From the Monashee Lodge's rooftop hot tub, the only action you'll see might be the swoop of a bald eagle racing its reflection to the far shore of the Columbia River before it disappears into the trees of Elevator and Big Ugly, two of the typically vertiginous runs in Canadian Mountain Holidays' 1,016-square-mile territory in the Monashee range. From this spot, it's hard to believe that until recently, these remote British Columbia mountains, long-regarded as some of CMH's best heliskiing terrain, lacked guest accommodations appropriate to the setting. The opening in late 2002 of the $10 million lodge, a luxurious outpost on the bank of the Columbia River, finally gives one of CMH's most challenging destinations a worthy home base.
The four-story structure—a contemporary blend of warm wood and cool stone—is handsome to look at and best seen from a helicopter's approach. With long, low horizontal lines that hug the terrain, it blends respectfully with its spectacular surroundings. The rooftop après-ski complex is the lodge's calling card—a sanctuary of day's-end relaxation and camaraderie. In addition to the hot tub, there's a sauna and a Swiss-style quiet room. On the third floor, there's a phone/ethernet room for those who can't leave business behind (many in this crowd) or who just want to call home and gloat about face shots. The self-serve laundry is heaven-sent near the end of a week of intense exertion in deep powder, and a four-story climbing wall in the stairwell provides a distraction for passing any weather-related downtime. The bottom floor—where skiers suit up, strap on avalanche transceivers and screw up their courage for the day's adventure—has a pro shop, equipment room and guides' office.
The rooms, 22 singles and 26 doubles, are spare and simple, with big windows and even bigger views. Women are outnumbered by about 5-to-1; couples are scarcer still. Accordingly, the décor is masculine and mountain-inspired: clean, comfortable, devoid of any frill.
In the high-ceilinged dining room on the main floor, a glass wall frames moody mountain views across the water. Cuisine is a point of CMH pride: Restaurant-worthy breakfasts and dinners are robust but never heavy. Hearty picnic lunches are served al fresco in the high alpine. Skiers return each afternoon to a table stacked with snacks: ribs, smoked salmon, breads and cheeses.
The guides, pilots and staff—sharp, easygoing Canadians—become part of the lodge's social scene. They mingle at night, relaxing with guitars and board games by the Great Room fireplace or laughing with guests at the mica-flecked stone bar before retiring to their own rooms.
Cheap? Hardly. But the $700 or so a night you'll spend to stay at the Monashee Lodge isn't outrageous as boutique inns go, at least with all the guided skiing, helicopter rides and meals included. And when it comes to ski-in/ski-out accessibility, absolutely nothing tops a Bell 212 Jetstream.
Published: February 2004