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A Winter Visit to Shadow Lake Lodge in Banff National Park

Surviving and actually enjoying a long winter in Calgary is possible but it takes some thought. Winter starts early here with the snow usually flying by the end of October and it doesn’t typically end until late March.

I’m in my third winter in Calgary and granted I get away more than most, but I make the effort well in advance to plan trips throughout the winter so I always have something to look forward to. Last May I decided I wanted to spend Alberta’s Family Day weekend (a three day weekend) up at a backcountry ski lodge. I’d heard about Shadow Lake Lodge and decided that it would be worth checking out.

Shadow Lake Lodge is in Banff National Park. It’s only accessible on skis or on foot via a 14 .4 kilometer trail. The trailhead is located 19 kilometers west of Banff just off the Trans-Canada Highway at the well signed Redearth turnoff. It’s a straightforward and relatively easy trail for the first 11 kilometers. Then it’s a steep climb once you reach the trail to Shadow Lake. Some people walk this section. When you’ve grunted your way to the top, the rest is easy and in 30 minutes or less you’ll be at the lodge. It took us less than three hours with a break for lunch to ski to the lodge.

"Skiing up the Redearth Creek trail"

Skiing up the Redearth Creek trail

"There are a variety of cabins - offering king or queen beds"

There are a variety of cabins – offering king or queen beds

"Snowshoeing is also an option at Shadow Lake Lodge"

Snowshoeing is also an option at Shadow Lake Lodge

The Cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

The cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge offer rustic simplicity. Outfitted with a bed and night tables, they also boast solar powered lighting, a propane heater and a drying rack. There is a jug and bowl for washing up in the cabin – otherwise you need to walk out to the central shower. There are toilet facilities there too.

Apart from the dining room, there is a common room with a wood fired stove and plenty of games, puzzles and books to keep you occupied.

"We had the Mount Ball cabin"

We had the Mount Ball cabin

"The view out our window"

The view out our window

The Food at Shadow Lake Lodge

You will never go hungry at Shadow Lake Lodge. In fact despite skiing for hours every day there is the very real possibility that you will gain weight.

When you first arrive – around mid to late afternoon for most people – there is a tea. Think more in terms of the Brits version of tea; not only is there tea and hot chocolate but assorted cheeses and crackers, veges and dip and a wide assortment of cookies, bars and cakes. That has to last you for about another three hours when dinner is served.

Dinner is served family style – with eight people to a table. Dinner offers a good way to break the ice and meet people.

Every dinner starts with freshly baked bread and homemade soup. Then there is a buffet style main course with salmon, beef, chicken etc offered as well as vegetables and salad. Vegetarians are accommodated and the meals I saw looked mouth-watering. To end there is dessert and a hot beverage. I don’t have photos of the food because it’s on the dark side in the dining room but rest assured that the quality and caliber of the food is excellent. You can also purchase beer and wine.

"Lunch fixings for a make your own sandwich"

Lunch fixings for a make your own sandwich

Breakfast is served at 8:30 in the winter. It starts with a serve yourself buffet featuring a different type of porridge every morning, yogurts, granola, a giant and well composed fruit salad and homemade muffins. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you then there is always the egg dish, pancakes, sausages or bacon and a never ending cup of coffee.

Lunch is a make it yourself affair. Right after breakfast all the fixings for sandwiches are set out along with GORP, bars, cookies and fresh fruit. Load up, fill a thermos and water bottle and off you go.

Skiing &/or Snowshoeing out of Shadow Lake Lodge

There are several ski or snowshoe tours you can do from Shadow Lake Lodge. Snowshoes are available so you don’t have to carry them up.

The easiest tour is a 1.9 kilometer ski to Shadow Lake where you get a beautiful view of Mt. Ball if the sun is shining.

"On the trail toward Shadow Lake"

On the trail toward Shadow Lake

"Mount Ball is the beautiful mountain in the background"

Mount Ball is the beautiful mountain in the background

"Skiing alongside Shadow Lake"

Skiing alongside Shadow Lake

From there you can continue to Haiduk Lake, 6.3 kilometers further away. That was our plan for the day though we didn’t make it quite as far as the lake. The snow was very deep and part of our group didn’t have climbing skins for the steep part. So after 20 minutes of sweating, groaning and cursing we turned around. Next time.

"Pointing towards Haiduk Lake - located at the base of the mountain on the left"

Pointing towards Haiduk Lake – located at the base of the mountain on the left

"The wind made it tough going in the open meadows en route to Haiduk Lake"

The wind made it tough going in the open meadows

Another option is to snowshoe or ski 3.1 kilometers one way to Gibbon Pass. If it had been a clear day we would have done it before skiing out but it wasn’t and I didn’t want to go without getting a view. I understand it’s a steep climb up so snowshoes are probably the better option.

Ball Pass, 2.7 kilometers away, can also be visited as a day trip. It’s located on the Great Divide between Alberta and BC.

Shadow Lake Lodge is only open from late January until March 22nd – this year. It reopens again in late June for the summer. There is normally a two night minimum stay but you can check out their website to see if they have availability for one night at the last minute. Rates are $236.25 per person per night based on double occupancy in the winter. Summer rates are slightly less expensive. The rate includes accommodation and all meals.

A winter visit to Shadow Lake Lodge is a great way to keep the winter blues away.

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Leigh McAdam


Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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