Everybody has a favorite ski-vacation location. For me, it has to be Fernie, British Columbia. I first came here in 1996, when the mountain had almost as many t-bars as chairlifts. I came for Fernie's legendary powder. I keep coming back because of the charisma this combination recreation and coal-mining town has created. Seventeen coal trains a day make their way through Fernie, in the east Kootenay's in southeastern BC, to the coast. The trains whistle an audible reminder of Fernie's past while you ply the powder in the bowls of the ski hill. The massive quantities of fluffy snow is the resource much of Fernie's present and future is built around. And built they have. The growth in the number of condo's and ski homes has been exponential in the last 12 years. That has a way of changing a town. But this is what I love most about Fernie: the town has retained it's own friendly, western small town identity even while it's seen tremendous growth.
Here's a picture of the provincial courthouse. It's a beautiful turn of the century structure. This picture doesn't do it justice (hey I was in hurry!), and it's even more beautiful when you see it surrounded by huge piles of snow.
Update! I snapped this daylight shot below of the courthouse on the way out of town. Hopefully this gives a little better idea of why I think it's so cool.
Simply put, this is one of the friendliest town's I've ever visited. But there's a charm here that goes beyond small-town friendly.
Downtown Fernie with the ski area's Lizard Bowl in the background.
You can't slide off a chair-lift or step into one of the growing number of great restaurants in town without hearing an Australian or New Zealand accent. Fernie is hugely popular with skiers from down-under. Part of it is because it's easy for fellow common-wealthers to work in Canada. But for this American ear, it adds an international quality to a visit to Fernie that's just fun and interesting.
The Fernie restaurant scene has seen some much-needed additions over the last few years, including Currie Bowl for thai food and an expansive beer list, Yamagoya's for great sushi and The Brick for drinks and solid and creative pub fare.
In spite of the growth, some good some questionable as is usually the case with a developing town, the common denominater here is still the powder.
The ski area is basically a series of bowls that all feed back to two base areas.
I'm cutting some telemark turns in the Fernie powder. The pictures don't show my smile.
The backdrop of the Lizard Range can be distracting from the task at foot.
There's a reason this is called Snow Valley. It's only 40 miles north of Montana so it reaps the snowy benefits of winter storms that often traverse inland south of the border. But it's also only 40 miles west of the Continental Divide, which acts as a barrier to the Arctic air-masses the Canadian Prairies are famous for. The boundary between the cold Arctic air and moisture laden Pacific air can be a very efficient snow-producer. Lisa poses for a picture from Siberia Bowl at Fernie Alpine Resort, high above the town of Fernie.
The town is about 3 miles from Fernie Alpine Resort. You'll still find skiers and boarders hitching rides to the ski hill every morning. People here aren't afraid to give a fellow rider a lift to the lifts.
Downsides? If you're looking for a big apre-ski scene, this may not be your town. Sure, there are a few hot-spot watering holes, but you're nearly as likely to be rubbing elbows at the bar with a coal-miner as you are with a powder-hound. Although in Fernie they're often the same guy. And yes, this is Canada, so hockey rules. One of the most fun things to do on a winter night in Fernie is catch one of the games of the local junior hockey team, the Fernie Ghost-Riders. The team is named after the shadowy image that appears on the face of one of the local mountains every sunny afternoon. The "Ghost-Rider" is as much a part of Fernie's history as fluffy snow and coal. But that's the subject of a future blog, the next time I'm back in my favorite ski-town.
KGW News Channel 8
What's your favorite ski location? Post a comment, I'd love to hear about it!