the train tracks, leave your fear at the start line and just go for it ski jumper style and hope for an uphill section, or you could snow plough (pizza wedge for North Americans) and hope that your one inch skis will find enough grip to slow you down!
– The final reason to give Cross Country Connections a go is that the staff are very helpful, flexible and friendly – nothing is too much trouble and you leave with the impression that they really enjoyed having you try out their sport! We will be back to upgrade to the blue runs next time!
– Leave your rucksack at home, as when learning this affects your weight and therefore your balance and therefore your ability to stay upright….in short rucksack = eat snow!
– If you get thirsty (and don’t have your rucksack) there is a drinking fountain near the Lost Lake Warming Hut (which strangely seemed closed even on a busy Saturday)
– After cross country skiing you will be incredibly hungry……the Cross Country Connection Café at the Passivhaus Daylodge offers energy replenishing and very reasonably priced “energy food”..chili, paninis, baked goods, gelato…..yum!
– We tried to turn at speed, we fell over. Probably best to slow down using the snow plough and turn at the speed of coastal erosion until you have mastered the technique of turning on a pin head, well one inch wide ski!
– You can park for free just 100m walk away in lot 5, but be warned that the surface is not covered so the car park can be a little bumpy with pot holes!
– You don’t need to wear a helmet (as speeds are lower and the etiquette is for those behind you to go around you rather than through you), and you don’t need too many layers as you get hot quickly…2 is probably enough up top!
– Don’t forget your camera, some great opportunities for photos of the frozen Lost Lake with Whistler Mountain in the background.
So all in all, a great value day out, which is very good exercise and offers some fantastic views of the mountains and Lost Lake. A new sport for us to try and maybe even progress into touring….watch this space!