Tag Archives: Fernie

Why I’ll miss Fernie

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.

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!

Look, Ma! We hiked up all this way!

It's 20 minutes hiking up and exactly 36 seconds skiing down. But its worth it!

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...

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!

Behold the Ice Bar!

All hail Caesar!

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 treelike from a steep run you can feel the Earth turning.

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.

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 help Bennett ski to the chairlift.

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 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.

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 and drinking biggie beers at Yamagoya.

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.

Downtown Fernie had charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants.

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.


Fernie: My special place

We have been coming to Fernie for a week or two every summer since Avery was two. She’s now 10 and the small B.C. mountain town has earned a special place in her heart. Here’s what she wrote about Fernie for a grade four school project earlier this year.

I sit on a rock and watch as a female moose slowly lifts her head from a bog. The sun is high on a hot summer day and I can hear the sweet sound of a robin chirping. I’m in Fernie, a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains.

A drawing of Piper in a field in Fernie, B.C.

A drawing of Piper in a field in Fernie, B.C.

I see high mountain peaks and below them horses run free in wide open fields. A bald eagle soars across the murky blue river in search of a silver trout. As I look at the Saskatoon berry bushes I see magpies playing a game of chase.

I hear the sound of the train on the rusty railway tracks not far from where I am. My friends are running around in the field chasing after my barking dog. In the distance an elk call comes from the river.

The sweet smell of wildflowers floods my nose into my heart and gives me a feeling of happiness. I smell the mixed scent of dew drops on fresh lime green grass.

I feel the sandstone rock I’m sitting on; part of the old rock crumbles as I push my body off of it. My bare feet walk across the sharp green grass and it gives my body a tingly feeling.

I love being in Fernie where the wild animals run free. This is my special place!

— Avery Ford, grade four, age 10


Let’s scale some snowbanks!

We were in Fernie on the weekend and decided not to ski on Sunday. Instead, the children conquered all the snowbanks around the condo parking lot. There’s something about a snowbank that kids love — it turns into a mountain to climb, a slope to slide down, a fort to hunker behind and launch snowballs.

Forget the mountains, we've got these mini-glaciers to scale, Mom.

Forget the mountains, we’ve got these mini-glaciers to scale, Mom.

Since it snows a lot in Fernie (over 600 cm so far this season), the snowbanks can become really tall. Like 10 feet or more high. The kids spent a good hour clambering up and then slipping down the snow plow-created icebergs. It was awesome to watch their creativity as flat slabs of snow became beds to lay on and even a kitchen table to sit around. Yes skiing Fernie is fun, but sometimes a kid’s just gotta show the snow mountain who’s boss!

Forget Polar Peak -- Avery has just conquered another snowbank.

Forget Polar Peak — Avery has just conquered another snowbank.

We’re trading the snow for some desert sun on a vacation to Arizona. Follow our adventures in the Grand Canyon state as we travel from Phoenix to Sedona and Tucson.

Why I love spring skiing

By April, most people have given up on skiing. With longer days and chirping robins, outdoor enthusiasts turn their attention to warmer-weather pursuits such as tennis, mountain biking and hiking. That, however, is folly. Given our climate and its wicked penchant for snowstorms in May, you might as well embrace the snow — and skiing — until the gondola halts to a stop at Sunshine Village on Victoria Day.

Besides, spring is arguably the best time to go skiing. I just spent an incredible weekend at Fernie Alpine Resort, where I floated atop powder and carved turns through corn snow, got a tan and drank beer on a patio while sweating from the heat. When was the last time you did all that in the same day?

Still not convinced? Here are four reasons to give spring skiing it a try:

1. Bluebird days

Come April, the powder-producing blizzards don’t hit as frequently, which means blue skies and sunshine. Bluebird days were a rarity in Fernie this winter, so I rather enjoyed this one, and the stellar views from everywhere on the mountain.

It snows so much at Fernie, you easily forget the amazing views until a sunny day blows you away.

2. Tons of snow

I have always wondered why the hordes drive out to Lake Louise on opening weekend, when there’s no base to speak of and the only run open is Wiwaxy, but the resort looks like a ghost town in April and May when the base is over 200 cm and the entire mountain is open. It makes no sense. There was so much snow at Fernie this past weekend (427 cm base), the Currie Bowl sign was in danger of being engulfed. Also, you can still ski powder at the top of the mountain and slushie corn snow at the bottom. Get a late start to avoid the morning ice.

There's so much snow, the Currie Bowl sign is slowly getting buried.

3. Warm temperatures

Forget icy toes and hot chocolate breaks every hour. In the spring you can ski in far fewer layers and never get cold.

4. Outdoor apres ski

Need I say more? Sit on an outdoor patio and sip a cold beer or a cocktail, like this Griz Bar Caesar.

What's better than apres ski? Outdoor apres ski.

Come with me on a magic carpet ride

Almost everything I know about magic carpets I learned from the book Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street? In the book, which I’ve almost memorized from reading ad nauseum, Elmo gets sucked up into the air by his kite, plummets into a pond and finally gets deposited on a magic carpet that waggles, glides, takes off and rides him to outerspace. 

In other words, magic carpets are pretty cool. So it’s no surprise the nifty little conveyor belts located in learn-to-ski zones at ski areas are called magic carpets. Basically, they are moving walkways that transport ski-wearing toddlers up to the top of the bunny hill. They’re like magic for Aussie instructors, who no longer have to tote crying three-year-olds up the hill for more parent-imposed ski lessons (“Aww, c’mon Billy, quit whingeing and let’s get a move on!). Ask any little kid what he likes about skiing and he’ll tell you, “I got to ride the magic carpet.” 

It's a kind of magic, for kids.

Since Avery learned to ski by doing laps on the magic carpet at Fernie, we decided it was time Bennett got in on the fun, without skis, of course (don’t want to rush things here). We lodged his feet into his ski boots, popped a helmet on his head and tried to cajole him into walking to the bunny hill. Since ski boots weigh as much as concrete blocks, he refused to budge. Blake carried him halfway there and he grudgingly walked the remainder, only because the magic carpet was in sight. Since no one appeared to be supervising, I hopped on the miracle munchkin mover and rode to the top behind Bennett.

Pretty sure a three-person pileup on the magic carpet is frowned upon.

At the top there was a worker sitting on a bench whose job, I gathered, is to make sure no little kids fall off the conveyor belt or get sucked under when they reach the top. He was also in close proximity to a red emergency stop button, just in case there is a kid pileup or some other magic carpet hazard (hard to imagine at a velocity of about three clicks per hour. Yes, it’s as slow as the airport ones).

Look ma, no hands!

Bennett rode up the magic carpet about four times before turning to me and saying, “I want to ride magic carpet, Mommy.” “We’re on the magic carpet honey. Isn’t this fun?” “No, that one,” he said, pointing quite clearly to the three-person chairlift next to the bunny hill. Even Bennett knew he had a way better chance of getting to outerspace on a chairlft.

Fernie fun for the whole family

We just got back from our annual New Year’s family ski trip to Fernie, B.C. The snow wasn’t great this year but that didn’t stop us from making some turns.

A quick rest before the epic cruiser Falling Star.
Avery has now been skiing for three years, so she’s good enough to ski with us on greens and most blue runs. We enrolled her in two half day lessons through the Fernie Alpine Resort Telus Learn to Ski Camp. During the lesson she worked on her turns, tucking for speed on cat-tracks, and skating to propel herself forward on flat spots.

Avery joined her friend Alex for a ski lesson.

During the lesson Blake and I hunted for powder stashes in Currie, Lizard and Cedar bowls. It was slim pickings but we enjoyed the child-free time and beautiful sunny Fernie day with mountain views in every direction. After Avery’s ski lesson we ate lunch at Big Bang Bagels in the Snow Creek Lodge and treated Avery to a hot chocolate. Poor Bennett. No skiing for him this trip. He played at the Fernie Resort Kids Daycare and enjoyed a “snow hike” with me one day.

A walk along the Elk River is a lovely way to spend a winter morning in Fernie, B.C.

We were so busy eating mountains of food with friends at our condo, there was no time to visit our fave Fernie restaurants, like Yamagoya sushi and The Curry Bowl. Next time. Also, the new Polar Peak chair isn’t up and running yet but should be by mid-January, just in time for a return ski trip!

Here I am in Currie Bowl, with the new Polar Peak chair behind me. It's scheduled to open Jan. 14th.


The family ski holiday

We are a skiing family. Rephrase: my husband and I love to ski, and are therefore making our children learn the sport. Our daughter likes it:

Avery and I tackle a nice green cruiser at Sunshine Village.

Our son? Not quite ready to embrace slick planks on slippery snow. Maybe next year. At least he likes the gondola:

A cry-free moment during the family ski trip.

Our early forays as a skiing family rated high on hassle and low on satisfaction. On one incredibly long, New Year’s Eve afternoon drive to Fernie, hubby and I contemplated opening the 12-pack of Heineken to help us cope with the crying and whining (and the blaring Barney DVD) coming from the back seat. On another trip, to Sunshine Village, we almost left after one night on the mountain because our son woke up hourly throughout the night and cried inconsolably when we dropped him off at the on-hill daycare. I wrote about the experience, good and bad, for the Calgary Herald

Yes, it takes dedication, sweat and many, many tears to make the family ski trip a reality, especially during the early years. In this humorous New York Times Travel story, writer David Carr outlines the numerous obstacles: the gear, the drive, the painful learning curve when young children try new things. He also points out the main benefits: the unbeatable feeling of flying down a mountain on skis and watching your kids do the same with huge smiles. Skiing with kids is a thrill.

There’s also the bonding that takes place over hot chocolate in the day lodge to warm up frozen fingers, and the anticipation of taking off the ski boots and stepping into a hot tub at the end of the day. And of course, there’s the apres ski to ease the pain of sore muscles and the guilt over dumping the bawling son at daycare — and to forget that tomorrow brings a three-hour drive back home.

A bit of apres-ski, Fernie-style.

 We’re already planning a couple of this year’s ski trips, to Fernie over New Year’s and to Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park a week later. Wish us luck, patience, success on the slopes and a happy apres ski. We’ll need it, and a really, really long Barney DVD for both drives.