By Jen Heller
I’m a big fan of down-to-earth writing styles, so let’s start with the honest truth. If I had your best interests in mind, dear readers, this article would have been written last summer, well before everyone who’s in the know reserved their own spots at North Idaho’s favorite winter getaway. But, it turns out, I’m selfish. I like keeping some good things to myself. As we go to print, Caribou Mountain Lodge is already close to maxing out on its reservations for the entire winter, which means most of what follows is simply malicious bragging.
Alright, moving on.
Mark Remmetter quietly started the construction of Caribou Mountain Lodge 20 years ago, during whatever gaps he could find in his normal workload as a local electrician. Building the entire place himself took about four years, albeit with the help of friends here and there, but Mark’s calm face breaks into a smile every time he talks about the process. He’s particularly proud that he managed to mill about 90 percent of the building’s wood on-site, from the doug fir interior beams to the chuck-room benches.
Early in the Lodge’s history, around 2003, Mark fell into stride with his spunky sidekick, Lynn Olafson. Lynn worked in the medical field for years before joining Mark on his alpine retreat project. These days, you can find her running their mountain trails Energizer-Bunny-style all summer, and skiing up the same hills all winter long.
Both Mark and Lynn love the Lodge dearly, and their care is noticeable in every aspect of the Lodge’s operations. For one thing, Caribou Lodge was crafted to be relatively self-sustaining. Power is generated by an array of solar panels on bluebird mornings, or by a windmill on the property’s edge when a storm blows in. Also, this place has five-star North Idaho accommodations, with hot showers, a piano, a kitchen fully-stocked with utensils, and a wood-stoked sauna (don’t confuse Caribou Lodge with the Caribou ski hut, which is maintained by the Sandpoint Ski Hut Association; both have been referred to as “Caribou Cabin” by locals, but the furnishings differ a little bit).
That’s not to say things aren’t a wee bit rustic at the Lodge. Water is a fickle resource at this altitude, so for everything except emergencies, the hosts kindly request that bodily needs are taken outside to the outhouse. No worries, though, Caribou has a jewel of a duty shed. The snow path from the cabin to the outhouse is short, and nature calls to you from the window as you answer, uh, nature’s call. Over pre-dinner drinks last year, our well-travelled group ranked it as one of Bonner County’s “Top Three Outhouse Experiences.”
Last winter marked my first visit to Caribou, and I celebrated the occasion with a motley crew of people. The group’s organizer lost a few promised guests at the last minute, and in that magical “friend-of-a-friend” situation, I waved the appropriate amount of money in the air and got a golden ticket.
The most interesting part of prepping for the whole trip was trying to figure out how to deal with my shameful secret: I don’t downhill ski. For years, I’d been hearing about Caribou Lodge with sad twitches of envy, but my knees can’t even handle Schweitzer’s bunny hill, so I always figured Caribou was far beyond my reach.
Fortunately, I was wrong. It’s true that a few expert locals like to take the hard road to Caribou Lodge via the Redneck Traverse or other ridgeline routes. For most guests, however, getting to the cabin is a simple seven-mile ski, snowshoe, or hike up a snowy maze of forest service roads. Once you’ve paid your dues and dropped off your baggage, you drag your legs up the hill at your own pace, and you may ski as little or as much as you’d like from that point forward.
I spent my weekend at the Lodge escorting my new friends up the nearest peak on my cross-country setup in the mornings, then ambling around forest service roads in solitude, enjoying the stunning views, quiet woods, and impressive winter wildlife tracks. There was little to complain about. Emerging from my first night of slumber, I’d watch a slow winter sunrise as I sipped my cup of coffee in the dining area, with every shade of sorbet melting slowly down the slopes of the facing Cabinets. And then, after a long day sweating up hills and breezing (ok, butt-sliding,) down slopes, my return was timed with the finest Selkirk alpenglow, to be admired from the second-story common area as my cabin-mates shuffled in and out of the warm showers.
Sitting around the woodstove in the evening, with drinks in hand and the day’s tales growing wildly in the retelling, there’s something elemental that awakens in a person. Like a cat, the feeling rises, stretches in a deep bow, and sprawls out with a sigh among the tired bodies. It’s the feeling of having won — having truly gotten away, beaten the challenge, finished the course, and seen the mountaintops. The only thing better? The knowledge that the very next day, you get to get up and do it all again.
Want to find out more? Visit cariboumountainlodge.com.