Fernie: The Legend Is Real
As I drove through a seemingly endless thick fog layer on Hwy 3 I reminisced my many powder days in Fernie and wished for good fortune on my current adventure. These memories helped justify driving past the many ski operations between the Coast and Fernie. They included the all-mighty Whistler, the interiors many ski hills and the Powder Highway’s mega collection of powder options. Being ensured powder is always a gamble however I knew that Fernie would be the most reliable choice, as always.
My powder adventures in Fernie began in the early 90’s at Fernie Snow Valley and Island Lake Lodge, the local snow-cat operation. I skied the many powder bowls on my “210’s” and immensely enjoyed the terrain. In those years powder was not a commodity, it was plentiful and ironically, most vacationers wanted groomed corduroy. The skiing public had not experienced the pleasure of powder; it could be painful on long skinny skis. In was during the 90’s that the invention of fat skis make powder skiing enjoyable for all. There also was the invention and proliferation of snowboards that were created specifically for surfing POW. As if overnight, everyone started playing in the powder.
Fast track to global warming or whatever is affecting our snow quantity, coupled with the masses looking for that floaty powder turn; powder had become the skier’s commodity. Fancy lifts and big vertical were available everywhere however powder had become the new sought-after. That was when Fernie became a whispered name, a secret among friends, and a destination for core powder riders. In those years Fernie didn’t attract many shoppers or foodies other than the spouses of the true powder seekers.
Fernie’s ski history changed shortly after being discovered by powder seekers. Locally owned Fernie Snow Valley was purchased by a resort tycoon from Calgary and soon renamed Fernie Alpine Resort. Three new bowls were opened with two new lifts and condo’s shot up everywhere. Fernie locals were concerned that their powder days were numbered. Skier traffic increased but fortunately the new lifts spread it over more terrain and preserved the wilderness powder experience.
The powder that made Fernie this haven is produced by storm systems that develop in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Northern Oregon. The predominant Southwesterly flow chugs across the near desert like terrain of central Washington and Idaho before slamming into the Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies. A lack of significant mountain ranges between Fernie and the coast ensures that the storm arrives with a full payload of dry powder. Once the system reaches Fernie it seems to churn like a great spinning vortex dumping powder throughout the entire area. Storm systems can come overnight and in the past, have dropped as much as 100 centimetres before morning. A good storm cycle grinds for up to four continuous days before dissipating, usually to be followed by sunshine and then the next cycle.
After midnight I pulled into Fernie’s Park Place Lodge, a locally owned boutique hotel in the heart of the town, and had a good nights sleep. The sound of pro-patrollers launching avalanche bombs was a great way to begin my day. In my many years of skiing Fernie I know many skiers and with a few phone calls I had a group of locals to ski with, and that we did.
Run after run of untracked powder was awaiting us–steep lines in open bowls and through perfectly spaced trees. Lizard Bowl, Easter Bowl, Curry Bowl, Cedar Bowl, and Fish Bowl filled our days, and day after day the great skiing continued. Fernie has the goods, time and time again; the legend is real. I look forward to my next powder trip to Fernie!