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!
After our beautiful winter wedding in Whistler, we decided to head the 2nd largest ski resort in British Columbia for a “ski-moon” in mid-February.
Big White is about a 5 to 6 hour drive from Vancouver, which by Canadian standards is a trip to the shops. However, having taken on the “Coq” in winter before and lost with a cracked wind shield, and having fear further instilled in us by watching “Highway through Hell,” we decided to take the safety first approach and fly on Westjet the 450 km to Kelowna International Airport in a rapid 33 minutes!
We then jumped on an official Big White minibus for a short 50 minute transfer to the highest mountain of the Okanagan Highlands. Our driver Harry was extremely friendly and informative and before we had arrived we knew everything we needed to know about Kelowna real estate, skiing techniques, Aussies and the best bars in Big White!
Reasons to pay a visit to Big White:
- Okanagan Champagne Powder! You have to ski it to believe it but the snow is fresh, light and fluffy which makes skiing effortless and very enjoyable!
- No ice as temperatures stay below zero (well it did during our visit anyway) as the Village is located at 1750m, which is over 1000m higher than Whistler Village.
- The terrain at Big White is great for beginners and intermediates like us with over 70% of the 118 runs being green or blue.
- Daily “Slow Zones” that make it easy for beginners and those who don’t like crowds and want a run to themselves.
- A genuinely ski in, ski out set up, plus bars, restaurants and supermarkets centrally located in one village which you easily navigate on foot or using the free village gondola.
- Big White markets itself as knowing what skiers want, and from our observations we could see that most apartments had private hot tubs, a great way to relax with a beverage after a hard day bashing pow!
- Big White is very family orientated as evidenced by the 100s of kids we felt like we looked after on the ski lifts on behalf of the stressed out instructors / child minders. Every afternoon and evening the resort puts on a family friendly event such as a bonfire and free hot chocolate. There is also a large ice skating rink as well as an impressive tubing area. Obviously being 32 Paul was far too old to go on the ice climbing tower (nothing to do with fear then!)
Top insider tips
- Big White is heavily populated by Aussies, so learn the local lingo, which is basically involves using “no worries” at the start of every sentence. To really fit in grow a beard, don’t cut your hair and swig beer like it is water!
- Unlike a lot other ski resorts we have visited Big White offers flexible lessons – just show up at 10am or 1pm with a valid ski lesson voucher, choose your group and off you go! If the head is a little sore form the night before, “no worries” – start your lesson in the afternoon instead!
- On our 3rd day we quickly understood why sometimes this ski Resort is referred to as the “Big White Out” as we could not see the ground from our 4th floor balcony. In these conditions head over to the Black Forest where the mist seems to go missing and the tree lined runs make navigation significantly easier!
- We tried a couple of restaurants and were definitely not disappointed. The baby back ribs at the Bull Wheel come highly recommended, while the Kettle Valley offered some fine premium steaks (the long wait for them was worth it!)
- If you want to spoil yourself, we highly recommend Stonegate 3 (specifically room 405) as a place to crash. The condo was fitted to a high spec, had an amazing view over the valley from the hot tub and even had an xbox!
- If you want to get to know the mountain better, snow hosts are available to take you on a complimentary guided mountain tour at 10.30am every morning from the village centre, just look out for the yellow jackets.
- If you want a massage book in advance, with just two spas it can be hard to get a “drop in” appointment even on a weekday at 9am!
- Look out for special deals – we booked before November 30th and got a night’s accommodation and a day’s skiing free!
Overall, a fun family friendly ski resort with great powder and “no worries”