When you’re days off line up with a buddies in a town like Banff, you make plans to get out and explore – so this time we headed south.
We had both visited Fernie before, but again the town surprised me in it’s friendliness and accessibility, it’s such a typical mountain town it’s almost cliche. A nice high street, with a selection of independent stores, a couple out of town shops and fast food outlets, but nothing too much, and a vibe of locals just going about their lives. Unlike Banff, it feels like a real town, orientated to those that live there, not the hordes of tourists flooding the streets (because there aren’t any!)
We stayed at the Raging Elk, part of the HI Hostels chain, that both of us work at – so we got it for a very good deal. It’s a good hostel, with a great bar. The room is light and bright, friendly, and right next to the reception, so very appealing as you walk in. The staff are friendly and the whole vibe is very laid back, just travellers and snow chasers hanging out and having a good night.
But we weren’t there to drink – Fernie had got 55cm two nights before, and there were parts of the hill that had only just opened – we were there to ride powder! It’s crazy how fast it get tracked out, with so many people desperate for that perfect surf through the snow, but we did well and got some incredible runs. The first was probably the best, a short section, only just steep enough for us to get through, but so deep I could feel it against my lead hip. So light and fluffy your legs were completely gone and yet you still kept riding through – the only downside was not being able to turn. The run wasn’t super steep so straight lining was the only way to make it to the end.
After that we searched out pockets and lines here and there all over the mountain, dropping in Cedar Bowl, on the far right, taking the Timber Bowl express on the opposite side, and cutting across to drop through the saddles back into Lizard Bowl. For those of you that don’t know the hill, we went to the extremities to search out that sweet sweet powder. It was a great day, with face-shots, cliff drops, good friends and great lines, it was a day I’d happily repeat.
As far as Fernie Alpine Resort goes, they’ve got a great set up, loads of nice groomers, a good learners area, a huge area with easy access that isn’t groomed, great for those powder days, and a small rail park as well. It’s missing any official jumps due to an incident a few years back, and the rail park really won’t keep park rats happy for long – thankfully there’s a good amount of side-hits to blast, just keep your eyes out. The base station has probably my favourite ski hill bars in Canada, it’s that perfect mix of shabby chic and mountain classic style that makes it feel much more comfortable that others. So if you like big mountain terrain and epic powder days, Fernie is the one (or at least one of the ones)
The next day we headed over to Castle Mountain Resort – not to be confused with the Castle Mountain in Banff National Park – this ski hill is close to the US border, and isn’t so popular with the tourists. Both a pro and con as far as the hill goes, there were no lift lines at all, but also, the lifts are very old and slow. Apparently most of the were bought from the more commercial hills as they replaced their chairs with fancy modern ones. So Castle also has a decent amount of terrain, and had got a reasonable amount of snow the same night as Fernie did. However, Castle also had the wind. This wind brought the ‘feels like’ temperature down to -30, the coldest I have ever been riding in. Believe me when I say it’s cold! We had to keep our faces covered at all times to protect ourselves from frostbite and went indoor after each two runs as we felt so cold. It was increasingly hard to head out and keep doing runs as the day went on, but we persevered and got a decent amount in, but we also got a bit of frostbite. It turns out that when you’re riding hard, and breathing fast through a buff or balaclava they get very wet, and then they freeze and you can’t breathe so well any more. So you pull it down a bit and then you get very cold cheeks!
I’d like to go back to Castle when the weather is more friendly, it seemed like there was a decent amount to explore, although the slow lifts were pretty frustrating. But if you’re having a chill (not cold) day then why not enjoy the ride up as well.
We stayed back in Fernie each night, for three nights in total, as we wanted a daylight drive for the way home so we could appreciate the Kootenay Columbia Highway drive. We were also tempted to swing by the Lussier Hot Pools, a natural hot pool just off the road through the hills. It’s about 20 minutes up the road from Canal Flats, but we decided against it as the weather was still pretty chilly. It was a good thing we did as well, as there was an accident our road home, and we ended up taking a 2 and a half hour detour!
Overall it was a great trip, good friends and good riding, and I highly recommend adding Fernie to your list of hills if it’s not on there already – just pray for pow!