Backcountry lodge offers winter escape |

Backcountry lodge offers winter escape

Submitted photos by Robin T. Brown

It was a bright and cold morning when we headed out on a 4-mile snow-covered trek to Lost Trail Lodge near the town of Truckee, nestled in the mountains between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley.

When conditions are right, folks hungry for a little backcountry gear up with snowshoes or cross country skis, leave the car and daily stresses behind and escape to a quiet, off-the-grid lodge hidden four miles deep in Coldstream Canyon where they find all the comforts of home.

After crossing a log footbridge at the end of our walk, “Lady,” the Great Pyrenees and unofficial mascot, led the way to the retreat where bluegrass music and a warm fire awaited.

“There’s this old cliché: ‘Enter as strangers, leave as friends.’ It actually happens here,” said innkeeper Lindsey Rodni who lives at and manages the lodge with her partner, Tony Nieman, and daughter Kiely Rodni, age 7. Lindsey is homeschooling Kiely, a talented young fiddler who likes to make snowmen and snow angels this time of year. This is the family’s third winter living at the lodge full time.

Rodni’s father, David Robertson, built the lodge 14 years ago after leaving behind a “miserable career” as the owner of a Tahoe water company. Instead, he wanted a job where he could give back.

“What could I do to keep people smiling?” he recalls asking himself.

He started a bed-and-breakfast in Montana before returning to the region of his roots where he set out to create the Lost Trail Lodge.

The 3,700-square-foot retreat is completely off the grid, with five self-contained cabins, a well stocked communal kitchen, and family-style dining area and great room. Guests can bring their own food or hire a local caterer to cook up a gourmet meal. The innkeepers live right upstairs and are happy to assist with building a fire in the morning and point guests in the direction of local winter activities.

There’s no television, cell phone or Internet service. Some guests like to socialize and sit around the table, sipping wine and telling stories with other guests. Others choose solitude in their private rooms tucked away with a good book and the option to sleep in late.

“They just kind of unplug and relax,” Rodni said.

Cabins are equipped with bathrooms, Jacuzzi tubs, parlor stoves, at least three beds with clean linens and down comforters and private entrances to the deck and stunning outdoor views. In the morning, guests can pad out into the large hallways in their socks if they want to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen.

These days, the lodge is filled up nearly every weekend from now until April.

“We have a lot of returning guests who come back year after year,” Rodni said. The New Year holiday is expected to be a big party. Sacramento- and San Francisco-based cliental make up the bulk of the lodge’s stays.

Visitors are a mix of those who traverse the local ridges with backcountry guides, aging baby boomers who want a “soft adventure,” younger families and former extreme outdoorsy types who seek out a safer more comfortable environment now that they have children in tow. Rodni keeps a high chair and chest of toys on hand.

“Kids who come out, they love it. They’re bummed when they have to leave,” said Rodni.

From the front door, guests can access some of the Sierra Nevada’s best Nordic and alpine skiing and ice-climbing terrain. In the summer months, located just six miles from the Pacific Crest Trail, the lodge is located within a vast network of trails ideal for mountain bicycling, hiking and horseback riding. Lining the walls of the lodge are topographical maps of the area showing a patchwork of Tahoe National Forest, private, Sierra Pacific Industries and State Park lands.

“You can go out the front door and go anywhere and be satisfied,” Rodni said.

For others, just getting to the lodge is adventure enough.

Traversing the four miles that follow meandering streams, frozen ponds and rugged snow-sculptured mountain scenery takes anywhere from two to five hours, depending on skill level and distractions.

Pause to sit in the quiet stillness for a sip from the thermos, look for animal tracks or snap some photographs of the icy crystallized world.

“I think they’re really proud. It’s almost like an accomplishment to them,” Rodni said of the visitors who find the hike in to be a great wilderness challenge.

Robertson happily donned his winter parka and boots to show us the impressive solar array and a couple of backup diesel generators he installed to power the lodge.

In the summer months, managers carefully stock up with several truckloads of supplies and staples like 20 cords of firewood and 500 gallons of diesel. Phone service is sketchy so it’s always best to be prepared for what could be a long haul.

“It’s an uncertain feeling,” Robertson said of Sierra Nevada winters. Rodni and her family usually make a trip to town once a week but are prepared to survive four to six weeks if they have to.

Two years ago, Robertson remembered the worst winter storm on record for the lodge. He pointed to a tree in the front yard where a ribbon tied high up the trunk marks that memorable snowline.

Despite the remoteness, innkeepers are not prone to cabin fever. A steady stream of new visitors keeps that in check.

Inside the lodge, the walls and ceiling are decorated with Robertson’s collection of vintage goods reminiscent of an Americana museum he picked up over the years from Saturday morning swap meets. Old skis and skates, animal furs, deer antlers, carved totems, lanterns and photos create a homey, nostalgic vibe.

Lindsey loaded the Thompson stove with an armful of firewood. Worries dissolved and time seemed to stop as young Kiely sang and fiddled blue grass tunes accompanied on mandolin by her grandfather and visiting Truckee musician Ange`le Thibodeau.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to live here and have this kind of lifestyle,” Rodni said.

To learn more, visit

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at or (530) 401-4877.

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