Most North American skiers would like to forget the winter of 2012. The folks at Fernie never will. A mid-January storm dropped five feet in 30 hours; another in late February brought 35 inches in one night. When they finally—and sadly—shuttered the lifts in April, the tally was 480 inches for the year. Compared to snow totals across the continent, those numbers were extraordinary. But compared to Fernie’s own track record, the stats were typical. The easternmost resort on Canada’s famed Powder Highway averages 468 inches annually, most of that from Pacific-born storms that wring out their moisture over the Coast Range, Monashees, and Selkirks before depositing dry fluff on the Kootenays. Snowfall trends alone are enough to make you wonder how this place has flown under the radar for so long. It’s even more puzzling when you get a glimpse of the terrain.
Five high-alpine bowls, crowned by an extreme-comp-worthy cliff band, empty into tightly packed cedar glades and challenging intermediate trails. Originally built as a diversion for coal miners, the ski hill remains the heart of the Fernie community, with a picturesque vintage mining town at its feet. “People say to me all the time, ‘You must have seen so many changes here,’” says Robin Siggers, a 35-year local and mountain operations manager. “Well, not so much. Change here happens at a very controlled pace.”
Photo: Henry Georgi
That’s not to say it isn’t getting better with time. Last season, the resort installed a new high-speed quad to the top of 7,000-foot Polar Peak. Were you to look straight down on it from above, Polar Peak would resemble a Phillips-head screwdriver with steep chutes spilling off in four directions. The new lift eases access to extreme terrain previously reachable only via a long, steep hike up the Currie Headwall. Anywhere else, that kind of expansion would elicit harsh criticism and resistance from selfish locals and long-timers. “There was no resistance,” says Andy Cohen, Fernie’s general manager. Around the mountain and in town, you get a sense that Fernie’s 5,000 residents truly embrace one another and welcome guests. “People want to share the raw experience here. It’s not about ‘Ah, everyone’s going to poach my lines,’ it’s about ‘Wow, I get to share this great place with everyone.’”
SLEEP » The Lizard Creek Lodge is 47 steps from the chairlift. Yes, we counted. The ski-in, ski-out condo-hotel has a restaurant, spa, and fitness center. lizardcreek.com
EAT » Fernie is the last place you’d expect to find a chic and ultramodern tapas restaurant like Picnic Restaurant & Social. Order the Full Basket, an assortment of artisanal cheeses, roasted olives, inventive dips, preserves, and charcuterie perfect for—what else?—sharing.
DRINK » Naked table sliding—in which participants body-surf a 25-foot-long, beer-lubed community table—is an après tradition at the legendary Griz Bar.