Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sundance Lodge - Home in the Backcountry

Search the internet for backcountry ski lodges in the Canadian Rockies and you'll find a story I wrote last year on a secret backcountry lodge in Banff.  Predominately, a destination for summer visitors on horseback, Holiday on Horseback's Sundance Lodge is also open in winter for ski traffic.  Yet, ask locals about their favourite ski lodge and you will find few people know of Sundance.  Use the name Sundance Lodge in a conversation with Calgarians, and you will usually have to clarify that this is not the family campground  in Kananaskis that bares the same name. My Sundance Lodge is most definitely not a campground though!  It is a posh backcountry lodge complete with indoor plumbing, comfortable beds, and tasty home-made meals.

Holiday on Horseback's Sundance Lodge

I use the word "my" when I talk about Sundance Lodge because after even one visit, you'll know you have found your new home in the backcountry.  In fact, "Make yourself at home," was the most repeated phrase our cook used last weekend on our girl's cross country ski trip to the lodge.  From the minute we arrived, we were told to go upstairs and find any room we wanted, to come and go as we pleased, and to treat the lodge as our home.  Dinner time was not even set in stone and would have been accommodating to late skiers coming back from their day tours.

Skiers arriving at Sundance Lodge

Sundance Lodge sets itself apart from other lodges in just how comfortable staff aim to make you feel while staying there.  You know it's going to be a good weekend from the minute you make your reservation and are asked to put in any wine or beer order you may have for your trip.  Not only do staff bring in your favourite beverage for you, they charge you the exact price of the bottle from the store shelf.  No mark up and no restaurant pricing.  I'd like to see another backcountry lodge make the claim that they are willing to do that for their guests!  I'm sure I paid over $30 per bottle of wine at the last ski lodge I visited and I know the bottle was likely only $15 on the store shelf.

Relaxing in the living room of Sundance Lodge

Other backcountry lodges may be able to boast that they have hosted royalty or that they are the oldest lodge in the Rockies but I would challenge any lodge to a contest in hospitality, competing against Sundance Lodge.  When you stay at Sundance, there is no division between guest and staff.  Everybody eats in the kitchen together and if the lodge isn't full, the staff will likely sit down with you at the big kitchen table and regale you with fascinating stories while you eat together.   We had a group of 14 girls this trip so our cook Linda was kept a bit too busy to join us at meals but last year when my husband and I skied in, it was much quieter with only four guests.  Lodge handyman and trail setter, Greg, even serenaded us on guitar last year after dinner.

Dinner in Sundance Lodge's country kitchen

Despite the big task of cooking and cleaning up after 14 ladies for a night, Linda and Greg were always wiling to take a moment to answer questions about the area, trails, or lodge.  We really appreciated that Greg had also taken the time to pack down the trail going further up valley from the lodge so that we could take a bit of an afternoon ski tour before dinner.  As we were the first guests of the year, we knew he had done this trail ground work just for us and it was definitely enjoyed by us keeners wanting to burn more calories before Linda's hearty dinner. 

Tackling a challenging hill on our afternoon ski tour

Rewarded with good views up valley

I will never have a bad word to say about other backcountry ski lodges I have stayed at in the Canadian Rockies but I do believe that Sundance Lodge raises the bar in the areas of hospitality, staff friendliness, and making you feel at home.  I've been fortunate to experience a quiet romantic weekend at the lodge with my husband and to also share the lodge with a bunch of my best girlfriends for a crazy and wild girl's trip.  I'd go in again next winter in a heartbeat and I can't wait for the day when we can take our son in with us.  I know that taking a family trip to Sundance will provide me with the the final piece towards enjoying the full Sundance Package.

Girl's Trip to Sundance Lodge - over the bridge and off we go!

New friends, Old Friends, Best Friends

Comments by members of my girl's trip last weekend:

  • I thought the lodge was great and the staff were very welcoming.  It also felt very professional.  The rooms and food were ready on time, and I liked that Linda knew how to make enough food but not so much that a lot got wasted.  And the food was really top notch. 
  • I loved the style and comfort of the lodge...cozy private rooms, comfy beds, attractive log buildings, super luxurious with indoor plumbing and hot water, lots of windows and even a balcony off our room.
  • I liked that the location of the trail head was very convenient and that the ski terrain was suitable for various levels of ability. 
  • I would love to come again with a friend who is a beginner, or my 7 and 9 year old daughters because it is an easy “first timer’s” trip with the indoor plumbing and comfy, private rooms.  Also the trail is not too long and hard.
  • It was very fun to play a Mennonite card game with my new Russian friend, while wearing head lamps.
  • My highlight of the weekend was sitting in the semi-darkness around the fire, listening to guitar and getting to know new friends.  I also had a “God moment” when I went outside to see the endless stars and a falling star while I was out there.
  • The best result of this weekend for me was the total relaxation that always comes when you get away to these special spots so hidden away from the business of urban life.  I often refer to it as going to “another planet.”  I sat around either looking at the mountains, or enjoying the roaring wood fire for five hours in a row!  That kind of relaxing is unthinkable when I am at home.  
  • It was the first time I have been away from the whole family ever.  It was nice just to get away by myself and also to be out of cell range.  Sometimes you just need to pull the plug on the technology.  Felt great to do that.  
  • This was one of the longer skis I have done and it was nice to feel capable of doing it.

All set for our ski up the Brewster Creek Trail to the lodge

Happy Moments on the Trail

Interested in skiing into Sundance Lodge?

More information about the lodge can be found on Holiday on Horseback's website as well as in the review I wrote last year when I visited with my husband. 

Access to the lodge is via a 10km cross country ski trail from the Healy Creek trailhead on the road to Sunshine Village.  While there are a few steep hills, the trail is suitable for varying levels of ski ability and is groomed as well as track set.  A few of the girls in our group were challenged by the trail at moments, but we all made it and felt a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the lodge.  Many of the girls felt the trail would be great for school-aged kids and that first backcountry trip as a family.  I heartily agree and know my son will be able to ski the trail by the time he's 8 or 9 years old.

Paradise on the way to Sundance Lodge

The lodge itself has 10 sleeping rooms, a large cozy living room, country kitchen, and sunny deck out front complete with comfortable log furniture for the lunch you brought with you for your first day.  Once you get to the lodge, your dinners and breakfasts are taken care of with lunch material set out for your day ski tour or ski out.  Afternoon snacks are also provided and it's promised that nobody will leave the lodge hungry.

Enjoying some afternoon sunshine on the deck of Sundance Lodge
One of the sleeping rooms at the lodge
While you can bring books and games, the lodge also provides plenty of both, along with three guitars for those with musical talents.  I actually brought a book of folk songs with me and it was a big hit with several of the girls on our weekend trip.  -And something the lodge might want to actually consider adding to their living room to accompany the guitars.  :)

Knit, play guitar, read a book, or just chat with a new friend - lots to do at Sundance Lodge

Sadly, we had to leave and head back to our families and responsibilities but I know I'll be back at Sundance soon and hope to see you there.

Heading Home
Recharged and ready for the week ahead

Disclaimer:  Holiday on Horseback  graciously sponsored my trip. As always opinions and endorsements are entirely my own.

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