CALGARY – A low loonie is adding up to a double win for one of Canada’s great backcountry escapes.
Not only is a trip to Mount Assiniboine Lodge popular with Canadians looking to stay home, it’s a steal of a deal for Americans.
With safety top of mind for those offering the adventure, it’s a bucket list item you might just want to consider.
It never gets old for Claude Duchesne, ski guide and manager of the lodge.
“My heart is always pounding, just landing on this place,” Duchesne said. “You see absolutely no buildings, you don’t see any roads, you see nothing. And then you finally land here and it’s a total detachment of our crazy life in the city. Just back to the basics.”
It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly what some tourists are looking for.
“There’s no TV, there’s no internet, nobody’s on their cell phone or texting and you actually have time to have a conversation with people with no distraction,” Duchesne said.
It’s a location where visitors listen for silence and it’s what Andre Renner’s accustomed. He grew up at the lodge and now helps run it.
“I hear the wind, or when there’s no wind, it’s just calm,” Renner said. “They’re really able to turn off and no matter what their ability, they’re able to have something out here in winter.”
With a declining dollar, more Canadians are escaping to the wintry wilderness in their own backyard.
Calgarian Kelly Tomlyn found the backcountry gem 25 years ago and visits annually primarily for the skiing and fresh powder.
“You are an hour-and-a-half from this. You wake up to crisp, clear, cool mountain mornings. You see Mount Assiniboine and bright blue skies,” Tomlyn said. “You get fresh snow. You’re not on ice, you’re not on anyone else’s tracks.”
American Mark Berryhill visited the lodge from Idaho. He’s a big fan of what Alberta has to offer in the winter and summer.
“There’s no place better than the Canadian Rockies,” said Berryhill.
Mount Assiniboine is where backcountry skiing first originated in the Canadian Rockies more than 100 years ago by mountaineer James Outram. He decided to make the dangerous trek back in 1928. Since then, skiers have been breaking snow all over the Rockies in record numbers.
“I don’t know how they did it back then. They were amazing pioneers,” Duchesne said. “If you look at the gear those people used back then, they would have wool pants and a tweed jacket or whatever they were using, and old leather boots with wooden skis and they would still spend the day here.”
But Outram found a way, with no modern training or guide, and that’s when a Canadian backcountry trail was born.
“The locals in Banff in the 1920s, besides the trappers, didn’t have much to do in the snow in the the winter because it was a dangerous place,” Renner said.
“That silence, that’s what backcountry skiing is all about. Getting in the backcountry by yourself or with a friend,” Barryhill said.
Visitors just might make a new friend along the way too.
“What makes the trip good, is not just the scenery…not just the snow and the skiing, but it’s the people you meet,” Barryhill said.
“Sometimes they come back here every year and meet each other again on the same date they were here on the previous year,” Duchesne said.
For those still wanting to pay nearly double for a trip south of the border, current visitors are OK with that.
“Go ahead and do it. Just save this for us, ” Barryhill laughed.
Safety training is a key component to any trip to Assiniboine Lodge for all seasons, whether hiking or skiing.