Whistler’s Sea to Sky corridor is the land of skiing opportunity. While Whistler Blackcomb dominates headlines and crowds, it is also surrounded by ranges accessed by fewer people. One of these areas is the Callaghan Valley. Just south of Whistler, this range is blessed with more and lighter snow than surrounding regions (up to 50% more!) due to a slightly different weather flow. It was this characteristic that brought Brad Sills and a group of Whistler Journeyman to explore this area and ultimately build a hut to share this terrain. Their contribution to facilities in the area is Callaghan Country’s Journeyman Lodge.
As an introduction, the Callaghan area is the gateway to large ski tours and huge icefields (the Squamish-Cheakamus Divide and the Pemberton Icefield). Callaghan Country’s tenure is non-motorized and comprises 120 square kms of treed and alpine terrain on diverse aspects and elevation. Since the 80’s Brad and crew have also created 47km of groomed cross country trails accessed from the Lodge. These trails also afford easy access to wonderful terrain offering a variety of backcountry experiences. From skiing up to the Solitude Glacier or treed runs to pillow huck back to the valley; a lot of choices.
The easy access to backcountry terrain from the Lodge makes this a destination for all levels of backcountry skiers. Additionally there is unparalleled flexibility as you can stay at the Lodge one, two or as many nights as you like depending on your time constraints and sense of adventure. This is not a place to overlook when planning your next ski adventure.
Callaghan Country’s base area is at Alexander Falls from where you can either ski the Journeyman Lodge or pay extra for a sled or snow cat so you’ll have time and energy to explore on the first day in. This ski-in is via groomed cross country trails so its an easy, if not long slog in. The shuttle to the lodge costs $120 which helps to offset the cost of grooming and operations. Even if you elect to ski in to the lodge all you’ll need with you is your daypack as your overnight duffle will be shuttled. We elected to take the snowmobile tow into Journeyman to maximize ski time.
The Lodge itself is well appointed with pool table, dartboard, fireplaces and comfortable lounge chairs – however the terrain is the star. There are no less than nine separate zones surrounding Callaghan’s expansive 120 square kms of non-motorized terrain (see run maps here). Access begins at the Lodge’s doorstep as the xc ski trails and set tracks are right outside. In and of itself the XC trail network is massive, winding around lakes, valleys, glades and up and down various viewpoints.
During our trip we were limited by strong alpine winds that had valley temps (at 1375m) at -24 deg C which felt colder due to windchill in the alpine. However, we managed to check the ridgelines immediately south of the Lodge. These ridgelines stretch from Journeyman Peak west of the lodge all the way to the neighboring Solitude Glacier and represent a contiguous link of almost 8kms of north facing treed lines ranging from 300m to 600m shots all dropping back in the general direction of the Lodge.
In relation to the terrain’s diversity, and in recognition of how cold it was, we also spent a day touring across the valley from the Lodge towards sunny E facing slopes adjoining Hidden Peak and skiing slide paths into Ring Creek and the Ring Valley for a descent. There are options to easily access the Hidden Peak alpine terrain and enchain further alpine bowls to Callaghan Peak but driving alpine winds made that a challenge – another time!.
Journeyman Lodge is deceptively off-the-grid and serviced by snow-cat and snow-mobile. All power, heat and utilities are self-contained and there is (gasp) no Wifi. Rogers cell phones do get cell service here but other data users have to wander to ridgelines or some 600m from the lodge to get cell service. The Lodge itself is a step above the typical backcountry lodge; perhaps because all the builders were themselves trades or craft journeyman. The Lodge is large at 5000 sq ft and sleeps up to 24 people in eight private rooms.
Once at the Lodge you are assigned your rooms and given an overview of how things work. Of note there is running hot and cold water, interior flush toilets (a backcountry luxury!). You have choices of private rooms, large group suites or private suites for couples – there seems to be a wide variety of price points for all. There is also a sauna is a few minute walk from the Lodge. The creek is just below these stairs so after getting heated up you can cool down in the creek!
Meals are pretty darned good here. Dinners are amazing, lunches are hearty and packed. The breakfast is continental so a bit on the light side; we brought some extra breakfast wraps to fuel us for the day. Hot coffee and tea is always available. Appies are served fireside before dinner.
(Callaghan Country supplied accommodations and food to Sharon and Lee, lodge owners and staff did not edit or have a say in the content of the article.)
Guest blogger Lee Lau is an avid skier and outdoorsman embarking on many adventures with his loving, and sometimes concerned wife, Sharon. He has over 15 years of experience skiing, ski-touring and dabbles in mountaineering. In the “off-season” he is occasionally found working in his day job as an intellectual property lawyer when he is not mountain biking. As a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Lee’s playground extends mainly to Western Canada, including South West B.C. and the Selkirks.