Remote luxury: Experiencing winter at Siwash Lake Ranch in British Columbia

By Anne Z. Cooke

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Dec. 29 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Guests adjust their snowshoes in front of the lodge, above left, while a sign, above, points the way to the Siwash Lake Ranch.

Steve Haggerty, MCT

KAMLOOPS, Canada — "It's a true thing," as my grandmother used to say. Luxury lodging is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether it's an inn, hotel, resort, even a campsite, all the assorted bits that meet to make a hotel feel like a home will never be to everyone's taste. Colors and styles that speak to you might leave me yawning. And vice versa.

But luxury comes in different flavors in Canada, where most land area is either lightly populated or wilderness. We've flown along the coasts and over the interior of this vast country, the world's second largest (after Russia), and marveled at unimaginable features, things we'd never heard of and didn't know existed: deep gorges, roiling waterfalls, vast lakes, rolling tundra, mountain ranges and endless forests.

It's no surprise, then, that when a luxury lodge pops up in one of these remote corners, offering cocooned comfort within and raw nature without, the contrast heightens the pleasure. We've felt it everywhere, at legendary hideaways in Ucluelet and Tofino on Vancouver Island, in classic digs on Quadra Island, in modern hotels in Prince George and Inuvik (on the Arctic Ocean), and Ontario's fishing lodges.

These are the yin and yang of so-called soft-adventure, the "Star Trek" generation's mission played out not in space but on terra firma. Who doesn't want — deep inside — to walk with lions, then dine by candlelight? To sail the Northwest Passage on a cruise ship with an ice-breaker bow? To beard the northern winter in its den?

As it happens, bearding winter is a fact of life at Siwash Lake Ranch, in the snow-blown foothills of British Columbia's Cariboo Mountains. Owner Allyson Rogers, a modern-day pioneer, bought the land and lake, designed the lodge (with her father's help), built it using timber grown on the property, and installed a solar-and-water heating system. But the site isn't just remote. It's 50 miles from the nearest town, store or restaurant. Daily shopping isn't an option in this 80,000-acre wilderness.

Rogers's closest neighbor lives 30 minutes away. The rest of the population consists of the four-legged kind: deer, moose, black bear, badger, coyotes, 30 horses, three dogs and two pet cows. Though phone lines straggle down the nearest dirt road, Siwash Lake Lodge is off the grid and without public utilities.

"We're so isolated here that we look forward to having people come to us," says Rogers, who runs the lodge with the help of her two teenagers, partner Roy Grinder and a staff of 12. "The kids look forward to meeting other kids, many of them coming from around the world. This is my dream house. Sharing it means everything."

It's a late afternoon under a smoky grey sky as we arrive. The dirt road to the lodge leads under dark firs, passing the horse corral, a popular hangout for horse-crazy teens in summer's more benevolent weeks. Cold and wet, the barn looks foreboding.

The horses, winter coats grown wooly and thick, stamp their feet and turn to stare. Strands of straw and manure dot the snow, today's frozen lumps and tomorrow morning's chore.

Then the front door opens and Rogers appears in a halo of light, welcoming you to the warmth within, with a glimpse of soaring peeled-log rafters and good smells from the kitchen. A cup of tea, a glass of wine and a cushy sofa in front of the tall stone fireplace will never seem better. You'll spend this evening the old-fashioned way, with a hot toddy or glass of wine beside the fireplace, a game of checkers or cards, a book, music or conversation. Tomorrow, when the anchor-weight of ample meals leaves you dozing, the cure is a brisk snowshoe trek through a snowy wonderland, or a cross-country ski across the frozen lake.

Rogers supplies guests with basic gear, or you can bring your own. She also partners with local outfitters in 100 Mile House who organize special expeditions: long snowmobile treks, ice fishing and dog sledding.