Passing Through: Fernie

Steeps, snow, and RV parking, Fernie shows its roots

PHOTO: Max Lowe

At Fernie Alpine Resort, the name of the game is regression. Not in a bad way, of course. This small but iconic skiers’ mountain is tucked into the southeastern corner of British Columbia near the Montana border, and in recent years has started to slide back into the same authentic Kootenay skiing Mecca that originally attracted the limelight. In 1996, the rustic mountain was bought up in a sweep by a Canadian ski resort conglomerate. In a familiar move for the era, the T-bars were torn up, high-speed quads were installed, and logging operations commenced. The result was a rapidly expanded ski resort that brought unprecedented crowds. And then—in the wake of new resort expansions in Golden and Revelstoke—it all went away.

The Fernie of today is enjoying a return to “back in the day.” The crowds have mostly dispersed in a diplomatic fashion to populate the glut of high-quality resorts spread across the Kootenays and Rockies, leaving a more reasonable amount of people on her steep, snowy, and sometimes burly alpine bowls and ridges. Fernie still has the terrain to keep serious skiers on their edges, but it no longer has the ridiculous lift lines.

The resort itself consists of six bowls cascading from alpine into steep tree skiing. The upper slopes of Fernie are littered with chutes, cliffs, and steep terrain that will keep expert shredders not only happy, but infinitely challenged. Currie, Lizard, and Cedar Bowls are the go-to spots for lapping up the deep snow this mountain is famous for. The ridge separating Currie and Lizard offers a lifetime of powder exploration for those who don’t mind working for their solo stashes. Cedar offers straight up snorkel-style powder laps. Siberia Bowl may require a long traverse out but that means it leaves some seriously underlooked powder turns on its flanks. A few years back, a chairlift to the high point of Polar Peak was installed. If the weather is cooperating, it’s worth a trip if only for the view. From here, some of the gnarliest out-of-bounds, after-hours lines are accessed off the Lizard headwall.

The same powder day rules for the rest of the ski world apply here: get up early, start with the low-hanging fruit, then beat everyone else to the outlying ridge stashes. The creative ones who get after it will be able to find fresh here days after a storm. The rest are probably just lazy.

When it comes to nightlife, skiers don’t come to the Kootenays for nightclubs. They come for pubs. Thankfully, Fernie has casual drinking establishments from mountaintop to main street. On mountain, The Lost Boys Café is sitting at the top of the Timber Express chair, serving shots, pints, and boozy coffee drinks to celebrate the unique brand of ultralight and deep Rockies powder Fernie is known for. Once the day is done, The Griz Bar helps skiers power up or down in one of the Kootenays last authentic ski bars, complete with all-wooden interior decorating scheme, live music, and beer-soaked ambiance. The nearby Rusty Edge is a new après alternative, quickly sliding into first place for locals’ choice after opening this past season. After that, it’s into town for upscale pub fare at The Brickhouse, sushi at Yamagoya, or straight up classic beer-and-hamburger fueled partying at The Northern Bar, or The Royal Hotel.

There are few fancy hotels of note in Fernie but plenty of standard options. Search online for ratings and room rates…there are some dodgy spots. Staying on-mountain is better done in the aforementioned RV or in The Lizard Creek Lodge (where Hot Tub Time Machine was filmed). Be forewarned…it gets mighty quiet at the ski hill after dark.