Island Lake Lodge, looking towards the Lizard Range. Submitted/Mike McPhee

Diamond of the Elk Valley turns 30

Island Lake Lodge, located only 14 km from Fernie, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

By James Snell – reporter@thefreepress.ca

Island Lake Lodge, located only 14 km from Fernie, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The 26 room lodge features world class cat skiing in winter, hiking and biking in the summer and food year-round.

The 7000-acre mountainscape property could easily be a backdrop for Lord of The Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Vast stands of old-growth cedar cover the area, thriving in a coastal-like microclimate populated by grizzly and black bear, moose, elk, deer, cutthroat trout, and a multitude of bird species. The bush is thick and green.

The mountain air is sweet as it moves over the Lizard Range, which reaches into the sky like a congregation of hooded monks. The smell is equal to the view. Standing next to Island Lake at night lifts you into unencumbered starlight that has the power to heal. In bad weather, patrons move inside to experience the best of British Columbia hospitality.

There’s fine dining in two beautiful restaurants supervised by Executive Chef Keith Farkas, who “believes there should be a strong connection between plate, planet, people and culture, which is reflected in the ingredients we forage around the lodge, or purchase from local farmers in Fernie and the Elk Valley.”

There’s also a spa that’s inspired by the Rocky Mountain landscape. It features six treatment rooms, a retail boutique, a serene relaxation room and outdoor sauna that can transform the spirit.

All this begs a question. Why don’t more locals visit the lodge? The thriving business employs 80 people in summer, 90 in winter, and 20 year round, making it one of Fernie’s top employers. Island Lake Lodge won the B.C. Employees First Award in 2018.

Other than avalanche areas and ski areas, the company has made its land open to the public. They take land stewardship seriously, with 92 per cent of the property being set aside as a nature reserve. Situated next to Mount Fernie Provincial Park, there are over 100 km of trails. Island Lake Lodge also contributes hundreds of hours of volunteer time in the community. They support the Emily Brydon Foundation, Angel Flights, and many other charities.

“We love partnering with local businesses,” says Mike McPhee, Director of Sales and Marketing at Island Lake Lodge. “That’s a pretty big part of our philosophy. It’s not just shopping locally, but to also partner with local makers of soap and essential oils, Fernie Brewing, and flower companies. We’ve developed products with a lot of local companies. We have our own branded beer, Papa Bear Pilsner.”

McPhee embodies the spirit of Island Lake lodge. The father of two is a professional grade photographer, snowboarder, and fly fisherman.

“We’ve become a mecca for hiking in the region,” he explains. “We’ve become quite well known for the food, the hiking, our lodging, and mountain biking. It’s like a park in a sense, a lot of people come to see the national park quality views.”

McPhee adds, “We get a lot of international visitors that come down the Crowsnest Highway, and we get a fair number of Americans as well.”

Island Lake Lodge CEO, Doug Feely, says “The other thing about summer that’d we’d like to speak to is the wedding business. It’s an amazing place to get married. It’s a great venue. The food is great, and the support system is excellent.”

The lodge receives approximately 45 feet of annual snowfall. So much snow that guests are transported from the lower parking lot, to the lodge, in one of Island Lake’s shiny red snowcats.

“We’ve been cat skiing for 30 years, and we’ve become famous for it,” McPhee explains. “All through the 90s we were the media mecca for the entire ski industry. Island Lake was in magazines and movies just as much as some of the larger ski resorts in the world, a significant contributor to Fernie’s early recognition in the industry, and as a destination in its own right.”

Island Lake Lodge encapsulates everything that makes the Elk Valley great. It remains one of the world’s great wilderness destinations. Check it out. Stay for a week, month, overnight, or for the day. You’ll leave recharged – ready to tackle life outside paradise.

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Island Lake has national park quality views. Submitted/Mike McPhee

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