SKI IN, MELLOW OUT: GREAT NORTHERN LODGES
Three snowy outposts where the sauna's always hot
BEARSKIN LODGE, MINNESOTA
Gliding along the exquisitely sculpted cross-country ski trails of northern Minnesota's Bearskin Lodge, it's easy to let your imagination take over. I like to pretend I'm Björn Daehlie, the Norwegian god of skinny skiing, so far ahead of my competition that I can dawdle among the silent pines, naked birch, and mysterious animal prints crisscrossing my V-shaped tracks. My fantasy comes to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the Gravel Pit, a 95-degree incline that slows me to a crawl, leaving my delusions of Nordic grandeur at its base.
But that's the beauty of Bearskin Lodge: It's an ideal getaway for both serious skiers and weekend warriors. Twenty-six miles inland from Lake Superior, Bearskin's 11 private log cabins nestle as naturally into the wooded landscape as the surrounding red pines. The main lodge exudes Scandinavian chic, with pine walls, a massive granite fireplace, two-story windows overlooking the snow-heaped landscape, and a cozy restaurant specializing in grilled salmon and walleye baked in parchment. A stone's throw away lies the hot-tub hut, an entire building guests can reserve for après-ski thawing.
Cross-country skiing is the lodge's raison d'être, with 70 kilometers of fastidiously groomed skating and diagonal trails and another 110-kilometer system accessible via the 40-kilometer Banadad Trail through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. But on days you can't force yourself to ski another kilometer, you can try out the lodge's ice-skating rink, broomball court, and four-kilometer snowshoe trail. You also can arrange dogsledding, mushing lessons, guided snowshoe trekking, or candlelight dining in a yurt. Afterward, you can participate in the greatest Scandinavian tradition of all: trying to outlast everyone else in the sauna.
Winter rates range from $125 to $230 (doubles) per night. Bearskin Lodge is five hours from Minneapolis. Take I-35 north through Duluth to Minnesota 61. At Grand Marais, turn north on the Gunflint Trail (County Road 12), then drive 26 miles to the Bearskin Lodge entrance. Call 800-338-4170 for reservations or check out www.bearskin.com. —Stephanie Gregory
Today's drive-by vacationers may find Skoki Lodge's version of ski in–ski out accommodations a bit daunting: It takes most of a day just to get from your car door to the front door of this Canadian Rockies lodge. When it opened in 1931, Skoki was the first commercial ski lodge in the north-of-the-border Rockies, and it still eschews electricity, plumbing, and phones. Today, as then, it can be reached only via a rugged 6.8-mile trail that begins at the Lake Louise ski area. Which is why I wanted go to there in the first place.
As soon as I crossed the ski-area boundary, the landscape quickly took on a wilder feel. Massive rock towers loomed overhead, their summits shrouded in dark clouds. I detoured to make telemark turns beneath the imposing rock face known as the Wall of Jericho, then rounded a bend to find Skoki Lodge nestled among spruce and fir trees on a valley floor. Once checked in, I asked fellow guest Sam Evans, 84, who had been a Skoki hutkeeper in the 1930s, what had changed since he worked here. After mulling it for a moment, he replied, "Not very much, really." That's exactly what makes Skoki Lodge such a cherished spot.
The two-story log structure is surrounded by three basic cabins that sleep up to 22 people; they contain two to five beds covered in colorful duvets, simple 1930s-style furniture, and a woodstove. The complex has no baths or showers (just two outhouses), but a basin of water simmers atop your stove.
Dinner is served family style at two long tables. Rates are US$81 per person per night (discounts up to 25 percent for multiple-night visits), including transportation from the Lake Louise ski area to the trailhead on the back side of the mountain, three meals plus afternoon tea, and use of the wood-fired sauna. The lodge is open from Christmas to April for skiing, and June to September for hiking, fishing, and climbing. Intermediate-level cross-country ski ability is adequate; using telemark skis is advisable. To reserve call 403-522-3555; fax: 403-522-2095; www.banff.net/skoki; e-mail: email@example.com. —David Goodman
HOLLAND LAKE LODGE
Show up at Holland Lake Lodge without proper cross-country equipment and the innkeeper will probably lend you his own ski boots. This "what's mine is yours" philosophy extends to the lodge's homey amenities—a rough-hewn sauna, the pool table—as well as the seemingly endless territory out the back door.
Indeed, the lodge's greatest natural asset is its access to Flathead National Forest and the Bob Marshall Wilderness amid the jagged Swan and Mission ranges in northwest Montana. Winter guests can explore 20 kilometers of tracked ski trails or simply wander around on snowshoes over the uncrowded, undeveloped, and very frozen lake. You can also try dogsledding; after spending a half day learning the basic commands, you'll graduate from viewing husky haunches as a passenger to actually driving the team.
Afterward, warm up by the river-rock fireplace or the pine-paneled bar, which serves local microbrews. Guests stay in one of nine small second-floor rooms or six cabins. The accommodations are decidedly modest (think plaid flannel bedcovers and wood paneling), with shared baths in the lodge rooms, but you're there for the vista from the trail, not the one from your room, right? Winter rates are $175$275 per person for a three-day package, including all meals, and $395$575 for a five-day package. Call 406-754-2282. —Janine Sieja Hagerman
Fastidiously groomed: Bearskin's extensive trail network