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Date: 28 January - 1 February 2008 (5 full days on the slopes)
Our holiday: Part of a 10 day trip that was preceded by a long weekend at Whitefish Mountain Resort. (see previous report)
I travelled with my usual 2 snowboarding mates. We are fairly experienced powder-hungry riders who have explored the European Alps extensively and are now looking for new challenges across the pond.
Official resort website snow report - updated daily at 5am and 8am.
Orricial resort website snow forecast - apparently written by a bloke who is paid by the resort to produce twice daily forecasts. Normally very accurate.
far.redtree.com - a superb website, including a regularly updated blog of conditions, and a detailed description with pics of every single run on the mountain, produced by a local Fernie resident.
Powderwatch - reports on conditions around the Canadian Rockies written by a keen Calgary skier. Because of its snow record a close watch is kept on Fernie. There is also a seperate page where readers post their own Fernie snow reports.
Basics: Located in southern British Columbia. We flew in to Kalispell which is 2 hours from Fernie over the border in Montana and hired a car. See my Whitefish trip report for more info.
Lift system: Is poor. Slow and inconveniently laid out. Travel time to the top of each side of the area from the base is at least 20 minutes. Getting out from the bottom of Cedar Bowl for another lap takes ages. The two slowest lifts (Elk and Boomerang) don't have footrests. Why hasn't the resort spent some of the money it has made from the expensive lift passes on lift upgrades?
The terrain: Is steep and deep but access to most of the good stuff is slow and difficult due to:
- slow lifts (see above)
- lots of traversing on long narrow bumpy tracks is required. A few of these traverses were often not possible on a board after a big dump as some walking uphill is necessary, and this can't be done if the new snow doesn't support your weight. The traverse across the top of Currie Bowl to Currie Chutes and Easter Bowl was the worst.
- poor trail marking. The complicated topographical layout of the mountain means that it's not at all obvious how to get to a lot of the best runs/areas - without local knowledge (thank you Phototim!) we might not have found much of the good stuff.
The end result is that far more time is spent on lifts, traverses and pistes to the next lift than actually on the runs you want to ride.
However these runs are superb. Mostly steep, deep and designed especially for an off-piste powderhound.
The following are the runs that we did the most (from left to right looking at the piste map):
Morning Glory - my favourite run. Accessed up from the Timber chair by a short hike. This plus a long flat run-out at the other end might explain why it wasn't so popular and consequently always seemed to have very good snow? Every time I rode it fresh tracks were laid. One of the few runs that doesn't need to be reached by a long bumpy traverse. Starts with a steep-ish lightly gladed section that takes you down to a wide open motorway style run of generally blue steepness but with some interesting variations in gradient. This funnels into a flat cat-track back to base on which I was always able to keep moving without having to take my back foot out although some riders with less-well-waxed boards had more trouble . Still much preferable to a traverse though IMHO. Top tip - do Morning Glory first thing when it catches the Morning Glorious sunrise. Very pretty.
Big Bang - the direct route down from the Timber to White Pass chairs hence a run that I had to do several times each day. (why didn't the resort build the Timber chair terminus at the same place as the White Pass chair, then add a seperate drag/chair to take you to where Lost Boys cafe is? ) Big Bang normally had good snow but got tracked out very quickly. Traversing to rider's right meant fewer tracks but there are lots of nasty rocks and tree stumps to avoid en route.
Surprize Trees - accessed from the White Pass chair via a long very bumpy traverse that starts under the lift. A very nice long run of a perfect steepness in moderately spaced trees that always seemed to have good relatively un-tracked snow. Leads onto a cat-track that can either taken to the right to get back to the White Pass chair (with a bit of walking) or to the left to return to base.
Anaconda Glades - reached from the same traverse as Surprize Trees. Seriously steep tight trees at the top - very hairy - but the reward is a wide open short but sweet powder run that always had perfect very deep snow. Leads into Currie Bowl then back to base (Via Bootleg Glades if desired - see below). For me the short powder run at the bottom wasn't normally worth the effort of the traverse and the nasty tree bit at the top and I always preferred to drop into the other side of the ridge down through Suprize Trees.
Bootleg Glades - accessed by turning hard right onto a cat track immediately at the bottom of Anaconda Glades. Another very steep tree run but much more open than Anaconda and therefore easier. Usually well tracked but good snow could often be found to extreme rider's right. A more interesting route through Currie than the main runs down the centre that were invariably uncomfortably tracked and choppy due to heavy traffic.
123s - The first run from the top of Currie Bowl immediately to rider's right. Good gradient and variation between trees and open slopes but normally ultra-tracked thanks to it's easy access. But was great fun when I scored it in good snow on our first day in Fernie (Monday 28th Jan) soon after Currie was opened.
Currie Chutes - accessed from half way along the long traverse across the top of Currie Bowl, normally after having given up trying to make it all the way to the end of the track to drop in to Easter bowl. Numerous short routes down into the centre of Currie, steep but not excessively, trees but not too many, was always good fun.
Lizard Bowl - a wide expanse of not-very-steep ungroomed snow with very little foilage accessed via the traverse from the Great Bear fast quad. Our favourite route down was to take the traverse all the way to the trees at the end (at the bottom of Easter bowl?) which then provided a steeper route into the centre of Lizard. Unlike others this area can be lapped easily by returning to Great Bear (the best of the chair lifts; fast, only 5 minute journey time, comfy seats, footrests).
Boomerang runs - lots of long steep exciting runs under the Boomerang chair either in trees or out, but the snow never seemed as deep as in other areas and tracking/mogulling always occured quickly after snowfall.
Cedar Ridge - in spite of its easy access from the top of the Boomerang chair Cedar Ridge always seemed to have surprisingly good and very deep snow. Reasonable steepness in gradient and tight packing of trees but neither excessively so. Leads into the centre of Cedar. One of my favourite runs.
Cedar Bowl - there are lots of routes into Cedar from the traverse along the top from the Boomerang chair. As always taking the traverse all the way to the end usually paid dividends. Not too steep, few trees.
Unfortunately some of the areas were closed throughout the week due to too much snow e.g. Snake Ridge and the upper part of Currie Bowl. The Face Lift apparently never opens now unless snow conditions have really stabilised.
Terrain park - no longer exists! A rail park remains but as in all resorts run by RCR all of the man-made jumps/kickers have been removed. Not good.
The snow: Absolutely incredible. 172cms fell in the 5 days that we were there, on top of an already above average for the time of year base of 200cms+. Some locals were calling it one of the best weeks that they could ever remember at Fernie. Basically between 20-40cms fell every day and/or night resulting in fresh tracks every morning for the early risers. But we were lucky. The week before had been dry with almost no new snow at all.
Visibility was never a problem even during the heaviest snowfall.
Crowds: Busier than I had expected. Much more so than in the other North American resorts we have visited (Panorama and Big Mountain, Whitefish). Although not at all crowded by French-school-holiday standards there was usually a lengthy queue for first lift in the morning and traffic on the slopes was always noticeable. Consequently the snow got tracked out very quickly and by mid morning many of the runs had been turned into a choppy/mogully mess. To get fresh tracks you either had to make sure you were on first lift, or rely on luck to be in the right place at the right time when one of the bowls were opened, or know where to look with the help of a bit of local knowledge. We visited Monday-Friday; apparently crowds were getting even worse during good-snow weekends and becoming excessively busy, to levels similar to Whistler. I'm not sure if this is down to an increase in Fernie's popularity or just that other resorts nearby this week weren't getting as much snow?
Off-piste: Pretty much the whole mountain is "off-piste" by European standards. There are very few groomed runs. See my run descriptions above for more info.
The resort: There is a small, attractive slope-side village with lots of apartment complexes and a few shops/bars/restaurants. We stayed in Fernie town which is a 10 minute drive from the hill and full of character. The town has a long main street away from the busy main road where all facilities are available.
Food : Actually on the hill there is only one place to eat, Lost Boys Cafe, which has a very limited and overpriced menu. We always had lunch at the base in the cafe in the Snow Creek apartment complex. Great nachos, wraps, much better value, and big comfy sofas by an open fire.
Because getting down to base and then back up again takes such a long time the resort would really benefit from more huts/restaurants on the hill.
For evening grub in Fernie there was a wide variety of restaurants. We ate in:
Grand Central - one of the main bars also has a very good restaurant attached (called Corner Pocket I think).
The Royal Pub - Tuesday is beer and a burger night for $8.
The Old Elevator - on our penultimate night we decided to treat ourselves to the poshest restaurant in town. Glad we did. A great atmospheric location in an old (allegedly haunted...) mill, with excellent service and a varied menu. The salmon and elk were both delicious. Not too expensive - $60 per person for a main course, dessert and drinks (albeit beer not wine).
El Guapo Mexican Diner - directly opposite the hostel, in an odd location attached to a snowboarding shop, but a real find. A wide choice of Mexican grub (burritos, tostadas, nachos etc), all very fresh and tasty, and very cheap. Each night has a special offer e.g. Wednesdays = two burritos for a bargain $10.
Apres-ride At the end of each day we went for a beer in the Griz Bar which was always busy, sometimes to the extent that finding a place to sit was difficult.
Evenings in Fernie appeared to be quiet on first impressions however there were plenty of bars that were made lively by the large population of resort workers and long-term visitors. Tuesday nights in The Royal were an example - rammed, due to the beer+burger for $8, and then Beer Bong Bingo, which was several games of comedy bingo run by an enthusiastic DJ/compere to precipitate drinking games and muchos general drunken hilarity. Great fun. The Grand Central had live music and a good crowd on one of the nights that we visited.
Accommodation : We had a lot of trouble finding availability in a reasonably priced and well located hotel or apartment over the internet. In the end we decided to do it on the ultra-cheap and stay in the Raging Elk Hostel which is a 5-10 minute walk from the centre of town. Very basic accommodation but by normal hostel standards not too bad. The rooms were small and the beds not all that comfortable (although sleeping wasn't difficult after a hard day on the slopes) but facilities were very good - a large kitchen and dining/communal area with comfy sofas, a seperate social room with a big flat screen TV, and a sauna. We slept in 4-bed dorm but the hostel also has private en-suite rooms, none of which were available for our stay unfortunately. The main draw was the price; the hostel offers a package including accommodation and lift-pass for $90pppn which translates to a saving of about $10 per day on the normal lift-pass rate.
Costs: The lift-pass is very expensive at $72/day otherwise costs are reasonable if you know where to go.
Conclusion: We had a great week thanks mainly to the amazing snow. The terrain is superb for an advanced rider however accessing much of it is very difficult (especially on a board) and fresh tracks were hard to find on many days due to excessive crowds. Would I visit again? Probably not for those reasons, and also because of the expensive lift pass and lack of terrain park.
Fernie Resort Report Feedback Thread and pics
Last edited by A snowHead on Sat 9-02-08 21:07; edited 4 times in total