There was a light wind as the sky cracked open with radiant sunshine. The backcountry trail we were skiing was wide, the track already set. Snow from the previous night retained its Canadian Rocky Mountains fluffiness as we glided along. Coming to a gentle up-and-down trail buffered by trees on both sides, we stopped for a moment, slipped off our gloves and listened to our beating hearts.
In the hushed forest, the throb of the city seemed a lifetime away.
The winter trail to Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park was moderately difficult for our group of four middle-aged adults. We were all experienced downhill skiers but two were on cross country skis for the first time.
Best suited to skiers who have at least some backcountry and cross-country skiing experience, the approximately 14 km (8.7 mi) trail that begins at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site – where Canada’s national parks system began – can be a thrill for determined beginners, too. It would certainly qualify as a bucket list tour for those making their inaugural backcountry ski trip. And it turned out to be totally worth the effort.
Even with our semi-novice status it only took us a bit more than three hours, mostly through forest, to arrive at Sundance Lodge. The Trail Riders store in downtown Banff where we booked the lodge is your first stop before getting on the trail. Once you’ve signed waivers, they let the staff know you’re on your way.
The solar powered lodge is nestled in the pines below Sundance Range. It’s a cozy getaway that rewards your journey with a crackling wood fire, hot showers and snacks. Even trail mix tastes better when the winter air has sharpened the senses. We flopped onto cushioned wooden furniture and played a few board games. One of us even stretched out to do some yoga before we sat down to the home-cooked dinner eaten at a long wooden table. Plates were scraped clean – a testament to the chef and to our well-earned appetites.
Aside from the staff, we had the lodge pretty much to ourselves. It can accommodate 34 visitors in 10 variously configured bedrooms upstairs and downstairs. Best was the promise of a wonderfully silent night’s sleep beneath a soft duvet and patterned blankets. Collapsing into bed, I felt completely worn out in the best possible way.
Relax in the Midst of Wilderness
The lodge allows one-night visits. In the morning some of us dug into bacon and eggs for breakfast, while others had cereal. A few spent part of the morning resting inside and reading books. The relatively warmer weather in late winter allowed us to hang out on the wraparound wooden deck and bask in the sunshine, though we wore our outdoor gear. Depending on snow conditions, the winter season can run from December through March. Horseback trips to the lodge can be booked at The Trail Riders Store and run during the summer.
Then we were off, waving goodbye as we headed back down the trail. We didn’t see any wildlife aside from a few birds on our way in or out but I did learn something memorable at the lodge. The most beautiful sound in wilderness can be nothing but the odd gust of wind.