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Monday, November 28, 2005

The snowcat skiing lodge at Chatter Creek with it's new entryway Vertebrae and Solitude Lodges at Chatter Creek Cat Skiing. The young owners of Chatter Creek built their first large 9000+ sq. ft. mountain lodge in 2002 and a second in 2004. The photo above shows the two lodges with a brand new entryway constructed in 2005.

Scroll down to learn about the log construction techniques used to build Chatter Creek's wilderness ski lodges. Follow the many links to see different aspects of the lodge construction.

To learn about backcountry cat skiing, take a look at the Chatter News.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Chatter Creek Cat Skiing operates a backcountry mountain lodge from which guests enjoy the best of snowcat skiing and snowboarding. This remote site in the Canadian Rocky Mountains provides a tranquille holiday, far from the noise and turmoil of civilization. Operating at elevations as high as 9600 ft., Chatter Creek offers its guests reliable powder snow skiing in a spectacular high mountain setting.

This photo journal describes the construction of Chatter Creek's two mountain lodges, Vertebrae Lodge (shown above) and it's new bedroom annex, Solitude Lodge. As you scroll down and read our story, look for links to additional photo galleries.

To get a feeling for the ambiance of Vertebrae Lodge, look at our Lodge Life and Happy Campers photo galleries

Click here to meet some of the people who build the Chatter Creek mountain lodges

Read about Mission Impossible - Construction of a backcountry ski lodge on the Chatter Creek Web site.

Chatter Creek Announces Solitude Lodge

Solitude Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek

Solitude Lodge is a sleeping annex that will accommodate 12 guests in comfortable double-occupancy bedrooms, complete with private (ensuite) bathrooms. It stands adjacent to the existing Vertebrae Lodge. All guests will share the recreational and dining facilities of Vertebrae Lodge. The addition of Solitude Lodge will permit Chatter Creek to host a total of 36 guests at a time.

Click here to watch the progress of construction of Solitude Lodge.

Welcome to Chatter Creek's Vertebrae Lodge

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Vertebrae Lodge is a spectacular 9300 sq. ft backcountry lodge located north of Golden, British Columbia deep in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  It is Chatter Creek's flagship lodge and offers comfortable and hospitable accommodation in a tranquille mountain setting.

Vertebrae Lodge comprises two wings. A 40ft. by 40ft. bedroom wing houses 12 double-occupancy bedrooms on two floors and staff and massage rooms in the attic. Each guest bedroom has a private ensuite shower and toilet and basin. A 50ft. by 40ft. wing houses a bar, a games room, powder rooms and storage rooms on the ground floor and a dining hall, commercial kitchen and sitting areas on the second floor. The ceiling of the kitchen creates a mezzanine sitting area overlooking the dining hall. A high cathedral ceiling spans the entire second floor and mezzanine.

Vertebrae Lodge is constructed from round spruce logs harvested selectively from the surrounding forest. A portable Alaska-style Wood-Mizer sawmill located on site was used to mill all of the dimensioned lumber needed for interior framing. A 20 ton mobile crane with a 70 ft boom was used to lift logs onto the high walls and to lift and distribute roofing materials.

Vertebrae Lodge was designed and constructed in 2002 by the four owners of Chatter Creek and a group of their friends and associates. Lodge construction started in the spring with harvesting over 300 large logs and skidding them to the building site. Over 100 logs were hand-peeled for the walls and the rest were left for milling. By the second week of July, the partners had their initial supply of peeled logs, the sawmill and crane on site and in operation and a cleared building pad. By the end of December, a just 5 ½ months later, 24 guests were living in a completed, equipped and fully stocked lodge

Scroll down to learn more about this lodge construction project and the difficulties of building a backcountry mountain lodge, far from civilization.

Chatter Creek Mountain Lodge Site

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
The site of Chatter Creek's. backcountry mountain lodge is located 120km. (by road) north of Golden BC. It sits at an elevation of about 5400 ft., nestled in a valley on the western slope of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  The picture above shows the site at the beginning of July, 2002.  The original Spruce Lodge can be seen at the right of the picture.  The building in the foreground is a workshop and a bunkhouse for the crew.  The building site is immediately beyond the workshop.  The site has been cleared and leveled and is ready for lodge construction to commence. The portable sawmill is hidden by the pile of unpeeled logs.  The logs in the foreground and the logs to the left have been peeled by hand for wall construction.  The unpeeled logs will be milled to create dimensioned lumber for the internal framing.

Click here to see more views of the Chatter Creek construction site or click here to read about logging and hand-peeling the logs for the lodges. This link provides photos of Chatter Creek's Wood-Mizer sawmill

The Chatter Creek Road

The Chatter Creek Road
Road access to Chatter Creek is first by a 30 km drive on the TransCanada Highway to Donald, the terminus of the old (now disused) Big Bend Highway. From Donald, a logging road runs north, along the eastern shore of Kinbasket Lake, a portion of the Columbia River valley flooded by the Mica Dam. The road skirts the end of Bush Arm, where the lake protrudes to the east into the Rocky Mountains. Part way along the northern shore of Bush Arm, the logging road is intercepted by the Chatter Creek access road, a 17 km track that winds its way up valleys to the Chatter Creek lodge site. The distance from Golden to the bottom of the Chatter Creek road is about 90km.

The Chatter Creek access road presents a significant challenge. It is very rough. Built as a summer logging road, it was intended to be temporary and proper crowning and drainage was not part of its construction. In the spring, large sections of the road are deep bogs. As the road dries out during the summer, a crust forms over the bogs, usually thick enough to support 4x4 vehicles, bulldozers and excavators. In the spring, before the road dries out and a sufficient crust forms over the bogs, the road is very slippery, unstable and will not support heavy loads.

In order to meet the short building schedule, the new sawmill and the mobile crane to be taken to the building site long before the access road dried out. A three-day effort ensued to haul the equipment up the short distance. A 4x4 1-ton truck carrying most of the sawmill was pulled by a D4 bulldozer and the mobile crane was pulled and pushed, as needed, by a tracked excavator. A Hummer was used as a support vehicle. It was slow, with the crane's 6ft diameter wheels often sinking in the mud to their axles.

In the end, the effort was successful. The mill was assembled and went into immediate service and the crane's boom was assembled, ready for work.

Click here for more pictures and information about Life on the Chatter Creek Road

Vertebrae Lodge Foundations

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
There were many debates about foundation materials for the new lodge. Besides green spruce, there are no building materials readily available at the Chatter Creek building site. For a concrete foundation, cement would have to be hauled from Golden and sand and gravel would have to be brought up from natural deposits near Kinbasket Lake. It would take months to get the materials to site. There was insufficient time and insufficient funds. Some local rock was discovered, but it was too difficult to get a proper strength analysis performed and the size of the deposit was unknown.

In the end, the local material was the only practical and affordable choice and large spruce butts were used. At some future date, they would have to be replaced, but it was the only choice that would let the project proceed.

Click here for more information on the foundations of Vertebrae lodge

Before we get ahead of ourselves, a detour needs to be taken to tell a little bit about the logging and milling effort at chatter creek.  The structure of the building was entirely of green spruce selectively harvested from the surrounding forest.  Click here to learn about the logging and peeling effort required

Most of the logs harvested were required for dimensioned lumber for floors, walls, the enormous roof and for door casings and trim.  All of this lumber was milled on site.  Click here to learn about the operation of the Chatter Creek Sawmill.

Log Construction at Chatter Creek

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Vertebrae Lodge has six outer log walls and a single interior log wall that is common to the two rectangular wings. Logs are notched at each end to fit the adjoining walls and a V-groove is cut along their length to permit an upper log to seat firmly on the log below. The groove is stuffed with a long strip of fiberglass insulation to ensure there is no air leakage.

Logs are first rough-notched put in place using the excavator while walls are still low and then the crane as the walls become higher. Logs are then scribed around the notches and along their length. This marks the outline of the V-grove and the additional trimming needed to ensure tight joints.

Once a log is scribed, it might be taken down so that the v-groove can be cut and the notches trimmed. Alternatively, the crane will support the end of the log in a sling and a worker on the wall will turn it with a peeve, so that it can be grooved and trimmed, almost in place.

When the log is finally grooved, the notches trimmed and the groove is stuffed with insulation, the log is either lifted back onto the wall or it is turned again if it was not taken down. Once the log fits properly, the weight of the excavator is used to crush the log into place and completely seat the end-notches and the V-groove.
There are significant differences between logs that make log selection and the scribing process a challenge. The size of logs varies and logs are usually not straight. Also, all logs have a taper that can be very pronounced in large logs. In order to keep walls level, as the building rises, logs are laid end-for-end in subsequent courses. Logs are also placed in such a way that the weight of the building is used to straighten out curves and twists. Use the following link for photos of scribing notches and fitting logs.

Follow the progress of log wall construction, as the walls and floors are built

Vertebrae Lodge Floor Construction

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Floors are framed using 2 in. by 10 in. joists milled on site. To set a floor, one course of logs is notched every 12 inches to receive joist ends. Boxing is placed between joists at intervals to stiffen the floor and reduce twisting of the green lumber. The floor system is supported by interior posts standing on the ground or on the floor below.

Since all of the wall material is green spruce, there is significant shrinkage over time. The overall shrinkage of the walls of Vertebrae Lodge will exceed 16 inches and will continue for years. Vertical support posts are cut well short of the distance they need to span and steel pedestals and plywood shims are used to fill the gap. As the building settles and the walls shrinks, the pedestals are adjusted and shims are removed.

When the joist structure was completed, 2 inch by 6 in. solid decking was laid and finally, after the roof was completed, plywood was placed over the decking. The floors in the bedroom wing were eventually carpeted, but the floors of the common spaces have been left as painted plywood. Better finishing of the common space floors will be a future project.

Vertebrae Lodge Window and Door Openings

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
As the log walls are erected, doorways and window openings are rough-cut as needed to provide access to the interior of the building. Most of the openings are not cut at all until the walls and the roof are completed.

To accommodate shrinkage of the walls around them, door and windows casings are placed in grooves (slots) so that the walls can shrink around them. Particular care is needed to ensure that these slots to not leak cold air so that the lodge is not drafty when temperatures dip well below zero.

Thermally sealed double pane windows were installed after the roof was on and most of the internal framing was complete.

Vertebrae Lodge Roof Construction

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek The roof of Vertebrae Lodge is very large and contains an enormous amount of milled lumber. It needs to withstand a heavy winter snow load.

Each wing presented its own design challenge. The partners could deal with the design of the bedroom roof, but they needed help with the trusses for the main roof. The span was large and the roof loads are very heavy.

Christoph Loesch of Parson came to the rescue. Over a single weekend, he and his associates Sigi Liebmann of Golden and Zsolt Mozes of Parson visited Chatter Creek and, between them and the Chatter Team, three large trusses were designed, constructed and erected into place.

The photograph shows rafters in place over the bedroom wing, ready to to be strapped for the sheet steel. Trusses and purlins for the main roof are in place, ready to receive the rafters. In the race against the weather, the bedroom roof will be completed first, so as to provide a dry area for material storage.

Click here for a detailed photo-description of the roof construction for Vertebrae Lodge

Interior Finishing of Vertebrae Lodge

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Once the roof was on, the interior framing could be attacked. Time was short and few frills were possible. To allow for the shrinkage of the exterior walls, internal walls framing stands about 16 inches short of the full wall height. The framed walls were sheeted in drywall and wide drywall strips were attached to the ceiling so as to cover the gap above the walls and to create a slot into which the framed walls could slide, as shrinkage occurred.

For the first year, the ceilings and interior gable end of the dining hall would not be paneled, leaving the vapor barrier and insulation exposed. A year later, these areas were paneled in 1 in. spruce.

Each guest bedroom was framed with a bathroom containing a quality shower stall and a toilet opposite. Vanities were hand-made for each bedroom to contain a wash basin.

Framing and finishing the kitchen was a major project. A 6-burner commercial propane stove and oven was installed, with a fully vented range hood. A walk-in fridge was brought from Golden in pieces, assembled and installed.

Racks were build for the drying room, together with a system of piped warm air for drying ski boots and gloves.

Most important, a bar was built. For more views and description , look at our Vertebrae Lodge Interior photo gallery.

In 2004, when Solitude was built, the Vertebrae Lodge bar was expanded to replace the original drying room and a new, much larger drying room was built in Solitude Lodge.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Heating Vertebrae lodge

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
The Chatter Creek partners wanted no chimneys to pierce the roof of Vertebrae Lodge. There was to be no obstruction to the shedding of the heavy snowfall that the lodge receives. Further, the partners wanted no open fire in the lodge, except for the kitchen range.

A freestanding, outdoor wood and coal-burning insulated furnace was installed about 30 or 40 ft distant from the lodge. A 200ft buried loop transfers a hot glycol/water mixture to a heat exchanger located in the crawlspace of the lodge. This, in turn, heats a hot water circulating system that supplies four hot water/air heat exchangers that heat and re-circulate crawlspace air. A fifth heat exchanger draws in and heats outside air and creates enough pressure in the crawl space to force heated air into the upper floors, through floor grates. The hot water circulating system also provides all of the hot water for the lodge and for a hot tub.

The following link gives details of the Outdoor Furnace at Chatter Creek and the entire heating system.

In 2004, the system was expanded to heat Solitude Lodge and a second hot tub. An "on demand" propane boiler was added to the system to maintain the glycol loop temperature in periods of cold weather.

Vertebrae Lodge Utility Systems

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Vertebrae Lodge have complex water, fire suppression, electrical and sewerage systems.

Water is obtained from Spruce Creek that runs all year beside Vertebrae Lodge.  A 4 in. main feeds the original Spruce Lodge, vertebrae Lodge and the new Solitude Lodge.  A 2 in. bleeder causes a constant flow so as to avoid freezing.  "Guaranteed by engineers never to freeze", the system has been a constant problem, freezing solid early in each of the first two years of operation.    The system supplies the drinking water system, the hot water system, and a fire suppression system comprising a standpipe that runs to the roof of the building. Drinking water undergoes ultraviolet treatment.  The hot water system includes the hot tubs, large storage tanks, and a 1000 gal. reservoir buried in the crawl space to maintain constant temperature, as the outdoor furnace burns high or low.

Electrical power is provided by 30KW and  40KW diesel generators that are housed remotely from the lodges.  The electrical load includes a baseboard heater in each of the guest bedrooms.

The sewerage system includes three large settling tanks and a large buried drainage feild.  This engineered system is never supposed to require cleaning out.

The following link provides more information about Water and Sewer at Chatter Creek

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Final Preparations to Occupy Vertebrae Lodge

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek

For much of September through November and into December, as many trips as weather allowed were made from Golden to the site to deliver equipment and materials. A 22-ft highway trailer was hauled by truck to the fuel cache at the bottom of the Chatter Creek road. From there, a 4WD farm tractor was used to pull the trailer the final 17 km tot he site. Before it snowed, trips were only possible when the road had frozen overnight. Otherwise the muddy surface was too slippery. When enough snow accumulated in November, a snowcat was used to pull the trailer.

The task of making the brand new log building ready for habitation was immense. Everything was dirty and every crevasse oozed sawdust. Floors and walls had to be swept and then swept again. Carpets had to be vacuumed and bathroom fixtures cleaned of manufacturers markings and labels. Windows had to be cleaned, both inside and out and more labels removed. The kitchen was thoroughly cleaned and completely stocked. The bar was be stocked and made ready with crystal-clear glasses. Furniture was moved in, cleaned and put in place. Light fixtures required light bulbs, bathrooms needed stocking with soap, shampoo and towels. Twenty-four beds were made. The list of tasks went on and on.

For an up-to-date view of the interior of Vertebrae lodge, look at our "Lodge life at Chatter Creek" photo gallery.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Credits for Vertebrae Lodge

Mountain Lodge Construction at Chatter Creek
Vertebrae Lodge stands as a monument to the energy, perserverance, enthusiasm, and skill of a group of hard working and dedicated young people.