Historic ski lodge that produced Olympic medallist Sara Renner gets a retrofit


Summary

MOUNT ASSINIBOINE PROVINCIAL PARK, B.C. – The stories pour out of Sara Renner at Assiniboine Lodge.

Thousands of guests have stayed at the backcountry lodge during its 83-year history. But for Renner, Assiniboine feels like her home.

Renner, 35, is a three-time Olympian and silver medallist in cross-country skiing, now retired.

Her parents Sepp and Barb have operated Assiniboine Lodge for B.C. Parks since 1983, when Renner was seven years old.

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The lodge and its outbuildings are currently under renovation. Seeing the changes in “the old gal,” as Renner calls it, sparks a flood of personal memories, but she also relishes telling colourful stories handed down to her.

Canadian singer Ian Tyson once worked at the lodge as a horse wrangler and used the bunkhouse door for target practice with his knife. His name is still carved in that door.

Renner’s father Sepp got so fed up with the martens loudly mating below their family cabin floor and disturbing their sleep, he fired a shot through the floor.

Growing up, Renner spent her summers and winter vacations playing and skiing in the shadow of Mount Assiniboine. “The ‘Boine” is also called the “Matterhorn of the Rockies” because its pinnacle peak juts 3,618 metres into the sky.

“Where is my heart? It’s here,” Renner says. “My summers, I have such great memories of playing in the woods with my siblings, flying kites in the meadows, hiking up peaks.”

Today, high winds send clouds streaming across the sky on both sides of Mount Assiniboine. The peak remains shrouded, however, with an occasional tantalizing hint of its majesty.

This environment fostered an independence in the Renner children, not to mention that it laid the foundation for Sara Renner’s athletic career.

Renner recalls hiking out to Canmore, Alta., almost 30 kilometres away, at age seven along with nine-year-old sister Natalie and brother Andre, 11. It was fall and time to go back to school.

People they met on the trail were aghast the Renners were without their parents. There was a call from social services waiting when they arrived back in town.

Renner says she stopped talking about her Assiniboine adventures at school because her classmates didn’t believe her.

“It was just so out there, that you would hike 50 kilometres and see a grizzly and it was no big deal,” she says.

Renner’s winter days at Assiniboine meant putting on her skis as soon as she stepped out the door, lest she sink up to her chin in snow. Going to the outhouse, skis on. Heading to the toboggan hill, skis on.

“Assiniboine formed me as an athlete,” she says.

Renner admits she felt uncomfortable talking about herself as a world-class skier during her career. She feels no restraint when it comes to Assiniboine. Her husband, alpine skier Thomas Grandi, proposed to her at Assiniboine and the couple was married there.

Renner’s history is tied closely to Assiniboine, but hers is just one thread among the many in this place.

Assiniboine Lodge is west of Canmore just over the Alberta-B.C. border in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to Renner, it’s the oldest backcountry ski lodge in the Canadian Rockies.

“It’s like you’re walking into a museum,” Renner says. “You can feel the creaks.

“It’s Canadian backcountry history. It’s Canadian ski history. It’s some of the most interesting people in this country that have had adventures here, that have had great miserable failures that have become great stories.”

There was a time when the only way in was on skis or on horseback. With no television, Renner recalls performing skits to entertain guests in the evening.

Horses once brought all supplies in and Renner was terrified of the motley crew of cowboys handling them.

“You kept a wide berth and we actually played tricks on them,” Renner said, before relating she put horse manure in their chewing tobacco. “That was our revenge and they never noticed.”

Assiniboine’s horse operations ceased several years ago. Guests now arrive by helicopter, in hiking boots or on skis. Hiking or skiing in usually means overnighting on the trail. Getting there in one day on foot requires exceptional fitness.

Guests stay either at the lodge and its cabins, the adjacent Naiset Huts or camp at the campground at nearby Lake Magog.

When the operating lease for Assiniboine Lodge came up for tender every five years, the Renner family held their breath in fear they would lose it. But the Renners have and will continue to run Assiniboine.

Sepp and Barb are easing themselves out of the lodge’s operations, but brother Andre and his business partner Claude Duchesne have won the bid to oversee the lodge for the next 20 years.

The lodge is currently undergoing a delicate and unique renovation. The foundation was failing badly and B.C. Parks has invested about $1.5 million in restoring it while also expanding the basement, kitchen and breezeway.

In order to preserve the rustic facade, the main lodge was rolled onto the meadow in front of its original location in order to rebuild the foundation.

Helicopters flew in building supplies, but a cement mixer was out of the question. So hundreds of bags of concrete mix came by air.

“All of that was hand-mixed,” said Glen Campbell of B.C. Parks. “The foundations, the basement, the floor, were mixed by the construction crew. Not easy to find crews who are capable of doing that.”

The isolation and harsh conditions attracted work crews and project managers who embrace adventure. An engineer who worked on P.E.I.’s Confederation Bridge volunteered a few weeks of his time on the project.

The renovation, which began in May, is a race against Mother Nature. Crew were making the most of the recent warm weather to complete the exterior before the snows come. The lodge is scheduled to be fully operational again by June 2012.

“There’s the unique challenges of operating at this elevation, in this environment and dealing with trying to preserve the integrity of the buildings at the same time,” Campbell said.

Erling Strom, a Norwegian, worked with the Canadian Pacific Railway to build Assiniboine Lodge in 1928 and was its operator for the first 47 years.

When Renner and teammate Becki Scott won silver in team pursuit at the 2006 Olympics, Renner broke her ski pole during the race and was rescued by a Norwegian coach, who quickly handed a replacement.

On Renner’s next trip into Assiniboine, she was astounded when she realized that a broken ski pole had always been the emblem of the lodge.

“I came back in the summer and I noticed that the brand of Assiniboine was a broken ski pole,” Renner said. “On the back of furniture, engraved in walls, was this emblem of the broken ski pole.

“It was an incredible coincidence that this place that is such a part of me followed me through my ski career and the story of my career was this broken ski pole.”

Seeing the renovation near completion, Renner is confident Assiniboine will retain its colourful history and authenticity.

“At the beginning I was worried, because we wanted our old gal taken care of,” Renner says. “The important part is that it looks and it feels the same.

“You know it’s going to be good for the next 100 years. So I come back here and my heart soars.”


MOUNT ASSINIBOINE PROVINCIAL PARK, B.C. – The stories pour out of Sara Renner at Assiniboine Lodge.

Thousands of guests have stayed at the backcountry lodge during its 83-year history. But for Renner, Assiniboine feels like her home.

Renner, 35, is a three-time Olympian and silver medallist in cross-country skiing, now retired.

Her parents Sepp and Barb have operated Assiniboine Lodge for B.C. Parks since 1983, when Renner was seven years old.

Story continues below

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The lodge and its outbuildings are currently under renovation. Seeing the changes in “the old gal,” as Renner calls it, sparks a flood of personal memories, but she also relishes telling colourful stories handed down to her.

Canadian singer Ian Tyson once worked at the lodge as a horse wrangler and used the bunkhouse door for target practice with his knife. His name is still carved in that door.

Renner’s father Sepp got so fed up with the martens loudly mating below their family cabin floor and disturbing their sleep, he fired a shot through the floor.

Growing up, Renner spent her summers and winter vacations playing and skiing in the shadow of Mount Assiniboine. “The ‘Boine” is also called the “Matterhorn of the Rockies” because its pinnacle peak juts 3,618 metres into the sky.

“Where is my heart? It’s here,” Renner says. “My summers, I have such great memories of playing in the woods with my siblings, flying kites in the meadows, hiking up peaks.”

Today, high winds send clouds streaming across the sky on both sides of Mount Assiniboine. The peak remains shrouded, however, with an occasional tantalizing hint of its majesty.

This environment fostered an independence in the Renner children, not to mention that it laid the foundation for Sara Renner’s athletic career.

Renner recalls hiking out to Canmore, Alta., almost 30 kilometres away, at age seven along with nine-year-old sister Natalie and brother Andre, 11. It was fall and time to go back to school.

People they met on the trail were aghast the Renners were without their parents. There was a call from social services waiting when they arrived back in town.

Renner says she stopped talking about her Assiniboine adventures at school because her classmates didn’t believe her.

“It was just so out there, that you would hike 50 kilometres and see a grizzly and it was no big deal,” she says.

Renner’s winter days at Assiniboine meant putting on her skis as soon as she stepped out the door, lest she sink up to her chin in snow. Going to the outhouse, skis on. Heading to the toboggan hill, skis on.

“Assiniboine formed me as an athlete,” she says.

Renner admits she felt uncomfortable talking about herself as a world-class skier during her career. She feels no restraint when it comes to Assiniboine. Her husband, alpine skier Thomas Grandi, proposed to her at Assiniboine and the couple was married there.

Renner’s history is tied closely to Assiniboine, but hers is just one thread among the many in this place.

Assiniboine Lodge is west of Canmore just over the Alberta-B.C. border in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to Renner, it’s the oldest backcountry ski lodge in the Canadian Rockies.

“It’s like you’re walking into a museum,” Renner says. “You can feel the creaks.

“It’s Canadian backcountry history. It’s Canadian ski history. It’s some of the most interesting people in this country that have had adventures here, that have had great miserable failures that have become great stories.”

There was a time when the only way in was on skis or on horseback. With no television, Renner recalls performing skits to entertain guests in the evening.

Horses once brought all supplies in and Renner was terrified of the motley crew of cowboys handling them.

“You kept a wide berth and we actually played tricks on them,” Renner said, before relating she put horse manure in their chewing tobacco. “That was our revenge and they never noticed.”

Assiniboine’s horse operations ceased several years ago. Guests now arrive by helicopter, in hiking boots or on skis. Hiking or skiing in usually means overnighting on the trail. Getting there in one day on foot requires exceptional fitness.

Guests stay either at the lodge and its cabins, the adjacent Naiset Huts or camp at the campground at nearby Lake Magog.

When the operating lease for Assiniboine Lodge came up for tender every five years, the Renner family held their breath in fear they would lose it. But the Renners have and will continue to run Assiniboine.

Sepp and Barb are easing themselves out of the lodge’s operations, but brother Andre and his business partner Claude Duchesne have won the bid to oversee the lodge for the next 20 years.

The lodge is currently undergoing a delicate and unique renovation. The foundation was failing badly and B.C. Parks has invested about $1.5 million in restoring it while also expanding the basement, kitchen and breezeway.

In order to preserve the rustic facade, the main lodge was rolled onto the meadow in front of its original location in order to rebuild the foundation.

Helicopters flew in building supplies, but a cement mixer was out of the question. So hundreds of bags of concrete mix came by air.

“All of that was hand-mixed,” said Glen Campbell of B.C. Parks. “The foundations, the basement, the floor, were mixed by the construction crew. Not easy to find crews who are capable of doing that.”

The isolation and harsh conditions attracted work crews and project managers who embrace adventure. An engineer who worked on P.E.I.’s Confederation Bridge volunteered a few weeks of his time on the project.

The renovation, which began in May, is a race against Mother Nature. Crew were making the most of the recent warm weather to complete the exterior before the snows come. The lodge is scheduled to be fully operational again by June 2012.

“There’s the unique challenges of operating at this elevation, in this environment and dealing with trying to preserve the integrity of the buildings at the same time,” Campbell said.

Erling Strom, a Norwegian, worked with the Canadian Pacific Railway to build Assiniboine Lodge in 1928 and was its operator for the first 47 years.

When Renner and teammate Becki Scott won silver in team pursuit at the 2006 Olympics, Renner broke her ski pole during the race and was rescued by a Norwegian coach, who quickly handed a replacement.

On Renner’s next trip into Assiniboine, she was astounded when she realized that a broken ski pole had always been the emblem of the lodge.

“I came back in the summer and I noticed that the brand of Assiniboine was a broken ski pole,” Renner said. “On the back of furniture, engraved in walls, was this emblem of the broken ski pole.

“It was an incredible coincidence that this place that is such a part of me followed me through my ski career and the story of my career was this broken ski pole.”

Seeing the renovation near completion, Renner is confident Assiniboine will retain its colourful history and authenticity.

“At the beginning I was worried, because we wanted our old gal taken care of,” Renner says. “The important part is that it looks and it feels the same.

“You know it’s going to be good for the next 100 years. So I come back here and my heart soars.”