While Island Lake Lodge is a spectacular winter ski destination, we found it’s also a great place to stay and dine any time of the year.
For a quarter of a century. Island Lake Lodge, snugged up against the Canadian Rockies, has earned the reputation as one of the top cat skiing destinations in the world. In fact, National Geographic named Island Lake Lodge one of the “most unique places in the world to stay.”
Located just outside the artsy village of Fernie in the beautiful Kootenay Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Island Lake Lodge is situated on 7,000 pristine acres of wooded trails, alpine meadows, soaring peaks, streams, and, of course, its namesake lake. The lodge has four log buildings built in the grand lodge style: Tamarack that houses the restaurant and spa; Bear where the gift shop and café are located; and two guest accommodation buildings.
My room at Island Lake Lodge was in Cedar Lodge. On the bottom floor, there is a comfortable living room with a big gas fireplace and soft leather couches that look out onto a covered deck with a large hot tub. Several of us discovered the hot tub was perfect for easing the kinks after a long day of hiking the resort’s many trails.
My second floor room was spacious and featured two queen beds¸ a big soaking tub, and a private outdoor deck with a jaw dropping view of the nearly vertical mountains of the Lizard Range. The room was decorated in Northwest Lodge style – wide plank floors, iron detailing, and a slate bathroom with dark fixtures, a glass shower, and elegant toiletries.
Ancient Timbers Dining Room, the restaurant at Island Lake, is renowned for its excellent French-inspired Rocky Mountain cuisine. Under the capable leadership of Executive Chef Keith Farkas, the restaurant serves breakfast (lodging guests only), lunch on the Bear Lodge patio¸ and dinners nightly to both guests and the public. (In winter, meals are included as part of the ski/lodging package.) As the restaurant’s name implies, the setting is breathtaking – soaring, timber-framed ceilings and tall windows bring in views of the Lizard Range. The lodge itself is at 4,400 feet elevation and the Three Bears peaks, at about 8,000 feet, tower over the property.
When we dined at Ancient Timbers, the dinner menu had so many delicious-sounding choices it was difficult to choose. Appetizers included tuna carpaccio, quinoa salad, caprese salad, seven-spiced smoked duck breast, lamb leg, and market salad. I opted for the duck breast, which was spicy, smoky, and tender, and the market salad, a mixture of heirloom cherry tomatoes, bacon, micro-greens, and delicate fiddleheads that the chef had hand harvested in the forest only hours earlier. The salad was dressed in a light vinaigrette that produced a crispy, sweet, smoky, vinegary start to my meal.
Entrée choices were equally enticing – white sturgeon, free-range chicken breast, bay scallops, elk osso bucco, mushroom-walnut ravioli, and foie gras poached beef tenderloin. I was interested in trying a local specialty so I ordered the elk, a terrific choice. The meat was slow braised on the bone and served on creamy cheddar polenta, and perfectly-roasted carrots, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes, with a dollop of fresh gremolata on the bone’s marrow. This dish was so rich, chewy, and tender, I found myself eating all of it, even after my tummy said “enough” (to which my mouth replied,“Are you kidding? This is too delicious.).
Chef Farkas said sourcing local ingredients is key to his success in the kitchen. “The ingredients here in the Kootnays are great,” he told me. “I try to source as much as I can from within 100 miles of the restaurant. For instance, we have a farm that custom grows organic tomatoes and herbs for us. Because we have great ingredients, I don’t over complicate things and try to let the dishes’ elements to shine.”
And shine they do, including the desserts. Choices included fresh fruit napoleon, lemon grass and ginger crème brulee, warm chocolate cake with caramel ice cream, sweet olive oil cake, and dark chocolate mousse in a brandy snap basket with pistachio brittle. I went for the mousse and it was über-creamy and silky¸ the elegant basket delightfully crispy, and the pistachio brittle fully of nutty goodness.
Miles of Trails
The following morning, I knew I needed to work off all those delicious calories. If it had been winter, we could have taken one of Island Lake Lodge’s three snow cats to the summit of the nearly vertical peaks of the Lizard Range to ski some of the best powder in the world. This area’s topography creates “snow bombs” where snow-laden clouds swirl around and around dumping their load. The area’s 2012 snowfall was an impressive 48 feet and Island Lake Lodge gets on average 15-20% more snow than other locations.
Alas, it was early summer, so we opted to hike one of the property’s half dozen well-maintained trails. We met the Lodge’s Mike McPhee for a hike up to Tamarack viewpoint, a 4 km trip with an elevation gain of about 700 feet.
We hiked through shady forest filled with alder, larch, willow, Douglas fir, and Western red cedar. While the property has been logged in years past, loggers missed an impressive stand of 800-year-old cedar on the Trail of the Ancients.
As we passed through the thick forest, our soft footfalls, the rushing of falling water, and the occasional squeaky call of picas kept us company. At one point, the trail was blocked by three-foot deep snowdrifts and, as we scrambled over the icy stuff, we were glad Mike was along to point the way. Soon the trail angled up, switching back and forth through the scree. On the last push, a steep wooden staircase carried us to the top and to Tamarack Viewpoint, a sweeping vista of forest, snowcapped peaks, and the lodge and lake below.
After drinking our fill of the view and snapping endless pictures of ourselves, we ambled back down the trail and Island Lake Lodge, happily tired and ready for a well-deserved lunch. – Story and photos by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Check out Island Lake Lodge Executive Chef Keith Farkas’ recipe of his fork-tender Elk Osso Bucco.
Read about the Bean Pod, artisan chocolate maker, in the nearby village of Fernie.