Island Lake Lodge: 25 years of powder heaven

Celebrating 25 years this year, Island Lake Lodge has been both a pioneer and trendsetter in the cat-ski game since 1988.

  • Feb. 17, 2013 7:00 p.m.
Bear Lodge at Island Lake Lodge.

Bear Lodge at Island Lake Lodge.

Celebrating 25 years this year, Island Lake Lodge has been both a pioneer and trendsetter in the cat-ski game since 1988.

The world famous resort, just outside Fernie, started out as a pretty basic operation, with just one lodge. Cat-skiing was a new thing back then, and Island Lake was one of the first cat-ski operations in North America, accommodating only about a dozen guests.

Now, 25 years later, Island Lake has expanded from its basic Bear lodge to include three more: the Red Eagle, Cedar, and Tamarack lodges. It can now accommodate 36 guests – three cats of 12 – and the rooms are almost constantly full in the winter.

The Island Lake property has been under private ownership since the early 1900s. In 1907, the North America Land and Lumber Company purchased the mill and timber rights to the area now known as the Island Lake Resort from the Cedar Valley Company. The mill was located at the junction of the existing access road (Mount Fernie Park Road) and Highway 3. Logging was restricted to the distance foresters were able to drag the logs to the mill and only the lower portion of the resort access road shows signs of high grade logging. Eventually, the land was sold to Shell Oil Company. Island Lake Mountain Tours began as a small back-country ski touring operation on the property in 1986, leasing the land from Shell Oil Company. In 1988, one of the founders purchased a Pisten Bulley snowcat and catskiing at Island Lake was introduced.

Initially, accommodation, meals and leisure space were provided in the small Bear Lodge building. In 1994, Island Lake Mountain Tours purchased the land from Shell Oil Company. With the purchase of the lodge and land, Island Lake Mountain Tours became the only cat-skiing operation in British Columbia to own the land they operated on. In 1996, the accommodation capacity was increased with the construction of the Red Eagle Lodge. More upscale accommodations were added in the Cedar Lodge in 2002. Construction of the Tamarack Lodge which now functions as the hub of the resort including a full serviced restaurant, spa facilities and eight luxury suites, commenced in 2004.

In April 2005, the property was purchased by the owners of Mica Heli Guides in Mica Creek, who continue to operate the resort.

Just past the front desk is the dining room, which serves delicious gourmet breakfasts and dinners. Downstairs is a full-treatment spa with six rooms. They offer everything from manicures and pedicures, to massages, facials, and more. All four lodges have hot tubs.

For après, head on down to the Bear lodge for hot soup and cold beer. You’ll also find pool and ping-pong tables, and a big screen TV over the fireplace that shows a slideshow of your latest adventure on the mountain. What’s really special is that all four lodges are run completely from hydro power.

“The entire lodge is powered by micro hydro tanks,” said Mike McPhee, Island Lake Lodge’s sales and marketing manager. “There’s a spring nearby that flows into a creek, and from there, it flows into the lake. There’s a second creek at the other end, and we have turbines set up at both. Together they generate about 70 kilowatts of power.”

While there are dozens of cat-skiing operations across the world, people keep coming back to Island Lake. Even through the recent recession, the Lodge has maintained its regular clientele.

“People can cat-ski all over the world, but they come to Fernie for the quality of our powder. The local micro climate is very unique and we get unbelievable amount of snow. Island Lake Lodge offers a high end product and high level of service, which keeps our guests coming back.