March 7-14, 2021
Battle Abbey, built in 1977-78, is one of the oldest and most famous of the commercial backcountry ski lodges in Canada. Bill Putnam and Hans Gmoser found the perfect location and supplied the momentum for its construction. Roger Laurilla, a young teenager at the time, helped with the construction along with many others. For close to three decades it was owned and operated by Bill and Hans serving clients of Canadian Mountain Holidays. In 2004, around the time Hans sold CMH, ownership passed, fittingly, to Hans’ son Robson and Roger. Hans and Bill have since passed away and Robson’s life was claimed in a tragic avalanche at Sorcerer Lodge in 2015. Roger is now the sole owner of The Abbey and carries on the tradition of fine hospitality and Supreme Skiing.
Roger Laurilla was the first mountain guide I ever met. When I was 21, in August 1991, I made a trip to Lake O’Hara to do some mountaineering. Roger was about 30 years old at the time and the resident mountain guide at Lake O’Hara Lodge. I was fascinated that anyone could make a living out of climbing and skiing in the mountains. A few months later, in November 1991, I was pedaling a bicycle down the west coast of the USA towards Central America and bumped into three Canadians who happened to be Marco Delesalle, Robson Gmoser, and Robson’s girlfriend at the time Kristy. Their plans, like ours, were to pedal to Panama. We spent a few days traveling with them and during this time Robson — also 21 yrs old — told me that his dad was a “mountain guide” who ran a heliski company. Slowly the gears began to turn in my head, though it wasn’t for another 8 years that I began the certification process to become a mountain guide myself.
Like all mountain folk in Canada I’ve known about Battle Abbey for a long time. I’ve always wanted to visit this lodge. So when a group of long-time guests approached me years ago and asked me “What’s the best backcountry ski lodge that we haven’t been to yet” I said without hesitation that they needed to visit Battle Abbey. They took the last available week of 2021, which as it turned out happened to be the best week of this incredible winter season: March 6-13.
Of course we had no way of knowing that in July 2018 when we made the booking! We also didn’t anticipate that this season would be challenged by the covid pandemic.
As March approached and huts started closing and cancelling weeks we were anxious about what would happen. Roger and his partner Loree reassured us that they had a solid covid plan in place, and took a lot of time and effort to explain to the group that we would be alright. After all, what’s a backcountry lodge? It’s like a restaurant, a bit like a hotel, and it’s a guiding operation — all of which have been running in BC this winter. Battle Abbey has been operating as best as possible since the end of January, welcoming guests as safely as possible.
So we met at the heliport, did our safety briefing and flew into Battle Abbey. Sadly one of our group, Pam, had a knee injury and had to drop out at the last minute. So there were just 13 guests, plus 3 guides, Roger and our two kitchen staff.
As luck would have it nobody brought covid into the lodge, and we had the absolute best skiing conditions of the winter. Blower powder day after day, even on sunny aspects to the top of Mt. Butters.
I’m going back next chance I get!