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

We'd been sledding before, but just for rides. So we jumped on board when Rogers suggested a dog mushing class, taught by local trainer Laurie Niedemeyer, owner of Netkitsilik Outdoor Adventures, and taught at the lodge. Niedemeyer, who trains dogs and teams to race and to perform in films, trains guides, dog handlers, actors and amateurs. Just the kind of help we needed. But before unloading the dogs, we started with the basics: learning commands, how the dogs work, and driving techniques.

"No matter what happens, even if you spill," she warned, "even if you fall, don't let go of the sled. The dogs can run for miles without realizing you're gone. Catching them means a very long hike."

Finally Niedemeyer unloaded her 40 dogs, enough for three teams, and hitched them to the sleds. Taking turns, we practiced driving, riding, and driving again. When my lead dog, Tricia, looked back at me, waiting for a command, I knew I'd graduated from novice to partner. "Ready up," I sang out and we were off.

Winter is low season at the lodge, for obvious reasons. Most guests prefer summer, when sunshine and blue skies paint a warm patina over the landscape. Warm breezes ruffle the lake and forest trails invite hikers to explore, enjoy the wildflowers and look for birds.

"June is like a symphony," Rogers says. "The wildflowers are blooming and migrating birds arrive every day. Some days we see sand hill cranes and ospreys; other days it's eagles and song birds. We've seen Steller's jays, tanagers and all kinds of ducks."

But it's the horseback riding program that most families come for. Geared to all ages, it includes lessons, guided and solo trail rides and your own mount, a horse that fits your size and abilities. You can be involved as much as you want, saddling and caring for your horse, or just riding for pleasure. With canoe, horseshoes, fishing and swimming as options, there's plenty to do.

"The lake is weedy at the edge, but it's 22 feet deep at the end of the dock, and yes, you can swim," Rogers says. "Actually, that's the most popular place to be after riding horseback all day. Everyone jumps in together to cool off."

Rogers and her family, plus a staff of 12, run the lodge in the summer. Two chefs prepare all the meals, with Rogers, who likes to cook, on deck to help. Website reviews of the ranch — presumably contributed by former guests — give high marks to the horseback riding program, the horses, the friendliness of the staff and the cuisine, usually described as healthy American. If you're up for the journey, book a flight to Vancouver, a connecting flight to Kamloops and a 2½-hour drive to the ranch. Getting here takes most of a day. But the final frontier is always its own reward.

If you go…

Siwash Lake Ranch is open for individual visits during January and February, and from May through September. However, you can book the entire ranch and lodge — all the rooms — for the holidays or over any week.

One and two-bedroom suites in the main lodge sleep a total of 12 guests, booked as a couple, a single or a family group. All have private baths, down quilts, top-quality beds and comfortable furniture. In summer, six elaborately decorated large canvas tents with bathrooms are geared toward families. Each sleeps five guests in a king bed, fold-out double sofa bed and a single. The tents are pitched on a flat ridge overlooking the lake, out of sight of the main lodge.

To check for reviews and current rates, search for "Siwash Lake Ranch Canada." Contact the ranch directly at www.siwashlakeranch.com or call (250) 395-6541.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service. Dist. by MCT Information Services