When I looked at my Facebook timeline a while ago I saw a post of Fernie local Ross Janzen: "Hey world I am calling the 70cm rule. If it snows 70cm in town life stops and everyone goes mono skiing. right meow." We've met the legendary Ross at a party in the Griz bar in Fernie Alpine Resort a few years ago, after riding some deep powder. Within no time we drank Jägermeister and the rest is history. At least a part of it, because some of that history is still there I guess. It's not only on the mountain in Fernie where they rip and charge hard.
It is not that Fernie is known as an après-ski paradise. Although it's not hard to have a good time here and that's mainly because of the people living in Fernie. I guess most of the locals who moved here have chosen to stay forever (or until they can't ski anymore, which in most cases will be when they actually pass away) in this town in the Elk Valley, which is about 3.5 hours from Calgary. And that brings a special vibe to the town, because there is a very good mixture between tourists, seasonal workers and locals.
Susan is one of those locals. After some wandering she ended up in Fernie a long ago and she never left. She's running Canadian Powder Tours since 1998. We can call her lovely chalet (obviously including outdoor hottub) home for a couple of nights. It also includes fantastic food (breakfast and dinner), because apart from the fact that Susan is a kick-ass skier, she is also a great cook, serving organic and wholesome meals. She guides her guests to the best powder stashes and hidden spots in the resort, takes them catskiing, organizes touring adventures deep in the backcountry and offers her guests the full Canadian Rockies experience. But above all her chalet feels like a home far away from home the moment we arrived. That applies not only to the chalet of Canadian Powder Tours, but to all of Fernie.
It's the people that make Fernie special. In our opinion, it's the perfect mix between a well-developed ski resort and a mountain town that still hasn't been taken over by commerce (hello Whistler). The main street is historic (for Canadian standards) and you'll find a lot of nice shops, bars and restaurants over there. One cup of coffee at Freshies often ends up in a caffeine overdose, simply because you stick around too long. Stories from the locals, great conversations and advice where to go keep you inside. Many residents work in the nearby mines and the schedule of four days on, three days off allows them to ride a lot of powder.
Fernie Alpine Resort is located just a few kilometers outside of Fernie itself. The ski area is compact but very varied. The resort has five bowls with a lot of runs, varying from steep and deep to tree runs, great couloirs, open powder fields and perfectly groomed runs on the lower parts of the mountain. Polar Peak is the highest peak in Fernie. There's a chair bringing skiers and boarders to the top nowadays, but it used to be the favorite place in Fernie to set a bootpack. On Polar Peak start the runs that can easily challenge the steepest slopes in the Alps, like the Tunnel in Alpe d'Huez or the Mûr Chavanette in the Portes du Soleil.
Fernie benefits from a microclimate and thanks to that it gets a lot of snow during the winter. If there's 30 cm of snow in the forecast it could easily end up in 70 cm of snow coming down. All thanks to the Griz, the local snow god. On such days, the whole town is in motion. Shops close in the morning and everybody can be found in the ski area riding powder. It is the ultimate proof that Fernie is a true ski town. The only downside is that the most popular lines get tracked pretty fast, but you definitely don't have to experience the same powder panic as you can have in Revelstoke or Whistler. Everybody is riding powder in Fernie. You might see the extremely talented Dylan Siggers with his Burrrlapz crew on the hill, but the locals that are a bit older (some of them retired) are shredding on a powder day. Some of them end the day on Sky Dive, one of the three iconic runs you can see from the daylodge, which brings them straight into the Griz bar. Fernie is perhaps not as steep as Kicking Horse, not as big as Whistler or not the same direct backcountry access as Revelstoke, but Fernie is just an awesome resort.
Nevertheless, it's not that hard to find some soft snow a couple of days after the dump. Morning Glory Glades for example is a nice mellow treerun and if you take the trouble to hike toward Snake Ridge you can find some fresh snow in the Cedar Bowl. Anyway, like in almost all other resorts in North America: you have to be here when it dumps. And if you're around you'll hit the jackpot. Not only in terms of huge amounts of powder, but also in terms of vibe. The beer (or Jägermeister) at the end of the day in the Griz bar tastes even better when it's shared with all the locals. Our favorite: end a powder day with a game of the Fernie Ghostriders, the local hockey team. Your Canada experience won't get better than that.
And as a bonus, check out the ultimate Fernie Feeling in Ascent To Powder!