A seedy sandwich joint transforms into modern mountain bistro serving gourmet fare year-round
For many years, skiers and hikers at the Lake Louise Ski Resort in Canada have been waiting for an elegant eatery to open at the Whitehorn chalet, located on the front side of the rustic Rockies resort. Originally a utilitarian cafeteria, it was closed after plumbing troubles and then reinterpreted as a venue for occasional après ski parties, packed lunch hub for children’s ski groups and casual café. What a waste, everyone said, with such a majestic mid-mountain view over the Victoria Glacier and Lake Louise.
But with the December 2013 launch of The Whitehorn Lodge, this new boutique restaurant has acknowledged everyone’s aspirations – and then some. When I went for lunch, my only complaint was “Why isn’t there an ice bar on that gorgeous patio?” Brand and communications director, Dan Markham explained that it was part of the planning but was weather dependent: “It was originally built in January but lasted only about 6 weeks. It was primarily a shooter bar doing things like jaeger shots off of ice slides, very popular with the Euro crowd.”
I lunched at the lodge – on very authentic Alpine cheese fondue – after an epic morning, skiing first tracks from 9 am until 1 pm, getting first dibs in all the bowls and tree runs as each area opened up after safety control. There were gorgeous blue skies outside, a locals’ buzz as it was a mellow Monday, and the nattily-renovated restaurant was redolent of ‘in the know’ enthusiasm.
Wowed by the modern wood, stone and metal motif, I asked Markham about the creative and culinary concept. “The main floor was renovated to provide a contemporary mountain feel that took advantage of the incredible views off the deck,” he told me. “The menu is ever evolving with the goal of providing a unique dining option for guests looking beyond the typical resort experience. Our customers are telling us we’ve hit the mark.”
Turns out the revamped venue – as well as the Western Canadian mountain fare – has been attracting a specific clientele throughout the winter – couples and groups seeking a high end ski and dine experience. “It’s been extremely popular, the food and the views have been the main attraction, but it offers another, and very different, option on the mountain,” says Markham.
Aussie, Josh Byrne has been working at Lake Louise for three winter seasons and one summer, progressing through kitchen service, via lifty and maintenance jobs, now to manager at Whitehorn Lodge.
“We’ve been really busy, word has spread and the Ski Friends have been bringing in a lot of people,” Byrne told me. The ‘friends’ are the free ski guides who navigate newbies around the vast 4,200 acre ski resort each day of the six-month ski season.
Asked for food recommendations, Byrne plumped for either the seafood chowder or cheese fondue served with baguette bites, dipping veggies, fingerling potatoes and apple slices (right). “Someone even came in the other day and asked for an egg to put in the fondue pot at the end,” he said.
Other must-try, locally-inspired items include the Rocky Mountain game platter, air-dried buffalo or the bison burger with a choice of brie and blueberry compote, roasted pepper with goat’s cheese or more typical bacon and cheddar. The wine list ranges from the ubiquitous Apothic red to a $72 bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape 2009, also featuring a Tuscan Prosecco and Argentinian Mendoza Malbec (Trapiche 2012).
The great news is that Whitehorn Lodge will be open almost year round. Approximately 1,000 meters above sea- level, it is accessed by chairlift and gondola or by hiking up from the base in the summer season. The resort closes for skiing on May 11 but will re-open for exploring and wildlife spotting in June. With visitors flocking to the UNESCO World Heritage site spring, summer and fall, Whitehorn provides the perfect patio for taking in the verdant vista of Banff National Park while watching grizzlies gathering their own gourmet ingredients in their natural habitat.