Deep in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains, Purcell Lodge offers skiers, telemarkers and snowboarders a taste of the extreme while providing an environmentally responsible experience
In This Skiing Article You Will Discover:
- Where to Find British Columbia’s Deepest Powder
- An Off-The-Beaten Path Ski Experience
- How You Can Ski With Minimal Environmental Impact
- What To Expect at Purcell Mountain Lodge
Thirty days, and the snow had yet to stop falling. Rounding the mountain in a noisy A-Star Helicopter and swaying in updrafts like a Christmas ornament batted around by the family cat, Purcell Mountain Lodge comes into view. Snow has piled on the roof forming precariously looming cornices. Skis are arranged at the entranceway and [former] lodge manager Mark Mallet, along with his staff, wait near the landing pad as if expecting old friends.
Off the beaten path to be sure, this heli-access backcountry lodge is a place to experience a winter getaway at its finest — days filled with Nordic and alpine skiing, snowshoeing or even just curling up with a book; nights filled with spirited conversation, good food and, perhaps best of all, new friends.
Accessing Purcell Mountain Lodge means boarding a helicopter out of Golden, British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay region, and heading deep into the Purcell Mountains. At 2,200 metres in elevation, it is remote. According to [Former] lodge manager Mark Mallet, the operation is located in this area for a number of reasons.
this heli-access backcountry lodge is a place to experience a winter getaway at its finest
“In the winter we got lots of light, dry powder — and at the same time, we also get lots of sunshine,” says Mallet. “The proximity to Glacier National Park — literally a few hundred metres away — gives us access to incredible wilderness, and at the same time provides and important service to the park. By having environmentally conscious neighbours like us, the park benefits from having a strong buffer zone against other kinds of development.”
What, exactly, is Purcell Lodge? The lodge is your own personal mountain chalet — complete with houseguests — for rent. Flying in means leaving behind any chance of cellphone calls, TV reception, Internet or the like. It is totally self-sufficient, and operated like you’d run a summer cottage: family style dinners, single, double and triple-occupancy rooms, nighttime board and card games and lots of laughs.
Some of the more interesting facts about the lodge, however, are its off-grid systems. Power comes from a hydroelectric system built by lodge co-founder Paul Leeson. Leeson’s goal was to create a generating station that would provide enough energy to run everything guests wanted — except hairdryers — without adversely affecting the ecosystem. Harnessing the power of a nearby stream, and adhering to minimal flow requirements his system now creates eight kilowatts of energy.
However, the most complex sect of the lodge’s systems is the wastewater treatment plant — a testament to Leeson’s, and the entire staff’s, commitment to environmental stewardship. The plant consists of six indoor, energy efficient aerated treatment tanks — each filled with natural bacteria that “eats” waste for a period of one week before it is released into the tertiary system that produces “exceedingly clean” water to be released into the subterranean disposal. The system has received many accolades, and samples are flown to a testing facility in the nearby city of Kelowna three times per season to ensure effectiveness.
“The price of being a pioneer in providing high-end customer service and market-leading creature comforts in such a remote and challenging environment, while ensuring the long-term protection of the environment on which we depend to attract our guests, has been considerable,” says Leeson. “Purcell Mountain Lodge is a work in progress with our operating experience constantly pointing out slight weaknesses in design or material… to thrive as a model for sustainable development and meet the ongoing challenge of intense scrutiny by our very discriminating and environmentally sensitive guests.”
A Day At Purcell Lodge
Founded in the early 1980s, the reason for Purcell Mountain Lodge’s existence is telemark skiing. Co-founders Paul Leeson an Russ Younger were telemark guides at this time, trekking into the deep Purcells to lead avid skiers on day-trips from alpine yurts, In 1989, they decided to step it up a notch and began construction of today’s lodge.
Hence, the majority of the lodge’s guests are interesting in outdoor recreation. Alpine touring (randonee), Nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and, of course, telemark skiing tours are held daily and suited to any skill level. Guides instruct all on the safe use of avalanche rescue equipment, and are happy to offer up tips on how to navigate the deep Purcell powder. But as would be the case at your own cabin — a trip to the lodge is what you make of it.
“We have a huge range of clientele — from as young as 14 to as old as 84,” says Mallet. “In the winter, our guests tend to be active people who have likely skied or backcountry skied before — although we do get the occasional first-timers.”
Many guests choose to simply stay inside some days, playing cards, writing, painting or chatting — all in the warmth of a wood-heated lodge; snacking on fresh baking throughout the day from the comfort of the common area. Perhaps a sojourn to the wood-fired sauna will even be in order…
There is a profound comfort found at Purcell Mountain Lodge — brought on by the warm and cozy quarters, the orange glow of the lights that dim and brighten with the fluctuating power supply, the faint whistle of alpine wind as it piles snow drifts against the walls, the dress code of knitted toques and long johns — and that you have left the world behind.
“Purcell Mountain Lodge is a work in progress with our operating experience constantly pointing out slight weaknesses in design or material… to thrive as a model for sustainable development and meet the ongoing challenge of intense scrutiny by our very discriminating and environmentally sensitive guests.”
The atmosphere is such that solo guests are not uncommon. Rather than tucked away in secluded rooms, eating at separate dining tables and so on, as many as 16 guests gather together for all meals and recreation. Lively conversation, laughs erupt (especially when guide and Quebec-transplant Francois Xavier unleashes his spoon-playing, maple syrup-loving alter-ego, “Jacque de Lumberjack”) and bonds are made. It’s the essence of a backcountry experience — if only for a few days.
Purcell Mountain Lodge offers fully catered, fully guided trips ranging from three to seven nights. Accommodations range from shared rooms, single/double rooms or a deluxe private chalet. The lodge has avalanche/snow safety gear for rent, and complimentary use of snowshoes, but skiers/snowboarders must bring their own gear or rent beforehand. Rates range from $1,270 to $3,670. www.purcellmountainlodge.com