Although located in the central Monashees (normally a non-Kootenay zone), Sol Mountain Lodge‘s owner Aaron Cooperman proclaims that his luxury backcountry skiing chalet does indeed fit within the Kootenay region, because it’s located just on the flanks of Fostall Creek draining into the Arrow Lakes. Last week I had to go up there just to verify this claim and to see if it incidentally measured up to other non-geographic parameters of a Kootenay cabin.
First, does it snow a lot? While the rest of the province has been receiving dribs and drabs lately, Sol sits in one of the most prolific snow zones anywhere and consistently leads the pack of backcountry lodges with one of the deepest snowpacks. While Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Whitewater Winter Resort -neither of which are slouches in terms of dumps- hovered around a 200cm base, Sol’s weather station read 285cm at it’s highest measure during our one-week trip. Normally, according to Cooperman, the lodge passes the two metre barrier before the Christmas holidays most years, making it a primo destination for early season trips (when, he adds, rates are cheaper).
To continue my assessment, I had to test whether Sol had a good vibe. On the one hand, the youngest member of the 16-person trip was River, at 20 months old and ready to shred the cross-country trails that are track set around the lodge. On the other end of the scale was Larry from Calgary, topping the charts at 68 years of age, but not showing any sign of slowing down. Between the two extremes was a mix of laid-back powderhounds with more than just skiing on their minds. Collectively, the group helped with everything from dishes to selecting the best dance tracks on the big party night to commemorate Ian, the chef’s birthday. Yeah, it was a fully catered trip- like going out to your favourite restaurant seven nights in a row. Highlights included organic rack of lamb, pumpkin-banana-cumin soup (at least that’s what I called it) and a bottomless pile of snacks ready to take out into the surrounding wilderness. It’s pretty easy to maintain a laid-back atmosphere around a luxury lodge when you’re stuffed to the gills with meaty delights and Okanagan wine at $2/glass. The sauna and yoga room didn’t hurt either.
True to the Kootenays, avalanche awareness was a factor at Sol last week, with a lingering surface hoar layer keeping us on our toes. This is the reason why many skiers in these parts are equipped with relatively high avalanche awareness skills compared with, say, folks from Ontario. Instability is often a reality with our random and rare clear spells that happen during mid-winter and coincidentally, last week a hair-trigger layer was present. It didn’t make acquiring photos very easy (my job last week) and we spent a lot of time around the lodge keeping it safe. Fortunately, a sketchy layer usually coincides with a hefty snowfall, so we had plenty to play with on the mellower slopes and nearly 50cm of fresh over the week.
So, the final assessment is that Sol passes the test when it comes to conditions, comfort and attitude.
Words and photos by Steve Ogle, gravity tester