In our ongoing effort to jam as much skiing as humanly possible into our Canadian skiing odyssey, we jumped in the car and started driving as soon as we finished skiing at Sunshine Village. Across the Continental Divide and south for four hours, we streaked to the skiing hamlet of Fernie, British Columbia, for our last two days of skiing. When a pre-dawn call came in inviting us to the mountain for first tracks and we stepped outside to a foot of fresh snow blanketing the car, we lifted our heads to the snow-filled heavens and mouthed a heartfelt “thank you” to the skiing gods.
While riding up the Boomerang Triple Chair that morning, Robin Siggers, Fernie’s operations manager, told us the mountain currently had a four-meter base, the deepest in the Rockies. Pointing to the consistently steep terrain in every direction, he said, “We’re the Alta of the north.”
As we talked, a pair of local skiers charged with beauty and abandon down the untracked powder beneath our chair. When they let out loud “whoop!” cries, Ben and I merrily called back. With one dreamy run already under our belts, we were feeling the powder euphoria.
“No stopping for photos on a powder day!” Siggers yelled, when Matt Mosteller of Resorts of the Canadian Rockies mentioned taking some shots. Then Siggers hastily led us on a traverse through mercilessly puking snow, while repeating “steep and deep, steep and deep” like a mantra. As we reached the outer reaches of Curry Bowl, the farthest flung of Fernie’s five bowls, Siggers said it was about to be closed for the day because of avalanche danger from the rapidly accumulating snow. This was our one chance. Kicking off little sluff slides along the way, we plunged through face shot after face shot.
“I think I love Fernie,” Ben said at the bottom.
We spent the rest of the day skiing with Shawn Clarke, who leads steep-and-deep camps for the resort. He showed us run after run through Fernie’s perfectly spaced trees, where you can keep charging and charging and, somehow, they never get too tight. Combined with the heavenly snow and the soft light filtering through cedars, it made for an almost religious experience.
What we did not ski was Fernie’s new Polar Peak lift, which opened on January 14 and carries skiers to its namesake summit. It gives the resort 3,550 feet of vertical drop and serves up access to a series of 40-degree, 1,000-foot, double-black alpine chutes. The storm kept it closed that day, as it had been for much of the season since its opening. As Clarke explained, “Since the lift went in, it’s basically been snowing nonstop.” A ski area could have worse problems.
We were bummed to miss the new terrain, but Clarke assuaged our disappointment by saying, “When it’s closed, you don’t want to be up there anyway.” As the winds howled and snow shredded the sky, we knew he was right.
It also didn’t hurt that we soon hooked up with Fernie ski patrollers Matt Trousdale and Mike Tomge for a couple runs into some of Fernie’s exquisite hidden chutes. Both Lone Fir and Cobra Rock delivered tight, aesthetic expert lines through classic British Columbia ski terrain—all big trees, deep snow, and soaring rock faces. They were perfect ways to wrap up our most powder-choked day of the trip so far. Not that our day was over.
Fernie was in the midst of an ongoing celebration for the resort’s 50th anniversary, and somehow I’d let Mosteller talk me into participating in a panel discussion about the future of ski media. After a week straight of hard-charging powder debauchery, I was cooked, so I set a personal goal for the talk of 50-percent coherency. After knocking the snow out of my ears and rushing over to the festivities in Fernie’s Victorian downtown, I managed to ramble for a while about print not being dead and high-quality content being hard to find online (this blog being a glittering exception, natch). A few people clapped, so I think it might have even been intelligible. Or they were just being polite. Hard to say. They were Canadians after all—what were they going to do, throw fruit at me?
Our last day of skiing was with Fernie Wilderness Adventures, a backwoods cat skiing operation 15 minutes outside of Fernie. The relaxed environment was perfect for our last day. We may have been tired, but the powder was so good, so light and effortless, that we could have skied it all day. So we did. We floated down the mountainsides for ten pillowy runs through forest and glade and a parade of high-fives. After the hairball terrain we’d been skiing for the past week, the mellow, snow-smothered pitches were perfect. The sun even made an appearance for the first time in B.C. all trip.
This leisurely day of powder gluttony was the ideal denouement for the Great Canadian Ski Road Trip of 2012. For the last eight days we’d feasted on powder, big mountains, even bigger plates of poutine, more powder, hordes of clingy Japanese women, still more powder, and some of the best ski terrain in the world. You couldn’t ask for a better road trip.
“We have to do this exact same trip again next year,” Ben said emphatically as we drove back to the U.S.
It was impossible to argue with the brilliance of this plan. We now had friends on every mountain, and we knew the best pitches and the best breakfast burrito joints. There was even a sense of unfinished business at each resort, where due to weather or avalanche danger or just lack of time we’d missed a variety of deeply tantalizing terrain. But we wouldn’t let that haunt us. No!
We’d be back soon enough, better than ever, for the Great Canadian Ski Road Trip of 2013.
Fernie’s two-day Steep and Deep camps are an excellent way to learn the finer crannies of the mountain and brush up on your skills. The Red Tree Lodge on Fernie’s main strip is a comfortable, economical choice for traveling skiers, with a hot tub and ski tuning room.
Fernie Wilderness Adventures is the only operator in the region to offer reservable single-day cat skiing. Their non-terrifying terrain is perfect for intermediates and skiers who value a rustic, relaxed experienced. Their remote lodge features a spring-fed water supply and a wood-fired hot tub.