Cooking for a Backcountry Hut in the Valhallas

by Hannah Rogger (she/her)

It’s 5:45 am and 3 different iphone alarms go off. At Ice Creek Lodge, we all wake up together. Our staff hut is a cozy one room cabin with a sleeping loft perched on a snowy outcrop below treeline. The guides bound out of bed and put on their gear. Before I’ve even got my socks on, someone has started up the generator, there’s a fire going in the woodstove, and the walkways outside have been cleared of snow. The guides work hard at Ice, and these tasks are so second nature they get completed as habitually as a morning trip to the outhouse. I get dressed, head down the stairs, pull on my puffy boots and headlamp and trek across the snowy pathway to the timber framed lodge where the guests sleep. I’ll see the guides in about an hour after they complete their morning avalanche meeting. It's still dark out but the silhouette of Mt Urd is visible behind the snow covered building. I find my way to my kitchen, put on my apron, turn on the oven, and begin brewing coffee and making breakfast. Another day fuelling riders in the mountains is about to begin.

“If you’ve cooked for planters, you’ll have a really good idea of what our guests and staff require for their daily nourishment”. I listened as Russel, the lead guide and owner, told me over the phone about a typical day at Ice. It was October and he was interviewing me for the position of lodge chef. “Bacon. If I’m breaking trail all day, I’ll need bacon in the mornings.” This guy was a character, I could tell already. He had spent a number of years supervising tree planting camps, so when my resume landed in his email, he knew I might be a good fit for feeding backcountry riders. Ice Creek is a helicopter-accessed touring lodge in the Valhalla mountains, a sub-range of the Selkirks in British Columbia, Canada. Terrain in the tenure is no joke, consisting of steep alpine bowls, couloirs, and tree runs all surrounded by massive overhead features that make you feel like a speck in the landscape. Russell discovered this backcountry skiing oasis in the late 90s, secured a land tenure and built a lodge by hand with his community of friends. He and his wife Courtney now run the business. They offered me the job, and I accepted. 

At the time, I was 25 and had been searching for a new cooking adventure as covid protocols across the country were beginning to ease. I wanted to move to the mountains to reconnect with my love of skiing and figured cooking could take me there. I started searching “lodge chef” jobs on Google and found Ice’s posting. I had spent the previous 6 summers of my life cooking for tree planters in Canada’s backcountry (which you can read about here) so I knew how to cook for a hungry crowd, shop to last for weeks at a time, and box up food for lengthy transport into the bush.  I understood that cooking for a ski touring lodge would mean the clientele were generally fit and that would mean they’d be hungry. Hiking for hours uphill in the snow to ski lines of knee deep pow seemed like Type 2 fun, the kind that requires a bit of discomfort and perseverance and ultimately draws in a clientele of upbeat outdoor lovers. There was also a ton I didn’t understand. I had never skied in avalanche terrain, had never been around helicopters, and had never used an outdoor toilet for 3 months in winter. Also technically speaking, I had never cooked for “clients”, as in people who were paying money for an experience. Sure I had cooked for hundreds of tree planters, but I had never worked in a restaurant or other setting where my food was part of a “product” being purchased. For me, this was the most intimidating part of taking the gig. I was excited for a new challenge, but mostly I was nervous as hell.

On New Years Eve 2021 I met our guides and the season’s first guests at the helicopter staging area, and together we unloaded the 20 or so banana boxes of groceries I had somehow fit into my car. I create my own menus and from those I make detailed shopping lists. I had spent six hours in grocery stores the day before, carefully picking out ingredients and packing them neatly into boxes. There were twelve of us, four staff and eight guests, heading in for a whole week, so I had to make sure we had all the food we would need. Breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and dessert were to be served each day; it was a lot of food to keep track of. The helicopter wasn’t going to be coming back to drop off a bag of pasta or a bottle of olive oil. I had everything, from the salt and spices to the eighteen dozen eggs, ‘tetris'd’ meticulously into my Subaru Forester, and if I had forgotten something, I would have to make do. After a quick orientation with the helicopter pilot, it was time for me to hop in. The 7 minute ride to the lodge was beautiful. We followed a valley of old growth trees caked in snow, which quickly turned into steeper terrain. As we flew past massive avalanche paths that stretched to the valley bottom, bigger peaks began to appear. These were the Valhallas. The helicopter took a hard left, and the lodge came into view for the first time. The building looked miniscule amongst the towering peaks surrounding it. We landed on a snowy helipad surrounded by trees, and Russell opened the door. “Hi Hannah! Welcome to Ice!”. 

Apres Ski Nachos for a Crowd, with Charred Pico de Gallo


For the Nachos
2 bags corn tortilla chips
4 cups shredded cheese (I like a mix of cheddar, mozzarella and monterey jack, but use what you have and like)
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup pickled banana peppers
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup finely sliced radish
Charred Pico de gallo (recipe below)
Guacamole, sour cream & salsa for serving

For the Moose Pico
2 roma tomatoes 
1/2 white onion 
1 seeded jalapeno 
4 green onions
handful of cilantro finely chopped
salt & lime to taste

Make the Pico. BBQ the tomatoes, white onion, jalapeno and green onions on high heat until charred but not cooked through (alternatively, place under the broiler in your oven). Remove from the grill and finely dice. Combine with cilantro, salt and lime to taste. Set aside while you assemble the nachos.

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread an even layer of chips along the tray, followed by a layer of shredded cheese. Repeat 2 more times until you have 3 layers of each, finishing with the cheese. Sprinkle over the olives and banana peppers. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling throughout. 

Once the nachos are melted and bubbling, immediately remove them from the oven and sprinkle over the feta cheese, cilantro, sliced radishes and charred pico de gallo. 

Serve right away with guacamole, sour cream and salsa.

Hannah Rogger


Hannah Rogger is a Canadian backcountry chef who grew up skiing in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountain Range. A devoted cook from a young age, she stepped into her career by spending her summers between college years cooking for hundreds of tree planters deep in British Columbia’s wilderness. She is currently the chef at a ski touring lodge in the Valhalla Ranges, feeding skiers while also finding time to join them on the skin track and the slopes. She finds cooking for people in wilderness settings inspiring and fulfilling. She is Broad Beta’s resident chef and creates content and recipes for Bush Cooking, the backcountry food section of our website. She splits her time between the traditional territories of Nsyilxcən, Ktunaxa, and Secwepemctsin speaking peoples (Nelson BC) and Songhees and Esquimalt speaking peoples (Victoria BC).

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