Larkin O’Connor would rather speak to you from the top of a mountain. He bought a cellphone only because it enabled him to take business calls while in the Canadian Rockies. All evidence suggests blood pumps through his veins at a brisk -7 C.
His most precarious balancing act, however, might be the way he is taking his family’s iconic accommodation company into a modern future while paying homage to Alberta’s long tradition of welcoming visitors into historic mountain lodges.
O’Connor and his family company Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) operate two of Alberta’s coziest lodges, one of the most comfortable ways to get more mountains in your life, regardless of whether you can stand up on a snowboard. Think of Alberta’s lodges as the homemade hot chocolate of the mountain accommodations scene. Combine a few unpretentious key ingredients—fantastic natural surroundings, a thick duvet, crackling fires and a hearty meal—and you’ve got a thoroughly warming escape from the day-to-day.
His family’s story in the area goes as far back as the settler days. His parents Pat and Connie O’Connor have run CRMR since the 1980s. Today, O’Connor is CRMR’s development manager and he wants to honour their history by showcasing the “fairy tale-esque” Canadian Rocky Mountains.
O’Connor has been smitten with the Canadian Rockies since his first hike up Mount Fairview. He toddled off during a diaper change and might have rolled over a cliff if not for the well-placed bush that caught him. A 20-kilometre family hike at age six was just “normal.” When he wasn’t skipping school to ski, he helped his parents at Deer Lodge and Buffalo Mountain Lodge, both located in Banff National Park.
It was never a given that he’d take over the family business. At 18, O’Connor was a “punk-rock snowboarder” who took the Canadian Rockies for granted.
It wasn’t until he climbed mountains on other continents that O’Connor started to think of Banff National Park as more than just his super-cool backyard.
"Travelling the world made me realize how special these mountains are and in particular this whole area, it still is wild here."O'Connor
O’Connor has a soft spot for Deer Lodge. In the 1920s, it was a teahouse for anyone intrepid enough to venture to Lake Louise by horseback. In the ‘80s it was, oddly, home to an epic live music venue that rocked until 2 a.m. with up-and-coming Canadian bands. Today, it’s a charming yet modern year-round hotel.
The historic log cabin teahouse is now a restaurant serving CRMR’s trademark “Rocky Mountain Cuisine.” Picture this: You’re sipping a cocktail under a caribou’s furry nose while you sample the venison and bison charcuterie board and tweet about your first snowshoe outing.
O’Connor’s parents were foodies way before that was a thing. Pat O’Connor is obsessed with the taste of a real tomato; Connie calls fast food blasphemous. Their farm-to-fork menus have always been inspired by the best food raised and grown nearby, including on their own ranch that raises elk, bison and cattle.
In Deer Lodge’s Great Room, a crackling fireplace and knots of communal seating are arranged beneath Randy, a taxidermy buffalo that led a delightful life on the ranch as a breeding bull. It’s prime territory for curling up after a day of cross-country skiing—the absolute best Lake Louise adventure for anyone new to mountain recreation, O’Connor says. Oh, and whether or not your muscles are feeling the cross-country ache, a rooftop hot tub visit is essential.
Not far from Deer Lodge, another cozy corner is snuggled into the mountainside. Storm Mountain Lodge’s historic cabins are each adorable, stocked with wood for the fireplace and antique claw-foot soaker tubs.
That’s all part of disconnecting and sinking into extreme mountain relaxation, says assistant manager Véronic Haché.
“It’s very simple and cozy, we could technically provide wi-fi and all that with satellite, but we choose not to. It would take away from the charm.”Haché
Haché recommends guests sleep in late, then go snowshoeing or fat-biking on the nearby marked trail. Then, maybe a round of cribbage with a hot beverage in the lodge before a first-class dinner in the dining room where the menu focuses on uber-Canadian ingredients. If you wanted, you could drive into town to catch a hockey game on TV, but Haché says even initially skeptical guests are charmed into unplugging and getting cozy.
If you happen to get hooked on that Rocky Mountain coziness, don’t worry. It’s totally possible to bring some home with you.
“Anything can be cozy,” says O’Connor. “It’s just a feeling. If you do it right, you create that.”