Tuesday, February 06, 2024

The Ultimate Group Backcountry Ski Weekend at Shadow Lake Lodge

Shadow Lake is one of my favourite places to visit in the Canadian Rockies with a gorgeous backcountry lodge located near the lake. Spending a weekend at the lodge breaks the trip up into two very reasonable ski or hiking days with a third day spent exploring around the beautiful lake.

Shadow Lake Lodge in backcountry Banff National Park

I was extremely fortunate to visit Shadow Lake Lodge  twice last year, and I was able to return to the lodge last month for an incredible ski getaway with a large group of friends.

Once again, I got to experience the luxury of going backpacking in the Canadian Rockies without a tent or sleeping bag, and I carried nothing other than my regular ski gear, lunch for the first day, and basic overnight items (PJs, toothbrush, etc.)

Waiting for me was my own private cabin at the lodge which I shared with a girlfriend, gourmet meals prepared by a chef on site, hot water + showers, and a comfortable bed to sleep in!

Gorgeous Shadow Lake, visited from the nearby backcountry lodge

Introduction to Shadow Lake Lodge

The Alpine Club of Canada maintains a large collection of backcountry huts, cabins, and shelters across Southern Alberta and BC, but Shadow Lake is their first luxury property offering private cabins and gourmet meals.

The lodge is situated in a beautiful meadow half a kilometre from Shadow Lake (easily visited on skis or snowshoes in the winter while spending the weekend at the lodge.)

Private cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

All Inclusive Backcountry Stays at Shadow Lake 

Each stay at Shadow Lake Lodge includes afternoon tea when you arrive with an assortment of charcuterie items and hot beverages. A gourmet three course dinner is served later with a soup or salad appetizer, a main course entrée, and dessert.

Breakfast is served the next morning with fresh baking, granola, yogurt, fruit, and a hot entrée. Then a lunch is packed for your day's adventures with a sandwich on homemade bread and tasty snacks or cookies. (Guests custom order their sandwich choices at dinner each evening.)

Just one of the amazing meals we had at the lodge

Alcoholic beverages are not included with your stay, but the lodge has a large wine collection along with beer and other beverages available for purchase.

Note, the lodge tries to accommodate all dietary restrictions and allergies, and you'll be asked if you have any special concerns before your visit. There will always be a vegetarian option for lunch each day as well.

Read more about dining at the lodge here.

Evenings at Shadow Lake Lodge are very cozy and warm

Private Cabins, Showers, and Hot Water

Nothing says decadence in the backcountry like hot water and sleeping in a real bed off the ground! Take a hot shower when you arrive and enjoy a comfortable sleep in your own private heated cabin with two double or queen sized beds per cabin. (A couple of cabins also have king beds for a romantic getaway.)

There are no bathrooms in the cabins, but the heated bathroom cabin is a short walk away where you'll find toilets, sinks with hot water, and showers. 

Other than the private cabins, there are two shared cabins, one for meals, and one with a fireplace for common gathering. Come winter the shared fireplace cabin is a very cozy place and we enjoyed afternoon yoga sessions after skiing (yoga mats provided.) The cabin is also loaded with a variety of games and a large reading selection (books + outdoor magazines.)

No backcountry camping here! 

Overnight Stays at Shadow Lake Lodge

The lodge requires two night stays from their guests. In winter, the lodge is only open on weekends so guests ski or hike in on Friday, and then everybody leaves on Sunday morning.

All stays are based on double occupancy (so bring your partner or a friend) but most cabins can sleep up to four people with an additional add-on amount per person.

For information on rates at the lodgevisit the Shadow Lake website. And I encourage you to sign up for their newsletter where they promote their specials.

Easy winter travel to Shadow Lake Lodge with light overnight packs

Big Reasons to Plan a Group Getaway to Shadow Lake Lodge

For my recent trip to Shadow Lake Lodge, I managed to successfully gather enough adults from my ski group to book 8 cabins and it ended up being a very easy trip to organize and plan (and brilliantly fun with a lodge full of friends, new and old.)

Advantages to booking your next group trip at Shadow Lake Lodge:

1. No cooking required! 

Have you ever tried to organize shared meals with a large group? I have and it requires splitting people into cooking groups, figuring out dietary restrictions and how to accommodate those individuals, and then worrying about not having enough food or dealing with challenges when somebody drops the ball and forgets one of their ingredients (or underestimates how much pasta sauce or spaghetti to bring!) 

At Shadow Lake Lodge, there is a professional chef, and Ryan does everything!! You just show up and watch your pants get tighter with each meal. There's no prep work, no cooking, and no dishes! 

If you're going to leave the kids for the weekend, do it right, and leave the work too!

Afternoon tea at Shadow Lake Lodge

Gourmet meals are included with every stay at Shadow Lake Lodge

2. Separate cabins for privacy and quiet time. 

Not everybody is an extrovert, but Shadow Lake Lodge provides individual cabins so that the introverts in your group can retreat to their own space in the afternoon or evening to nap, read, or simply unwind. 

I wouldn't know what that's like since I was always in the shared cabins playing games, but we had several people in our group that preferred to have their own space.

Individual private cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

3. An access trail for all abilities

We had different paces and abilities in our ski group, but we had split into small groups for the ski in/out, and non-skiers could have easily hiked in as well. The Redearth Creek Trail as a hike would be doable by anybody with an average fitness level. - And mixed groups can always ski or hike in separately, still spending the weekend together at the lodge and doing day trips together on Saturday.

Cross-country skiing to Shadow Lake Lodge on a wide groomed trail

4. Group bookings are easy peasy to make. 

There was no way I was putting 8 cabins on my credit card. Fortunately, I knew the lodge had many cabins available for the weekend, so I just announced the trip to a large ski group, and then I had everybody make their own booking. I played the job of matchmaker trying to pair singles for the trip, but I didn't have to deal with any of the actual booking logistics.

If you want to plan a group trip to the lodge, just send them an email and ask which weekend would have the most space. Then you'll know how many friends to round up. (I suggest doing it early in the season to grab the most availability.)

An easy group trip to Shadow Lake Lodge for 16 people

5. Stays at the lodge are extremely fun as a group! 

Meals are enjoyed as a large group in the dining cabin (you'll be arranged into table groups of 6-8 people,) afternoon tea is a big social event from 3-5pm each afternoon, and you can spend hours playing games in the cabin next door. (We even played dice and card games during afternoon tea in the dining room.) 

Skiing or hiking to the lake is also an easy half day adventure that anybody can do with a pair of snowshoes. My group tried to ski to the Ball Pass Junction and there was no shortage of laughter as we took turns pulling each other out of snow drifts after tumbles on the hills. We are definitely solid friends after that adventure!

We had fun skiing in and out of the lodge together

Ski touring around the lodge was fun with my girlfriends

6. The lodge is perfect for making new friends

I paired complete strangers for this trip who then carpooled and skied to the lodge together, and shared cabins! And then I watched strangers become best friends. I watched new friends laughing and enjoying incredible time together at each meal sharing stories and creating memories.

It was beautiful to watch and I know each person on my trip appreciated the opportunity to make new adventure partners. It's hard as parents to get away as a couple, so it's important to have friends to enjoy these trips with. And even if you don't have children, it's not always easy to find somebody who can take 3 days off work, responsibilities, life, etc. Group trips are great for creating new adventure groups.

Backcountry trips are perfect for expanding your adventure group

7. A trip to Shadow Lake Lodge is just challenging enough to push past your comfort zone. 

The trip to the lodge isn't "hard" but it's still 4 hours of skiing, all uphill! Even hiking in winter can be an undertaking if it's cold outside or one isn't used to snowshoeing.

Skiing to the lake requires navigating a narrow singletrack trail and for those new to ski touring, it will be a solid adventure! And even beyond the skiing or hiking, for many people this will be their first winter backcountry trip ever! It could even be their first overnight trip carrying a backpack.

Nobody comes away unchanged from a trip like this. People grow, they build resiliency, and they develop self confidence.

An adventure getaway has to be a little bit thrilling and challenging

The rewards are huge for a backcountry trip to Shadow Lake Lodge

Tips for planning a group trip to Shadow Lake Lodge 

As mentioned above, planning group trip to the lodge is quite easy, but there are a few things that worked well for me this time, or things I'd do differently next time.

  1. I created a Facebook messenger group to organize logistics such as carpooling and to discuss the trip (packing, questions people may have, etc.)

  2. I encouraged people to create small groups for the ski in because it would be hard to ski in a group of 15+ people.

    I would recommend that you encourage people to plan their groups carefully though. A person who hasn't skied in 3 years might not be a good travel companion for somebody who skis every weekend and prefers a faster pace. They can hang out at the lodge together, but they might want to ski in with others better suited to their pace and ability. - and it's easiest to carpool with those you'll ski with.

  3. Message the lodge ahead of time if you have people in your group that you want matched together for meals. Roommates will be placed together, but you may want to be seated with other close friends as well.

  4. We brought extra games that were personal favourites, but you really don't need to. The lodge has a large selection.

  5. We had a mixed group (mostly ladies, but also a mom/son team, and a couple looking to get away together.) This worked well, no complaints, but you may find it easier to have a theme to your group booking. Our trip felt more like a girls' weekend and I was hoping that our two men didn't feel out of place.
It was easy to find a group of friends eager to spend a weekend in this paradise!

Mt. Ball looms over Shadow Lake

Winter Access to Shadow Lake via Redearth Creek

Shadow Lake is easily reached year round via the Redearth Creek Trail. The trail can be hiked, biked, or skied as a long day trip (14 km one way,) but  I recommend splurging on an overnight stay at the decadent Shadow Lake Lodge. Most people won't appreciate a 30 km round trip ski day.

The Redearth Creek Trail follows an old road for 11km to the junction with Pharaoh Creek and then you continue for a final 3km on a narrower trail to the lodge. The entire distance is snowmobile packed and trackset each Thursday afternoon for skiers coming in on Friday. 

The link above goes to the All Trails website and shows the full route to the lodge.

The Redearth Creek Trail is trackset before each weekend's guests arrive

Beautiful backcountry skiing to Shadow Lake Lodge

Hikers are welcome on the Redearth Creek Trail as well, but please walk beside the ski tracks and make sure you are not creating divots with your boots. (If so, you should be prepared to snowshoe because holes in the trail are dangerous for skiers coming down steep hills.)

The first 11 kilometres is a gradual climb on a wide packed trail. Skiers may have to herringbone sections near the bottom and it's an exciting ski back down, requiring upper intermediate ski abilities. The trail does flatten out in the middle though and you'll be able to ski in the tracks for long sections.

Skiing the packed and trackset Redearth Creek Trail

The final 3 kilometres starts with a steep hill that most skiers will walk (up and down,) carrying their skis.  It takes about 15 minutes to get up the hill, and then the trail flattens out again up top. This section however, is rolling with short punchy climbs and steep twisty descents (in both directions.) On my recent trip we walked large sections on the way out because the snow was very fast and the trail is quite narrow (making it hard to snow plow.)

Overall, the trail gains approximately 400 metres of height, spread out over the 14 km. It took us 4 hours to ski to the lodge on my recent trip, and only 2 hours to ski out.

Skiers with strong intermediate abilities should be fine with regular Nordic skis and you do not need backcountry skis. I used my skin skis with metal edges and did appreciate my edges on the fast trail coming out.

The upper trail to Shadow Lake Lodge has steeper sections that can be challenging on descent

Avalanche hazard: From the Parks Canada website: "From the trailhead, two avalanche paths cross the trail at kilometres 3.3 and 4.4. Between kilometres 6.3 and 8, avalanche paths from Copper Mountain exist above the trail. Do not stop in these areas."

The first two paths are signed, so stop when you reach the slope, listen and look. If all appears clear, you'll be safe to cross (even if something starts to slide while you're crossing.) They're short paths and they typically would only run in late season (every 10 years.) I also recommend skiing across one at a time, and then waiting on the other side for each member of your group.

The third area starts after the campground you'll reach at kilometre 6. Stop here to have snacks, eat lunch, or address clothing issues. I was told this avalanche slope only slides every 100 years, so it's not a huge risk. Caution should always be taken though along with a good steady pace through this section. You can stop when you reach the junction to the lodge at the start of the big climb.

The first two avalanche paths are signed so you won't miss them

Winter Day Trips from Shadow Lake Lodge

When you arrive at the lodge, staff will give you suggestions for ski touring or snowshoeing around the area on the Saturday. Top choices will include:

Shadow Lake  - Ski or snowshoe to visit the iconic Parks Canada red chairs near the end of the lake.

 It took us an hour round trip to reach the red chairs from the lodge on skis. The link goes to the All Trails website and there is no avalanche danger if you stop at the red chairs. 

Easy ski touring to Shadow Lake

You can easily ski to Shadow Lake on regular Nordic skis

This outing is doable on Nordic XC skis as long as the trail has been packed down or skier tracked by others ahead of you (lodge staff and guests are pretty good at keeping the trail in shape.)

And if you don't want to ski to the lake, you can borrow snowshoes from the lodge (bring your own winter boots.)

It's an easy ski or hike to the Red Chairs at Shadow Lake

Ball Pass Junction - From the lake, cross the bridge, and then take the trail heading towards Egypt Lake and the junction with Ball Pass. There is a campground at the junction, and there is no avalanche danger if you stop here. The link goes to the All Trails website.

It took us 3 hours round trip for this outing on Nordic XC skis, but we had to turn around before reaching the junction when we ran out of ski tracks to follow ahead of us. If nobody has done this trail recently, you'll need snowshoes (and even if it's been packed down, it's not an easy ski trail and you'll want wider skis suited for light touring.)

Ski touring towards the Ball Pass Junction

Note the lodge only has 8 pairs of snowshoes to lend out, so you may want to consider bringing your own pair if you plan to hike on the Saturday. (They can be strapped to your backpack for the ski in.)

Whether you ski or snowshoe, the scenery never ends around Shadow Lake

Hiking option for Gibbon Pass -  This makes for an excellent day trip from the lodge on snowshoes. It is only 6 km return with 450 metres of height gain, and you can borrow snowshoes from the lodge if you bring your boots.

Don't continue past the monument at the top of the pass. There would be avalanche terrain if you were to proceed.

See the full route on All Trails covering the Vista Lake - Arnica Lake - Twin Lakes - Gibbon Pass hike. Note this is a summer route only! You'll be turning around at the pass.

The trail to Gibbon Pass is much steeper! Snowshoes required (photo from a previous fall trip)

Gibbon Pass on our last visit in September

Booking a Trip to Shadow Lake Lodge

Visit the Shadow Lake Lodge website for information on pricing and availability. Rooms can be booked on the website or by email to info@shadowlakelodge.com

The lodge is open 7 days a week in the summer season, but is only open weekends in winter.

All guests arrive on Friday, spend the weekend at the lodge, and then ski or hike out on Sunday.

Shadow Lake Lodge

Additional Reading

Read about my previous trips to Shadow Lake Lodge in the summer and autumn seasons:

It's a fun ski out on Sunday! Mostly downhill all the way to the parking lot

Disclaimer: My trip to the lodge was hosted in partnership with Shadow Lake Lodge and the Alpine Club of Canada. As always, all words and opinions are my own and I wasn't paid for writing this story.

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