Monday, February 07, 2022

Ski into Backcountry Sundance Lodge, Banff

Sundance Lodge feels like a "secret" place, tucked away in the backcountry near the Town of Banff, just waiting for cross-country skiers to discover. The lodge is family-friendly, safe to visit in winter, and easy to reach in a short three hour ski.

Sundance Lodge, a fun ski into backcountry Banff 

Introduction to Staying at Sundance Lodge

There are many backcountry ski lodges in the Canadian Rockies but Sundance Lodge, operated by the Banff Trail Riders in partnership with Discover Banff Toursis a tad more accessible than most of them.

- First, you don't have to book a year in advance or win a lottery to get spots at the lodge! The lodge definitely fills up for winter, but most people shouldn't have too many problems getting a booking if they don't leave it to last minute.

- Second, the lodge is very easy to access on classic cross-country skis. You don't need backcountry touring skis, there's no avalanche danger, and the trail is snowmobile packed and trackset. Most people with an intermediate ski ability should be able to reach the lodge.

Skiing into Sundance Lodge along Healy Creek in Banff

- Third, you can reach the lodge in 3-4 hours from the Town of Banff. This is not a rugged full day adventure and you certainly won't need to hire a a guide. The trail is well signed and easy to follow. There are no high passes to ski over, no wild alpine lakes to ski across, and there is no technical terrain.

- And finally, you only have to book for ONE night. I can't tell you how much it annoys me that most backcountry lodges require two nights for all bookings. Two nights at an expensive lodge or resort just isn't affordable for many people. Meanwhile, I can justify a one-night booking if it's a special thing and I don't do it every weekend. - and you are certainly welcome to stay for two or more nights at Sundance Lodge (you just don't have to.)

** Know in advance that children must be 5 years of age or older to stay at the lodge.

Families will love skiing into Sundance Lodge 

How to get to Sundance Lodge

Sundance Lodge is accessible via a 10.5 km long trail from the Healy Creek Trailhead with an elevation gain of  approximately 340 metres. The Healy Creek Trailhead is located at the bottom of the Sunshine Village road.

You start off with 2 km of flat skiing on the Healy Creek Trail followed by a long gradual ascent up the Brewster Creek Trail to reach the lodge.

Starting off at the Healy Creek Trailhead 

Skiing over Healy Creek in Banff for Sundance Lodge

Alternately you can start at the Cave and Basin Trailhead in the Town of Banff, skiing up the Sundance Trail to reach Healy Creek. This is longer with 15 km of distance but there isn't much additional climbing.

We chose to ski in the short way from the Healy Creek Trailhead and then my son and I skied out the Sundance way, my husband driving around to pick us up in town.

You can start at the Sundance Trail in Banff for a longer ski in

Personally, I'd suggest just going in and out via the Healy Creek Trailhead because the Sundance Trail is a shared trail with hikers (and a very popular one.) It isn't a very nice trail unless there's been a recent dump of snow. The Healy Creek Trail is also lacking in excitement or views beyond the Brewster Creek junction.

Skiing along the Sundance Trail on our way out from Sundance Lodge

Skiing up the Brewster Creek Trail from Healy Creek  

You'll begin by skiing ~ 2 km on the Healy Creek Trail which is a pleasant flat trail with a bridge crossing and a nice section where you're skiing right beside the creek. This trail is usually groomed and trackset by Parks Canada and is shared by a few hikers and fat bikers.

Once you come to the Brewster Creek Trail, you have ~ 8.5 km more to ski and you begin to climb up ~ 169 metres in the first 3 km until the trail flattens out. This trail is shared again by hikers and fat bikers, and is snowmobile packed and trackset by lodge staff.

Skiing up the Brewster Creek Trail

Skiing over Brewster Creek into Sundance Lodge

There are several switchbacks in the first 3 km of the Brewster Creek Trail which makes this section very fast to come down! After that though, the final 5.5 km is rolling with some pretty scenery along the creek where you'll cross Brewster Creek over two bridges.

The Brewster Trail would best be rated as intermediate (or a blue at most Nordic Centres) but it upgrades to difficult if it's icy or if Banff hasn't had a lot of snow. We had our boots and spikes in the car (just in case) but fortunately did not have to bring them on the trail with us.

You'll cross two bridges over Brewster Creek on your way into Sundance Lodge

Everybody loves skiing over bridges!

Arrived at the lodge in 3.5 hours

Ski, Bike, or Hike into Sundance Lodge

I'm not normally a big fan of multi-use winter trails, but I know several families where skiing isn't the preferred winter sport by every member of the family. Fortunately for travel to Sundance Lodge, you have choices, so your group, extended family, or gang of friends can all get to the lodge for the night (even if you don't choose to travel the same way.)

The trail is open to fat bikes, including e-assist bikes which can be rented in Banff, winter hiking or snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. This means technically we could have even brought my mother (who loves hiking but not skiing) with us to the lodge.  And we did meet one group of friends at the lodge where one couple had skied in, and the other had biked in - both meeting up at the lodge to enjoy a night together.

The Brewster Creek Trail is open to skiing, fat biking, or hiking

What to Expect from a Stay at Sundance Lodge 

Sundance Lodge is solar powered for lights and heated by a wood stove. There's also a furnace that ensures the pipes don't freeze. There is indoor plumbing along with two shared bathrooms with showers. 

What you won't find though is Wi-Fi or cell coverage, so prepare for a night off the grid and bring a power bank if you want to charge your cell phone for photos on your ski out. The lodge more than makes up for the lack of connectivity with great meals, a cozy fireside room, comfortable bedrooms, and a good supply of board games. (We brought some of our own card games as well from home.)

Our private bedroom at Sundance Lodge

The main fireside room at Sundance Lodge

From the website:

"The lodge has eight guest rooms (with a maximum capacity of 26), a large country kitchen, and a cozy living room area where you can curl up by the wood burning fireplace and lose yourself in a good book. And after a day spent hiking or skiing in the fresh mountain air, you’ll appreciate an added comfort – hot showers! 

Mealtime is always an event – you’ll delight in hearty, home-cooked meals and fresh-from-the-oven baked goods – no one ever leaves Sundance hungry."

A cozy spot to curl up with a book at Sundance Lodge

We definitely appreciated not having to cook, chop wood, boil snow for water, and basically didn't have to lift a finger the entire time we were at the lodge. It was quite the decadent backcountry trip if you're used to camping and doing everything for yourself.

Even compared to a backcountry hut, the lodge is extremely comfortable with private bedrooms and nobody using sleeping bags. Even a mountain princess will feel at home here. (Including myself.)

When you arrive at the lodge you'll be greeted with snacks, lemonade, and coffee. For dinner we had lemon garlic salmon with risotto along with roasted cauliflower and broccoli. There were homemade buns and we also enjoyed soup and salad to start. Dessert was a yummy chocolate cake.

Snacks and drinks await when you arrive

Other typical meals at the lodge usually include either a chicken or turkey dish, but there is always an entrée, main course, and dessert - and everything is homemade in the backcountry kitchen.

Breakfast the next day was a baked egg dish with potatoes, bacon, freshly baked cinnamon buns and blueberry muffins. Coffee was always hot and in supply, and there was no shortage of juice, tea, and other beverages. Guests also had fruit and yogurt to start if they wanted more food. (Definitely nobody skiing out on an empty stomach.)

The lodge also prepares sandwiches and snacks for your ski out (which you'll likely be eating in the car on the drive home.)

All meals are prepared for guests at Sundance Lodge

 Capacity and Covid Restrictions at Sundance Lodge 

For the 2022 winter season, all guests need to provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccination (along with ID,) and wear face masks while moving around the indoor common areas. 

We were able to remove our masks while sitting down in common areas with our cohort, family, or group.

For meals, we all ate together at one big table but there is a current capacity of 10 guests at the lodge so we were all spaced out at the table.

Read the lodge's Commitment to Safety for more detail on their current health and safety measures.

Meals are eaten at a shared table at Sundance Lodge

What to Bring with You to the Lodge

All meals are included along with bedding and pillows, towels, shampoo and soap.

Items you'll want to bring are below:

  • Face masks to wear inside

  • Lodge clothing to change into upon arriving (I recommend a t-shirt because it's warm inside)

  • Pajamas

  • Toiletries (tooth brush and toothpaste, your personal medications, etc.)

  • Slippers

  • Head lamps (though we didn't really find we needed them to find the bathrooms at night)

  • Your equipment for skiing, biking, or hiking to the lodge

  • Lunch and snacks for day one

  • Any personal games you want to bring

  • Any book you want to read

  • A credit card or cash for alcohol purchases 

  • ID and proof of vaccination (children do not need ID)

  • A power bank if you want to charge your cell phone

You can travel light when heading to Sundance Lodge for a night

We packed basic essentials and left everything else to Sundance Lodge for our stay

To make a reservation at Sundance Lodge, visit their website for availability. They are open weekends Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights through the winter. They are also open on the occasional Monday.

Disclaimer: Our stay was hosted by Sundance Lodge. As always, all opinions and words are my own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment