Fernie offers some of the best powder skiing in the Rockies with an amazing 30 feet (9 metres) of natural snow each winter blanketing the five alpine bowls nestled in the majestic limestone cliffs of the Lizard range.
Over 100 uncrowded trails and extensive piste grooming are just two of the reasons why Fernie has become so popular in recent years. Fernie also offers extensive backcountry possibilities and much of the mountain is given over to advanced skier bowls and double black diamonds.
Committed safari skiers can make day trips or travel overnight to other ski resorts nearby including Kimberley (1 hour 25 minutes), Big Mountain and Panorama (2 hours), Schweitzer (3 hours), Banff and Red Mountain (4 hours).
There's a shuttle service from Fernie to Kimberley every Thursday, and the Canadian Rockies Connector Service also operates on Saturdays between Fernie, Kimberley, Panorama and Banff Lake Louise Resorts.
Fernie has an extensive beginner area at the base of the mountain and increasingly more difficult terrain on the upper mountain. The vertical drop of 2,812 feet (857 m) makes Fernie suitable for boarders of all levels, and learning to snowboard here is comparatively easy as there isn't too much traversing to be done. The majority of the trails are for intermediate to advanced skiers, with higher altitude powder skiing for experts, for which it is famous.
Waiting lines in Fernie, as at most ski resorts in Canada, are generally non-existent, except during peak periods, and queuing to buy ski lift passes can be avoided by buying them the evening before from Guest Services (open 8:00 am-7:30 pm) or the ticket office. More investment is needed to create lift access to some of the best steep terrain, and to enable the lift system to operate efficiently during and after periods of heavy snowfall, but in spite of the obvious limitations of the lift system there is some great skiing to be had.
Start with the Mini Moose and Mighty Moose lifts, taking the Elk trail to get your legs warmed up. Then take Deer Chair for a choice of green trails either side: Deer and Meadow one way and Silver Fox and Deer to the other, joining on to Bambi and Incline, both of which lead back to the base of the resort. These trails are all wide-open, daily groomed rolling slopes perfect for all ages of beginner skiers/riders. Once you've mastered these, take the Great Bear express quad and ski from top to base along Lizard Traverse or Tower 6 Trail, both long green trails that join up with the lower green trails back to base.
Falling Star, the longest trail at three miles (5 km) is a blue intermediate running from the summit of White Pass quad back to the base of the resort. The blue trails off the Elk chairlift are some of the best warm-up trails; then try the Boomerang triple chair for the easiest access to the fabulous Cedar Bowl terrain. Most of the trails in Lizard and Cedar Bowls are blue. The high-speed Timber Bowl express quad and White Pass quad take you to Falling Star and six other long blue trails.
Twelve double black diamond trails, mostly between Currie and Lizard Bowl, and in Cedar Bowl, are just part of the 30 percent of the mountain designated for advanced and expert skiers. Most of the most difficult trails are on the upper mountain, with the best moguls, steep and deep, and couloirs in Bootleg Glades. After a snowfall all five bowls-Cedar, Currie, Lizard, Timber, and Siberia-are great for powder skiing. Backcountry skiing is permitted, but at your own risk.
The nearest heliskiing is RK Heli-Ski (two hours away), but closer to Fernie there are a number of cat-skiing operators offering all-inclusive packages (with accommodations) to confident intermediates and advanced skiers wanting to ski deep powder in the backcountry. The best known is Island Lake Lodge nearly six miles (9 km) away in the mountains and reached by a 45-minute snowcat ride from the Snowcat pickup point off Highway 3, 1.5 miles (2 km) west of Fernie.
Island Lake Lodge is at an elevation of 4,600 feet (1,402 m) and the skiing starts from 7,000 feet (2,133 m) with breathtaking bowls, exciting tree runs, and gentle rolling slopes with a variety of aspects and pitches. A day from 9am-4pm normally consists of 8-12 runs and around 12,000 to 15,000 vertical feet, depending on the level of each group. There is a minimum age requirement of 19 years, and you are required to sign a waiver of claims agreement.
Island Lake Lodge operates from mid-December to first week of April and each of the snowcats operates with a group of up to 12 guests and two guides. Avalanche transceivers are provided and a range of powder skis and snowboards is available. Island Lake Lodge has very limited space each season so book early to avoid disappointment.
Island Lake Lodge
Tel: +1 888-422-8754
Boarders can also get their kicks from the natural gullies and hits that are to be found all across the mountain. It's a good place for boarding, although for advanced snowboarders some of the terrain requires long traverses.
Otherwise you have to go to the base of the mountain. The Daylodge has a cafeteria open daily for burgers, sandwiches, and drinks, and the Grizzly Bar is upstairs. In the Resort Center is Gabriella's Little Italy Pasta Place. The Griz Inn houses the Powderhorn Restaurant and Lounge, a family spot for buffets and grills.
At the Cornerstone Lodge is Kelsey's Restaurant, good food at lunch and a great apres ski atmosphere, and Slopeside Coffee, in the Mountain Plaza, serves coffee and snacks. Lizard Creek Lodge has its own restaurant with a gourmet menu and great views, and the Snow Creek Lodge has a café for breakfast and snacks, and lunchtime refuels.
Fernie ski resort village has ski in, ski out accommodations, eight restaurants, one après ski bar, shopping, and daycare. The resort is three miles (4.8 km) from the town of Fernie, which has accommodations, bars, restaurants, shopping, and services. New hotels at the base village and in the town have increased the number of rooms available in recent years and more development is planned.
Although it is identifiably Victorian, the town is not yet what you would call charming or pretty, but it is improving and as each year passes, more of the old buildings are renovated and new restaurants, bars, and stores are opened. But if you are coming here for the skiing -and there are good reasons why you should - then you'd be better off staying at Fernie Alpine Resort, a quiet, mainly residential village located at the base of the mountain.
A shuttle run by Kootenay Taxi is available from the town to the resort 14 times daily and on an on-call basis in the evenings. A taxi service between the two is also available.
You can also choose from over 20 restaurants and numerous bars in downtown Fernie, five minutes' drive away. Several new restaurants have opened, including The Curry Bowl and the award-winning The Wood Restaurant, which was awarded the 2003 Resort Restaurant of the Year.
Bars tend to close at around 2:00 am. El Dorado, the only dance bar in the town, is located below The Wood Restaurant.
The minimum age for consuming alcohol is 19 and children cannot accompany parents in bars and other places serving alcohol.
You can take moonlight snowmobile tours, go dogsledding, take a sleigh ride with a cowboy dinner option, go cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing, and/or ski by torchlight. In Fernie there's an ice-skating rink, a curling rink, an aquatic center, a fitness center, and a bowling alley.