In a remote alpine valley below the Wall of Jericho lies the log building built by hand with locally cut timber. When Skoki Ski Lodge opened in 1931 it was the first lodge of such character for commercial business in Canada. It was built and originally run by Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies and as recreational skiing was emerging throughout the country it quickly became a popular backcountry ski destination.

Banff National Park Cross-country Skiing

Open in winter and summer it is still popular to explore silence deep in the backcountry of Banff National Park. Except for some add-ons built in 1935 and a renovation in 2004 one can experience this authentic style of adventure. There’s absolutely no phone reception or flush toilets and lighting is provided by candles and oil lamps. Most visitors stay a few nights at this all-inclusive gem in the Rockies. In the spring, however, the lodge closes until end of June during snow melt as wild life wakes up from hibernation.

With great weather in the forecast I decided to finally complete this trip I had read so much about. Early in the morning I started off from Calgary and arrived at the Fish Creek trailhead a couple hours later. Being early May I had to walk a few hundred meters before I could start skiing uphill towards Temple Day Lodge on the back side of Lake Louise Ski Resort. The wide trail climbs steadily for 4km before you cross the ski resort and finally can enjoy open forests and majestic surrounding peaks.

banff national park cross-country skiing

4km uphill along a wide snowmobile trail before I reached Temple Day Lodge

banff national park cross-country skiing

Boulder Pass ahead. Some sections were easier to follow with obvious tracks from snow mobiles

Once I reached the lift area I stopped to tape my heels before I carefully crossed the ski runs looking out for any world champion spring skiers. From Temple Day Lodge the trail towards Skoki Lodge appeared untouched by human traffic due to heavy snow melt and recent snow fall since the lodge closed for spring. Soon I was utilising my questionable pathfinder skills and realised the best way to find the winter trail was not trying to follow the summer trail marked on my map. Only a few creeks were open so I chose to follow the easiest terrain in those sections where I couldn’t find obvious tracks from snow mobiles used to bring supplies to Skoki during the winter months.

banff national park cross-country skiing

Reaching Boulder Pass overlooking Ptarmigan Lake. Packer’s Pass and the dreaded Deception Pass on the left.

banff national park cross-country skiing

Sweaty selfie on Boulder Pass with Lake Louise Ski Area towards west in the background

banff national park cross-country skiingCrossing Ptarmigan Lake

banff national park cross-country skiing

Deception Pass

After 8kms I reached Boulder Pass and enjoyed a lunch break in the sun as I looked over to Deception Pass which I had read so many horror stories about. Before reaching the dreaded pass I had already gained over 650 meters so I thought for myself that it didn’t look that bad – and to be honest I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. As I reached the top of the pass a set of tracks from a Mountain Goat crossed my path and Skoki Valley appeared. With the fast snow conditions on the north side of the pass I chose to keep my half-skins attached on the rapid descent of the final stretch towards Skoki Lodge.

banff national park cross-country skiing

The rustic lodge building suddenly appeared in an opening in the woods

Skiing Skoki Lodge

Skoki Lodge is closed during the snow melt but opens again in late June for the summer season.

Prepared for any kind of weather and conditions I finally reached the lodge 4kms below Deception Pass. I could only imagine how rewarding it would be to arrive here during opening hours welcomed by a friendly staff, hot tea and fresh baked goods followed by a gourmet meal for supper. Knowing that they had closed the lodge for the season I had wisely brought my own warm peppermint tea on a thermos and home baked rolls and enjoyed my second break on the sunny porch before returning. My wife kept track with me back in town as I had the Spot Messenger tracking device in the top of my backpack for her to trace my progression and I didn’t dare to stay too long in one place in case she would get too worried 🙂

Banff National Park Cross-country Skiing

Filling up my water bottle in Skoki Valley with clean glacier water

Heading back I stopped by one of the open creeks in Skoki Valley to fill up my water bottle with fresh and clean mountain water. Behind me the Wall of Jericho put on a show with a small ice and rock slide rumbling loud in the valley. A reminder to always keep a safe distance to potential slide areas.

The elevation gain back to Deception Pass in only 300 meters so I was looking forward to the descent back to Temple Day Lodge. Parts of the last leg towards the parking lot has become marginal now so I don’t know how long it’s advisable to try skiing this section. However, as long as the lifts are open in the ski resort one can access the trail starting at Temple Day Lodge which makes the trip 4kms shorter each way.

I think many people would enjoy the trip at this time of year. The weather is usually less inclement than mid winter and the snow pack is hard and easy to ski as long as you have steel edges. Earlier this winter I bought a new set of light touring skis with 3/4 steel edges making them lighter and more maneuverable than other touring skis. The Åsnes Vikafjell skis are also equipped with “skin lock” to mount half length skins which improves the glide on the flat stretches while still giving sufficient grip climbing up.

Oh, and did I mention that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed at Skoki Lodge back in the summer of 2011 during their Tour of Canada?

banff national park cross-country skiing

Difficulty: Medium+ for a day trip. Weather depending in the open alpines! Some steeper ascents. The downhill sections can be challenging depending on snow conditions.

Length: 29,7 km roundtrip. Probably closer to 28km if you opt out of searching for Boulder Pass Trail once you pass Temple Day Lodge.

Elevation Gain: 1118 m

Duration: 7 hours including lunch break at the lodge

For more information please visit Skoki Lodge website

Thanks for reading! Do you have any favourite backcountry skiing destinations?

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