Serious snowsports fans should skip the big Canadian resorts and head to Fernie in British Columbia for more snow, fewer people and a unique town - and a mountain that sorts the men from the boys
Fernie is really not for fair-weather skiers – if you like to ski for an hour a day in the sunshine, then retire for an afternoon of tea and cakes, you won’t like it here. If, however, your idea of fun is lots of snow and steep, feature-filled slopes, you’ve found snow nirvana.
With an impressive snow record averaging 28ft a season, powder days are par for the course in this little pocket of the Canadian Rockies. There have been a couple of duff seasons, but put in a little prayer to the Griz (Fernie’s very own snow god) and maybe he’ll grant you some of the deep powder days that we were lucky enough to experience.
The mountain itself looks deceptively small – with only nine lifts, you’d be forgiven for thinking you could cover it all in a day. But even after three months of daily snowboarding in Fernie’s five bowls, there was still much to discover.
Beginners will be content on the Deer Chair, where you can reach several varied but not too extreme green slopes. But be warned: a green run in Fernie is significantly steeper than its counterpart in Europe, where you can pretty much guarantee that green actually means flat.
Once you're ready for a taste of the steeper stuff, head up the Elk Chair and then the Bear lift. The Bear run is best earlier in the day, as despite being wide it's a high traffic run and can get more moguls than is ideal for a snowboarder.
Mastered Bear? Then head for the bowls - Curry Bowl is heaven on a powder day and Lizard Bowl has natural hits aplenty. There's a fair bit of traversing required to get to the best spots, but it's always worth it!
A slope to yourself
Its location four hours from the nearest major airport (Calgary) means Fernie doesn’t suffer from crowds – visit on the right day and you could make your way from top to bottom without seeing another soul bar your lift attendant. To escape crowds, visit on a weekday and make your way to Cedar Bowl - always quieter than the others as the only way out is a drag lift.
Where to stay
Unlike your average Euro resort, in Fernie, the mountain and the town are three frustrating miles apart. So where you stay here depends on your priorities and your budget. There are only really three locations: in town (where you’re best placed for food and nightlife); on the mountain (where you can lie in later and still get first tracks); and right in the middle of the two (which is best for those who have their own transport).
On the mountain, Lizard Creek Lodge is my first choice; it’s usually the most expensive on-hill option, but the luxury ski-in, ski-out suites include self-catering facilities so you can save money on eating out. Wolf's Den provides more basic mountain accommodation, still only a few steps from the lift but with much more money left in the kitty.
In town, Park Place Lodge is central and very comfortable, while Best Western Fernie Mountain Lodge is a 10-minute walk from town but conveniently located right next door to Boston Pizza for post-slope munchies. Those staying in town will need to get the ski bus to the resort - happily, the bus stops right outside both these hotels. It also stops at the Fernie Stanford Resort, where the lodges are fully kitted out with hot tub, decking, BBQ and a full-size dining table, but the location 1.5 miles from both the town and the mountain makes getting to either a little bit of mission without a car.
Where to eat and drink
As most of the lodging in Fernie is room only, you’ll be getting quite familiar with the town’s eateries. Top choices are The Curry Bowl on 7th Avenue (named after the bowl of the same name on the mountain), which serves up lovely hot Thai curries, and the Edge of the World skate park/snowboard shop - it may seem an odd location for a Mexican, but you can find cheap and tasty burritos at the interconnected El Guapo Mexican Diner. If all else fails, there’s always ice cream sundae to be had at Dairy Queen.
For a cheap bite to eat on the mountain, head back down to the day lodge, where you can pick up delicious hot chocolates for two bucks and get a hot plate of Canadian favourite, poutine (chips, cheese and gravy).
Fernie isn’t really a party town, but there are plenty of other night-time activities. The local swimming pool - Fernie Aquatic Center - may seem an unlikely destination, but with a 20-person hot tub, a rope swing, in-water basketball court and no pesky list of rules to speak of, it’s a whole lot more fun than you’d imagine.
The town’s ice hockey team, the Ghostriders, is also a spectacle not to be missed. They might only be a youth team, but Fernie residents take it very seriously and the punch-ups are just as explosive as you’d expect from fully-grown hockey players.
Give Fernie a try instead of Banff or Whistler, and you'll be rewarded with friendly faces, an awesome mountain and a much more authentic Canadian experience than you'll find at a huge resort.