B.C.’s iconic Island Lake Lodge overdelivers on expectations and keeps ‘em coming back year
Island Lake Lodge, Winter 2022
Words :: Erin Moroz
Photos :: Matt Kuhn Photography
Tucked away on the southwest flank of Mount Fernie, pleasantly secluded from the chaos that
is modern life, sits the iconic Island Lake Lodge. Magic awaits skiers and snowboarders
fortunate enough to secure one of the 12 seats in the lodge’s three snow cats, and a waitlist of
untold souls lends credence to the legends swirling amongst the cold smoke powder on its
7,000 privately held acres.
As winter arrives in the East Kootenays, Jen and Andrew Ficzycz await their annual trip to
Island Lake Lodge with restless anticipation. For the Ficzyczs, their sojourn to Island Lake is a
homecoming of sorts, a signal that all is right with their world and they made it back to their
special place—a time to exhale.
The couple’s yearly getaway hangs on the whim of the local snow gods. At an elevation of 1,010
metres, the start of the ski season in nearby Fernie is often marked by rain. But, Island Lake
Lodge is ideally situated at 1,400 metres, at the end of the Cedar Valley where the north-south
Rocky Mountain trench meets the east-west valleys. Here, moisture-laden Pacific weather
systems collide with the cold continental air mass and dump 14 metres of snow annually on the
limestone contours of the Island Lake acreage; it’s not unusual for the lodge to see 100
centimetres of snow in a 24- to 48-hour period.
“It never disappoints,” Andrew says about the snowfall, and Jen adds with a grin, “Sometimes
you don’t see your pants all day you’re so (deep) in the snow.”
Regardless of Ullr’s mood, the “outstanding” guides at Island Lake always deliver the goods,
says Andrew. The guides are truly stewards of the land, they spend the summer months
maintaining the acreage, falling trees and sculpting glades, safeguarding the fun factor for the
coming winter. Be it windblown or sun crusted or sprinkled with early-season hazards, the
guides’ intimate knowledge of the terrain enables them to point to the ideal descent for every
skill level ensuring not only a good time, but also a safe time, is had by all.
Backcountry skiing can be intimidating to the uninitiated, but that’s the beauty of the snow cat,
says Andrew, unless you’ve never been on skis, there’s no way the cat will beat you to the
bottom of a run—meaning, unlike heli-skiing, there’s no chance of a group being held up by a
guest’s lack of skiing prowess and no reason to feel intimidated if you’re the guest lacking
High fives, pole smacks and satisfied grins mingle with disbelief of shared good fortune
signalling the end of a run. And, after seven hours soaring through blower pow the après ski
scene beckons, or perhaps a schvitz in one of the lodge’s three saunas followed by a massage at
the world class spa. At Island Lake, the amenities, like the terrain, offer seemingly unlimited
Drawn back time and time again by the lodge’s consistency: the terrain, the snow pack, the
“absolutely unbelievable” food, which Jen classifies it as approachable fine dining, Island Lake’s
unfailing ability to over-deliver on expectations ensures the couple has never been
disappointed on any of their nine trips. (Or for Andrew, 23 biannual stays, but who counts
powder days, anyway?).
In the evening, back at the lodge, as purple twilight gives way to star-studded skies, familiar
smiles abound around a roaring fire. Loyal staff and repeat guests share a laugh and compare
tales from the day’s adventures. At the end of their stay, when the snow cat deposits the guests
back at the parking lot, they will clamour to rebook for next year, eager to secure their place at
the fabled winter wonderland.
Located just 14 kilometres from Fernie, B.C., Island Lake Lodge runs backcountry cat skiing and
snowboarding from December to April every winter. Pants optional.