Tag Archives: skiing in 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.

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Ode to Currie Bowl

On a powder day at Fernie Alpine Resort, doing laps on White Pass quad is where you want to be. That’s because the top of the chairlift provides access into Currie Bowl, which is — in my opinion — the best of the resort’s five bowls. There are north-facing steeps that hold the snow long after a storm, nice gladed areas for playing chicken with the trees, and open groomers perfect for carving big GS turns.

White Pass chair takes skiers into the clouds, and the powder that awaits in Currie Bowl.

White Pass chair takes skiers into the clouds, and the powder that awaits in Currie Bowl. On Sunday it looked like the inside of a ping-pong ball.

And, in the order of what opens when after new snow falls, Currie usually follows mid-morning behind Timber Bowl and Siberia Bowl. If you can time it to be unloading from White Pass chair at the exact moment ski patrol takes down Currie’s sign line, it will be the best run you ski all day.

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.

This happened to me for the second time on Sunday morning. I was perfectly content skiing by braille (a.k.a. visibility was poor) down Pillow Talk in Timber Bowl, finding powder stashes in open areas that the white-out averse had missed in their pursuit of trees for contrast. But when another lap brought me back to the top of White Pass and I saw the crowd gathered, I knew Currie’s terrain was about to get tracked up. No sooner had I exited the lift than the patrolman gave the thumbs up and it was a Chinese downhill into the pow, with me following a line of skiers so I could see where I was going. As soon as I hit Currie Glades, with trees for reference, I split from the pack and carved lovely arcs into the boot-deep snow, whooping with glee and not stopping until I was half way down.

Skiers enjoy first tracks down Currie Bowl on Sun., Jan. 18.

Skiers enjoy first tracks down Currie Bowl on Sun., Jan. 18, 2015.

After that epic run, my day was pretty much done. Thanks for the new snow, Griz!

Catskiing at Island Lake Lodge

How’s this for a powder fantasy — two days of catskiing on virgin slopes at one of B.C.’s premier operations: Island Lake Lodge. This dream became my reality for two days in December on assignment for awesome Canadian travel blog Toque and Canoe. My story will be up on the site soon; in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of what makes Island Lake special.

The Lodge(s)

The snow cats are warm and comfy too: cushy seats, lots of snacks and lively conversation.

The snow cats are cozy too: cushy seats, lots of snacks and lively conversation.

A cluster of timber-frame lodges greets skiers after an evening snow cat ride up a secluded, winding road. The accommodations are anything but rustic —  well-appointed rooms, comfortable beds and gourmet Rocky Mountain cuisine help skiers catch their zzz’s and fuel up for days of shredding the gnar (sorry). The setting is a little slice of Canadiana.

The Views

Spectacular, isn't it? It's like being on top of the world.

Gorgeous, isn’t it? The vistas make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

The Lizard Range of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Fernie, B.C. is spectacular anyway, but Island Lake Lodge boasts a trifecta of limestone peaks that stand out. The Three Bears, pictured above, lord over the range and collect all the white stuff that blows in from the west.

The Pow

Fresh pow: bring it!

Fresh pow! Bring it!!

There’s a reason we’re called powder junkies — ski fresh tracks on a virgin slope like this one and you’ll be hooked too. Bonus: you don’t have to be an expert skier. Island Lake Lodge boasts a range of terrain — from gentler, gladed slopes to open runs with steep pitches — and lots of it: there are a staggering 7,000 acres shared between a maximum of 36 guests. The one thing all the runs have in common is powder.

The Après-ski 

Island Lake Lodge apres-ski

Guided beer drinking is part of the package. And a snow flurry every afternoon. Kidding!

The guides at Island Lake Lodge are fantastic: professional, helpful and attuned to skiers’ needs. For example, they snowmobiled a crate of cold beer up to us so it was waiting at the bottom of our final run on Day 1. Nice!

And to make sure you get a good night’s sleep, there’s a custom skot-ski inside Bear Lodge. The days soon take on an enticing pattern: eat, ski, beer, hot tub, eat, shot ski, sleep. The good news? Being powder junkies, we’ll be back!

Nothing says Canadian pares-ski quite like a Burt Reynolds shot ski!

Nothing says Canadian apres-ski quite like a Burt Reynolds shot ski.