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The Loveliest Little Lodge in Lake Louise : Canada's Luxurious Post Hotel Is Designed to Be the Perfect Reward for a Day on the Slopes in Alberta

February 02, 1992|JESSICA MAXWELL | Maxwell is a free-lance travel, food and environmental writer who lives in a log cabin on an island in Washington state. and

BANFF NATIONAL PARK, Canada — You know it's True Love if you're willing to strap five-foot boards to your feet and throw yourself down icy cliffs in a blizzard just for the fun of it. Personally, I never would have learned to ski if I hadn't been hopelessly hooked on someone who was hopelessly hooked on the most addictive white crystal known to man . . . snow.

Any fool can see that skiing is dangerous. Whenever you combine speed and slipperiness you're in trouble--just ask a poodle on a waxed floor. Throw in gravity and you're heading for exactly what you're heading for--fellow skiers, a tree, and most likely an update on the miracles of orthoscopic surgery. To take these kinds of risks on a regular basis, even in the name of love, warrants serious rewards. You deserve massages, Jacuzzis, a room with a view, champagne, poached salmon on a Pinot noir onion compote with plum eau de vie sauce, and as many chocolate truffles as you damn well please.

Unfortunately, you usually get nachos and a hot tub. That is the sad state of most apres -ski situations, a fact I swiftly learned during my first ski season, which included 32 ski trips all over the Pacific Northwest. While my snowman sweetheart searched for the Perfect Ski Slope, I scanned the white horizon for the Perfect Ski Lodge, and found it finally in Alberta, Canada--in an architectural and culinary masterwork called the Post Hotel.

It shouldn't have been a surprise. The original Post Hotel was built years ago in the mountain village of Lake Louise in Canada's 100-year-old Banff National Park, which is home to two other hotels of renowned pedigree. The Banff Springs Hotel is the 104-year-old grand dame of Banff, the park's internationally known ski town. The hotel gets its excellent bones from its excellent progenitors--Scottish baronial castles and the chateaus of the Loire Valley. And 45 minutes up the Trans-Canada Highway, Chateau Lake Louise, in the village of Lake Louise, remains an ivory stone miracle ringed by the exalted peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

On the edge of the village, the Post Hotel claims the same good European root-stock on a much smaller scale. And it manages to avoid the two architectural models regularly erupting in many ski areas today: Row after row of condominium boxes that still manage to fetch unnerving room rates, and high-end cartel-hotels that follow an internationally agreed-upon set of design guidelines--slick, big, new and very urban.

From Aspen to Sun Valley, many of the large new ski hotels could, ambience-wise, as well be in Tokyo or Chicago. Slope-adjacent ski villages across the West are blistering forth with high-tech bubble-domes housing everything from tennis courts to Jacuzzis, and many "lodges" are such a rat's maze of no-style condos that you can get lost for hours trying to find the one you reserved over the phone.

So you can imagine my delight when we drove around the corner from the barely-there town of Lake Louise, just five minutes from the ski lifts, and saw for the first time the Post Hotel. Even from a distance the architecture was fresh and fine. The lines hummed--like some kind of Swiss/Metropolitan Home hybrid.

And the colors! Natural pine-yellow wood with hunter green trim beneath a red tin roof, all housed under Alberta's famous turquoise winter sky. Classic colors. Mountain colors.

But the full force of the Post Hotel's magic didn't really reveal itself until we parked and walked round to the front, which you cannot see from the road. A long isosceles triangle of a roof spread like the wings of some great yellow bird over the broad chest of a most extraordinary post-modernist balcony fitted in its middle with red-trimmed windows and red flower boxes draped with pine boughs. Now this was a ski lodge.

It was, in fact, skiing that led us to the Post Hotel. We had stayed the night before four miles up the road in haute European luxury at Chateau Lake Louise, and had, in fact, gotten engaged in the snow there. Giddy with wedding plans, we had raced to the Lake Louise Ski Area--whose 3,250-foot vertical drop and 8,750-foot top elevation soon reminded us of our differences--and I dutifully remained on the beginners' runs while a high-speed quad whisked my husband-to-be away to the summit above my head. It just so happened that he rode up with George Schwarz, who, with his brother, Andre, built the current incarnation of the Post Hotel, which they own and supervise today.

Now, these Swiss brothers had intensely clear ideas about what they wanted in a ski lodge, squarely rooted in the classic Swiss Alpine architecture with which they grew up. After a tug-of-war with their similarly intense post-modernist architect, they got the wondrous structure in front of us. We booked a room (with a view, fireplace, balcony and whirlpool bath) and arranged to meet George later for dinner.

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