Fernie Alpine Resort, Canada
Fernie Alpine Resort is fast finding a following of adventurous skiers and riders. The ridges, bowls and trees get dumped on with light snow that will keep any powderhound happy.
Perhaps you’ve heard the fervent whispers about Fernie already: You’ll find some of the steepest terrain you’ll ever see in-bounds, and what’s out-of-bounds is free for the taking too. The snow is unbelievable—deep and light and almost magical. The terrain seems unlimited—if you see it, and can get to it, you can ski it. There are no crowds, so you have the mountain practically to yourself. Of course, all this tantalizing lore is shared with the necessary forewarning, “We’re only telling you this because we know you’ll keep it to yourself.”
Well, diehards really have nothing to worry about, because Fernie is not for the faint of heart. While every bowl has some groomed terrain, most terrain is left the way Mother Nature made it—and that’s the way Fernie’s fans want it to be. Fernie has some of the steepest in-bounds terrain you’ll find at any resort in North America. Because of that, there are many in-bound areas prone to avalanches. These areas are well marked, but you should know what to look for. If you suddenly come upon warning signs, pay close attention. Literally, one section can be marked green to go, while just a few hundred feet farther, you’ll find danger signs telling you to steer clear. About 60 professional patrollers, all trained in avalanche safety and explosives, keep Fernie under watchful eye, so make sure to thank them for paying such attention to life-saving details.
When we visited in March, we woke up one morning to powderhounds drooling over the thigh-deep dump. Fortunately we were signed up for the First Tracks program so we snorkled snow—and giggled uncontrollably—for an hour before the rest of the horde hit the slopes. Some friends who stayed longer enjoyed two more days of freshies before dragging their heels back to the East Coast.
Fernie, tucked into the craggy Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies, is several hours from civilization and caters to a casual crowd that comes here for one thing and one thing only: the allure of the mountain. It can easily be lumped in with other resorts known to worship the zen of skiing: Red Mountain, Alta, Snowbird, Crested Butte, Jay Peak. In fact, it is reminiscent of Red Mountain and Rossland, only a bit more grown up. Much of the mountainside village is new and includes lodging, restaurants, apres-ski bars, coffee shops and a grocery store. Fernie, owned by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, has plans for expansion both in the slopeside village and on the mountain. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of room for village expansion, so this resort should stay as intimate and laid-back as it is right now.
The turn-of-the-century coal mining town of Fernie is just three miles away. The main street, 2nd Avenue, is actually parallel to the road you’ll travel on into town. Fernie burned down twice during the early 1900s and when it was rebuilt in 1910 builders were required by code to use brick and stone. The result is a colorful blend of shops, restaurants, clubs and bars.
If you’re driving from Calgary, you’ll see what’s left of the Frank Slide in Alberta—giant limestone boulders litter the area, starting on Turtle Mountain to the left and crossing beyond the line of site to your right. While the Native Americans knew better than to live in the mountain’s slide path, the white settlers learned the hard way when their town was destroyed twice. You’ll also drive through Hosmer, where the hotel and tavern is also City Hall, and the mayor is a dog (a previous mayor was a pig).
Fernie is ripe with legends, including the powder-making Griz, honored with an annual winter carnival, and the curse-bearing Ghostrider, who appears in the shadows of Mount Hosmer. Ask any local, they love to share their history.