There was a time, long ago, when the main reasons for climbing mountains were the search for gold and the search for God.
That changed a century ago as Norwegians began strapping boards to their boots and seeing who could slide down a snowy slope fastest.
Nowadays, the most popular excuse for climbing mountains - in winter, anyway - is the search for powder heaven, where downhillers, telemarkers and snowboarders can schuss, carve and thrash (respectively) their way though champagne-soft glades, meadows and chutes.
Recently opened Retallack Lodge, 12 miles east of British Columbia’s pristine Slocan Lake, offers skiers and snowboarders, as well as hikers, mountain-bikers and equestrians, almost exclusive year-round access to more than 10,000 acres of inspiring alpine terrain.
But the lodge itself does something more - it pays homage to hardy ancestors who took to higher ground in search of mineral and spiritual reward.
Spokane architect Gerry Copeland combined traditional mining-camp design with playful details from Tibetan monasteries, and managed to make them compatible.
Maybe that’s because 16th century Himalayan monks and 19th century Western miners shared a common need - simplicity - and a common foe - the elements.
Monks and miners both relied on heavy timber-framing, a constuction technique that lends Retallack Lodge an immediate air of permanence.
Brawny, elaborately joined 10-inch-wide posts and beams greet visitors as they enter the three-story lodge through a portal suggestive of a mine entrance.
Once inside, guests encounter more exposed posts and beams, as well as two massive back-to-back fireplaces hewn from Issaquah granite.
Behind the lodge, overlooking a year-round creek, sits an inordinately sturdy-looking timber-framed platform awaiting the arrival of a 10-person hot tub. Copeland borrowed design elements from his days as a Peace Corps volunteer in India. “During my travels in the Himalayas,” he recalled, “I frequently saw heavy timber and rock construction that supported massive loads.”
He also used typical Tibetan colors - maroon, sky blue and muted gold - to decorate the lodge’s eaves and facia. And, for good measure, he hung colorful Tibetan “prayer flags” from interior rafters.
“But the design is mainly intended to reflect the local mining heritage,” Copeland said. Overhead beams that run from the front entry through the lobby and out to the hot-tub deck eventually will support iron rails and authentic ore cars.
The lodge takes its name from the now abandoned town of Retallack (rhymes with “metallic”), where silver was mined from the 1890s until after World War II.
Copeland’s older brother, Grant, a longtime resident of New Denver and founding director of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, conceived the idea of an environmentally sensitive destination lodge as a way to replace jobs lost by the area’s dwindling natural-resouce industries.
Six years ago, Grant - an urban planner who advises Canadian native bands (tribes) on how to develop their land in ecologically sensitive ways - began the arduous task of securing access to British Columbian government holdings just north of Kokanee Glacier Park, and lining up financial backers.
More than a dozen local residents signed on, along with several Germans whose financial investment in Retallack allowed them to immigrate to Canada.
The mostly finished lodge opened in December with 11 guest rooms, dining space for 39, plus a sauna, ping-pong and billiard room, intimate bar and conference facilities. Besides skiers and summer tourists, Retallack Lodge can accommodate weddings, seminars and other small gatherings.
The rooms are comfortable, but surprisingly sparse compared to the knick-knack-cluttered ambiance of most B&B;’s and remote lodges.
“We deliberately didn’t put televisions in the rooms,” said Grant. “The idea is that people come up here to commune with nature and their friends rather than to participate in passive activities like watching TV - things they can do at home or anywhere else.
“We have a radio-telephone available for emergencies, but we don’t encourage a lot of contact with the outside world,” he said. “This is a retreat, a place to escape the hustle of everyday life.”
For those who can’t endure too much tranquility, there’s nearby New Denver, a turn-of-the-century village distinguished by the Apple Tree Cafe, the Silver Spoon Bakery, homemade ice cream at My Aunt’s Place, and plenty of reading material at Mother Lode Bookstore.
There also are two historic exhibits to help justify the 200-mile drive from Spokane: Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver, where Japanese-Canadians were imprisoned during World War II; and the mining museum at Sandon “ghost town” just down the road from Retallack Lodge.
Twenty-six-mile-long Slocan Lake comes alive with windsurfers, paddlers and motorboaters during the area’s brief summer, while more adventurous visitors hike the wildflower-blanketed meadows and old-growth forests above Ratallack Lodge in search of the white grizzly bears native to the area. (Local biologists estimate one grizzly in 10 displays the distinctive golden-white fur.)
Gerry Copeland calls the opportunity to design Retallack Lodge “every architect’s dream.”
“What we were after is a kind of upscale youth hostel,” he explained. “We wanted to incorporate features you might find in a variety of settings, from a restaurant/bar to a church, to create a kind of communal home-away-from-home.
“Basically, it’s a small project that’s cool and that caters to people having fun.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 Color)
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Retallack Lodge is a five-hour drive north of Spokane. From Eastern Washington, take U.S. Highway 395 north to Kettle Falls, then state Highway 25 through Northport to the Canadian border. From there continue north through Rossland, Castlegar, then follow Highway 6 to New Denver. Retallack is 12 miles east of New Denver on Highway 31A, which leads to Kaslo. From North Idaho, head north on U.S. 95. After crossing the border, either continue north to Kalso, then west on 31A to Retallack, or travel to Nelson, then west until you hit Highway 6 to New Denver. During summer months - late May to early October - Retallack Lodge offers bed-and-breakfast accommodations for about $50 U.S. per person, plus tax. Guided hikes, horse rides and mountain-bike excursions are available by arrangement. In winter - mid-December through late March - Retallack offers guided snow-cat skiing and backcountry ski touring. The lodge sits at 3,600 feet, with access to skiing from 7,500 feet down to 6,000 feet. Snow-cat packages are about $260 U.S. per person, and include lodging, all meals, certified guides and use of safety equipment. For more information or reservations, telephone Retallack Lodge at (800)-330-1433.