We listed our Fernie condo over the Christmas holidays. For 10 years it’s been our mountain retreat in summer and winter; during every three-hour drive I’ve sighed audibly as our car spirited us from Calgary to our happy place.
Fernie is where both of our children learned to ski. It’s the place we spent perfect summer days at Surveyor’s Lake. It’s the site of multiple hikes and even a mountain summit. I could wax nostalgic for hours, but we are ready to move on. It’s time for some new adventures, and I feel happy at the thought that perhaps another family will buy our condo and fall in love with this cool mountain town, its challenging ski hill and its many hiking and mountain biking trails.
In honour of a decade spent in Fernie, I’ve listed — in no particular order — all the things that make it a special place to spend a winter day (or evening).
3 p.m. powder off Deer Chair
This isn’t a regular occurrence, but for some reason on this particular Monday afternoon, after a dump, my daughter and I found endless stashes of untracked powder on either side of, and just below, the terrain park. It was basically a virgin field on a green run, which is perfect for a newbie powder hound like Avery.
Just shreddin’ off Deer chair.
Hike to pow on a Sunday afternoon
Sometimes, timing is everything. That was certainly the case this past Sunday, when a friend and I noticed they had just opened Upper Lizard Bowl, allowing skiers to hike up to access the yet-to-be-skied snow field directly under the fearsome cliff walls of the Lizard Range (these slopes are often closed as regular blasting triggers avalanches that sweep the unblemished surface below). This made my last run of the weekend epic.
Look, Ma! We hiked up all this way!
It’s 20 minutes hiking up and exactly 36 seconds skiing down. But worth it!
A small ski village means you run into friends
Back when I skied Vail, the resort was so vast and the village so large, I had no hope of meeting up with friends unless I showed up at the top of Chair 11 at 11 a.m. (a rendezvous colloquially known as 11 at 11 or “11:11”). Also, there were chalkboards at each lift for scrawling messages (this was before iPhones). At Fernie Alpine Resort, wait five minutes and a Califernian whom you know will ski by.
Just hangin’ in the village with my buds…
There’s no lack of apres-ski options…
Not many ski resorts boast frozen vodka Ice Bars, like the one in Cirque restaurant inside the Lizard Creek Lodge. Or patios like the one at The Griz Bar, where you can place your Caesar in such a way it looks possible to ski down the straw from the hill. Between the mountain and the town there are over 20 bars — Fernie really takes hydration seriously!
Behold the Ice Bar!
All hail Caesar!
Sometimes you’re the only person in a giant bowl
This was my view in Cedar Bowl on the weekend. There was only one other person skiing in the vicinity. It kind of baffles me, actually. Here you’ve got a resort with a much larger snow base and better conditions than most Alberta hills, but because it’s a farther drive there are way fewer skiers. That alone makes it worth the extra miles.
Little known fact: If you look up at the treeline from a steep run you can feel the Earth turning.
Did I mention the views?
Those crazy jagged, cliffy mountains again. Fernie has one of the most comprehensive avalanche programs in North America. On almost every morning after a snowfall you can hear the team blasting. Some mornings, they drop charges from a helicopter. It’s fair to say the scenery comes at a cost (but again, it’s worth it!).
Morning light in Lizard Bowl.
They have an adaptive ski program
For $20, we can drop off Bennett with two volunteer instructors every Sunday afternoon for a private ski lesson that includes a lift ticket. How cool is that?
Volunteer instructors with the Fernie Adaptive Ski Program help Bennett.
Watching the mayhem when the Curry Bowl sign line comes down is the best thing ever!
This might be your one chance to ski in a Chinese downhill over fresh snow.
The throng gathers at the top of Currie Bowl on a powder morning, waiting for the sign line to come down.
The cat skiing at nearby Island Lake Lodge is amazing
One of the coolest story assignments I’ve had in recent years involved cat skiing at Island Lake with Blake and rekindling our love affair with snow. If you’re an avid skier, this experience is a must.
Blake chases me through the powder at Island Lake Lodge. Photo by Nick Nault.
Fernie also has the best sushi in Calgary!
I wrote a story some years back about the town’s growing food scene. Restaurants have come and gone since then, but Yamagoya stays strong and makes a West Fernie roll like nobody’s business. And make sure you stop in at Big Bang Bagels and order the Switchback Salmon sandwich.
We’ve spent many nights eating delicious rolls, drinking biggie beers and laughing our heads off at Yamagoya.
The town is adorable
What was once a mining town has turned to tourism. The historic buildings now house boutiques, gear shops, restaurants and bars.
Not only does downtown Fernie have a gorgeous setting, it has charm galore, with cute boutiques and great restaurants.
Moving on doesn’t mean never coming back. Even after the condo sells, I know we’ll still be regular visitors to this piece of Kootenay paradise.