Warming Huts and Hidden Trails

Winter is a trillion snowflakes and whispering trees on the crispest, quietest of nights. It’s steamy coffee against white-walled snowbanks, and January embers glowing against the cast iron of a wood stove in a log cabin deep in the woods.

For so many of us, winter is everything; everything we need, everything we want, everything found along a ski-tour track or up a snowmobile trail. It’s a season worthy of recognition, often mislabeled as too frigid, too cold, and too long.

If winter had a say she’d send everyone to a place where we could best take her in, and make us stay awhile; in a bunk between the down of a sleeping bag, with whisky jacks soaring from an age-old cedar tree to the wood-shingled roof above your head. She’d send us to the backcountry.

Warming huts and hidden trails, secret couloirs and corniced ridge lines. She’d send us to the log cabin deep in the woods surrounded by a forest of Engelman spruce. Because being in the backcountry in any season is the best way to fall back into ourselves, at a time when we most need it. Luckily, there are so many backcountry cabins to do just that, and they’re all nice and close (relatively) to Fernie.

I find myself staring at one such cabin—the snowy Little Sand Cabin—one January morning, its centre window in the upstairs room barely visible behind metres of the season’s snow, and I know that despite the chill in the air and the hunger in my belly, the backcountry is exactly where I’m meant to be.

Little Sand Cabin is run by Grizzly Basin Outfitters. Here with several friends on a sled-access ski weekend, I wonder why anyone would want to be anywhere else in the dead of winter. Footprints in the snow lead to a high-rise outhouse built in the trees. Snowmobiles sit in an old horse pasture. There’s fireworks, ridge-top mini eggs and deep pow descents with friends. Girl power and gasoline.

There’s even a theme song—”Kiss From A Rose” by Seal—a real 1995 classic.

We spend the weekend doing sled and ski laps. Eating bacon and nuts-and-bolts, marvelling at the snowpack, and relishing the contrast of deafening snowmobile braps below bright, starry nights.

Late into a red-wine-haze of Saturday night, our theme song blares from the cabin’s windows and door. Out of tune and a little disorderly, we sing and yell a “Kiss From A Rose.” When we emerge the next afternoon at the staging grounds back in valley bottom, there’s a deep sense of camaraderie. A little sadness for the weekend’s end, but a great, unwavering sense of belonging. And this, my friends, is why being in a backcountry hut in the middle of the woods in the dead of winter is so very, incredibly wonderful— because it makes you feel the opposite of dead. It makes you feel alive.

Grizzly Basin Outfitters offers rentals for three other cabins throughout the winter months, all within the Easy Kootenays. And there are other options, too. The Fernie Trails and Ski Touring Club has cabins available for rent throughout the winter season, and you can also check out the Alpine Club of Canada’s extensive list of backcountry huts and cabins. Just remember to know the terrain, have a trip plan, and study the snowpack before you go.

It’s easy to find ourselves lost in the millions and trillions of snowflakes that soften the day’s light and silence the night’s noise. Winter is always a guarantee—gardens and rooftops buried feet deep, sidewalks iced and slippery, bombs booming from the headwall at the ski hill, echoing into the valley below.

And while there’s nothing wrong with curling up on the couch to a good book and great glass of Pinot, there’s something truly right about the orange glow of January embers warming your cheeks in a log cabin, deep in the winter woods on those bright, starlit nights.