“ Address: 5339 Fernie Ski Hill Road / RR 6 Fernie / British Columbia / V0B 1M6 / Canada „
A very cool laid back town, fantastic friendly locals with an influx of "dudes" from all over.
Where is it: Approx 3 hours drive South of Calgary in British Columbia in the Canadian Rockies. It is an easy drive and straightforward to find. Just before Fernie, you pass Sparwood, where you can see "Titan" the biggest truck in the world! Not sure if it still is the biggest, but it is huge, you can see if from the road, but worth a stop to appreciate the size and great for kids.
This is primarily a review on Fernie as a ski town but it is also great to visit in Summer, for golfing, fishing, hillwalking and mountain biking. There are probably more, but these are the activities that I am aware of.
It is mainly serviced by chair lifts, there are no gondolas and none of the chairs have the bubble style cover, so it can be very cold on the chairs, but the plus point is that if you are not keen on pomas or t-bars, then it is a great resort in this sense (snowboarders will appreciate it being in the main chairlifts). From what I recall, unless there has been any changes since ski season 2007 there is one t-bar (the haul back) and one poma (face lift). Both of these you would hardly need to use on your holiday, and can be completely avoided without missing out on too much.
The ski hill is outside of Fernie town, approx 3 miles away. There is a ski bus that services the town (old American style school buses painted purple) and there is plenty of free parking to take your own car. On the weekends when it is busy, and you may have to park in one of the lower car parks, then there is a complimentary horse and cart that shuttles you back and forth, great for kids (and big kids!). You can buy a card for the ski bus for a number of journeys and the driver just punches a hole each day you use it. The ski bus is a fairly cheap efficient way to get to & from the hill. I've been in other resorts that I've hated having to get a ski bus as they can take ages, but I've never had a problem with the Fernie one, and some of the drivers can be fun.
The mountain itself is made up of 5 bowls, Timber, Currie, Lizard, Cedar and Fish bowls and they have something for everyone. There are plenty of gentle slopes for beginners, runs (or trails as they are called in the US and Canada) that will challenge the intermediate and the advanced and off piste and backcountry for the experts. There is also a Terrain Park. (Off the Falling Star trail). Boarders also love Fernie, it's a fantastic resort for snowboarding.
The beginners in our party enjoy the green slopes off of the Deer and Elk chairs. They are very wide, quiet and all lead back to the base so you can't get lost. My first visit I enjoyed coming off the Deer chair, traversing along the deer trail and choosing a different run to go down each time, all in the knowledge that I wasn't going to be faced with any unexpected challenges. Another choice is off the Elk chair and take the right and down the 46 (Elk) , this is a bit busier trail, part of the way down, take the left off to the 91 (Holiday) and you have a quiet run that takes you out through some of the lovely lodges and under a bridge - and straight back to the Elk chair - fun when you are a beginner. Once beginners have built up a bit of confidence and stamina, they can try the Falling Star, an easy blue trail number 1. Take the Timber Express, then ski down choosing trail 100 (100%) then take 14 (Highline) down to the White Pass Chair. Take the White Pass Chair, come off to the left and follow no 1 (Falling Star) from the top to the bottom of the mountain! Exhilarating!
For intermediates, Lizard Bowl has lots of blue runs (NB that Canada doesn't have reds, just green, blue, black therefore I would say the blues are a mixture of blue and red level) that will challenge you. Off the Great Bear Express you can choose either green or blue to take you back to the base, so it means that all of your party can use the chair and then meet again at the bottom. One of our favourite runs is the Bear. Timber Bowl also has some challenging blues and no 11 (Deep Sea) is a short easy black for those who want an introduction to blacks.
For advanced, you won't be disappointed, in fact you will love it, there is loads to keep you occupied and more, but I won't go into depth about the runs, as at this level you will have the confidence and knowledge to find out for yourself, whereas, I feel beginners like to have an idea of what to expect. Plus and more to the point, I'm not that advanced myself. Fernie is known as steep and deep and I have only tried a couple of blacks there, as a lot are too steep for me.
For those who want some fun, and what we see a lot of the kids doing, there are lots of trails through the trees at the lower slopes, with some small jumps out of them. Good fun if you can keep your nerve as usually no room to turn! One trail that is popular is Power Trip, but I have heard locals call it Parent Trap as all their kids want to ski it or maybe they want to see their parents falling on the little jumps!
There is a great free guide service, it is mainly Fernie locals who have since retired and they meet at the base area twice a day (morning and afternoon). You just turn up and they split you into groups according to ability and they then take you out to discover the mountain at your pace. I've never came across a free service like this in Europe. We did it on our 1st trip, and our guide is now a very close friend.
A negative point for me is that there is not much dining on the actual mountain, it is mainly all at the base. On the mountain there are two. One café at the top of the Timber Express, sells food and is licensed, but I haven't eaten there as yet, it only opened a couple of years back, and then there is the Bears Den that sells the likes of soup, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soft drinks, burgers and hotdogs. It is not fully enclosed, so can be cold, but there is also a warming hut next to it and in here you can also eat packed lunches or just get a heat. At the base there are various choices for eating. We frequent Kelseys a lot, the usual American fayre. The Griz is the main choice for après ski. Lizard Creek Lodge offers more upmarket dining and there is also the café for quick cheap eats and where the locals all seem to hang. There are a few other places and a coffee shop.
Fernie town itself is charming and has lots of restaurants and bars. Some of my favourites are The Pub Bar & Grill, Mojo Risin, Rip'n Richards, The Old Elevator, The Curry Bowl, there is plenty choice for everyone. It has the usual Canadian railway running through it where you will regularly see and hear the long freight trains. There are various hotels varying in price and quality, I have only stayed in the Best Western Fernie Mountain Lodge which is in Fernie town, as we have our own condo, and have also stayed at the B&B of our original mountain guide, but sadly they have now sold up. The accommodation comprises of on & off mountain, hostels, hotels, condos, B&B's, self catering, so again there will be something for everyone's pocket & preference.
As Fernie is in BC, children are not allowed in bars, (just over the border in Alberta they are) and only till a certain time in those that are serving food. This is what we are used to in the UK, but we did find it a hindrance when we were there with friends who had children, as we were limited to where we could go and by what time, as a lot of the eating places are bars as well. We were more used to the European way of life when on a ski holiday.
No winter visit to Fernie is complete without a visit to see the local hockey team, The Ghostriders. This is the junior league and they play with a passion. These guys are hoping to hit the big time and go pro, so they go all out in these games. Fernie is passionate about its hockey team and it is a great experience and one not to be missed, especially if they are playing one of the other nearby towns, then it is very competative. At the ice rink you can purchase hot dogs, burgers, chips, beers, alcopops (I think) and soft drinks. It is not an expensive night and is good fun.
Fernie has a couple of great legends.
The Griz - very briefly The Griz is a child who was born in a bears den. When a man he was seen by some backcountry skiers shoot his musket into the sky causing the snow to fall. They believe this is why Fernie has some fabulous snow fall and powder snow. Every year locals celebrate Griz Day where they honour the Griz, in the hope that the Griz will reward them with loads of snow. Griz day is good fun, our trip usually co-incides with it, and the Griz is very much part of Fernie, not a legend that is disappearing.
The Ghostrider - Actually Mt Hosmer, around dusk in the summer, if you look at Mt Hosmer there is a shadow cast that looks like a rider on horseback. The story goes that William Fernie was seeing an Indian Princess to find out what the black stone she had in her necklace came from. Once he found out it was coal and realised the fortune to be had, he stopped seeing the Princess. The shadow is meant to be that of the Indian Chief riding away. The Indians medicine woman then put a curse on Fernie, that it would be destroyed by fire and water. There was a fire in Fernie that destroyed the town, then there was a flood and then a mining disaster. In 1964 there was actually a ceremony where an Indian Chief and the Mayor of Fernie smoked a peace pipe to lift the curse.
Day visits are possible to Kimberley ski resort and over the US border into Montana where you can visit a ski resort there, I think it is Big Sky. If going to Montana you will need your passport and some US dollars for the border crossing. I think is is $10 each, but check before you go.
I love Fernie so much I bought a place there! The locals and others who have either moved there or are doing a season are all so friendly, it has got a great buzz about it, and I haven't heard anyone being really negative about Fernie. You can buy t shirts there that I think sums it up " Fernie, a little drinking town with a big ski problem!"
One of the top ten ski resorts in North America. The Rockies offer some of the best skiing conditions in BC.