Polar Peak: new terrain at Fernie ski resort

The sign would scare away all but the most determined skiers:

Beginners dare not ski the peak, for fear of an early end to their schussing career (at the bottom of a cliff).

“EXPERTS ONLY!! Be honest. Are you really an expert! Fast & grippy surface. If you fall long slides over cliffs possible. PLAY SAFE”

I read it, then followed my husband over the drop, through some hard bumps and onto the slick, crusted surface of Mama Bear, one of the new double-black runs off of Polar Peak at Fernie Alpine Resort.

I wish I could say I rocked the peak and carved graceful jump-turns down the long, steep run. Instead, I was too concerned about keeping an edge on the chalky snow, and digging in on each turn so my skis wouldn’t go skittering down the face. Regardless, we enjoyed the new terrain and skied down to the Polar Peak triple chair to brave the wind for another run.

The new Polar Peak chair takes skiers over rime-encrusted outcrops to the top of Polar Peak, elevation 7,000 metres, where 22 new runs await.

Polar Peak opened in mid-January, bestowing on Fernie the coveted title of “biggest vertical drop” in the Canadian Rockies. At 3,550 feet, that’s more vert than Lake Louise or Sunshine. The chair also opened up 22 new highly-exposed, mostly expert, mostly double-black runs on a hill already famous for its steep expert terrain and huge powder dumps. Polar Peak is like the slippery icing on Fernie’s already perfect snow cake.

The views from the top are stellar too. From the tiny plateau where skiers exit the lift we could see the town of Fernie, all the way down the spine of the Lizard Range, and into the Columbia Valley. Sublime.

From the top you can see over into the Columbia Valley. That's Lake Koocanusa in the distance.

The only drawback? Polar Peak is often closed. It didn’t open until 2:30 p.m. on Saturday because of high winds, and then it was only loading at half capacity. As the patroller at the top put it: “We don’t want skiers’ chairlifts to get blown into a tower.”  The top is also regularly shrouded in powder-producing clouds, which means low visibility. Theoretically, inexperienced or disoriented skiers could make a wrong turn and fall off a cliff (hence the sign), though I really doubt that would ever happen given the roving patroller on duty.

On our second run we hopped over to Spirit Bear, a narrower chute that met my skis with more wind-hardened snow.

Don't look down! The Polar Peak chutes are vertigo-inducing steep.

Thankfully, I didn’t wipe out and slide 500 feet to the bottom (as predicted if you catch an edge), but I was happy to have my peak experience and then hit Currie Powder, where the glades pampered my bruised skis with perfect, packed-powder conditions. Sure, I’ll ski the peak again, but I’ll always return to my favourite Fernie runs.

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