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First Ski Season - Fernie, Banff or Whistler?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi everyone!

I'm trying to make a decision and it's driving me insane. I'm planning my first full ski season away for the 2012/2013 season and I'm not sure where to do it - well where in Canada to do it anyway. I want to do an instructor course, and probably just get the CSIA level 1 which would take 3 weeks and then instruct the rest of the season (while working towards level 2). I can't decide where though and was hoping people would be able to give me some advice. So far I've done about 11 weeks, which probably includes about 45 days of lessons and I'd consider myself pretty confident all mountain, though not like I've done a season yet!

Banff sounds awesome, the ski area would be huge but I'd have to pay an extra $1400 dollars on top of Fernie (with the company I want to go with). The ski area and park sound great though, even though I don't spend all that much time at the park generally. Thing that it has over Fernie is really the length of the ski season, my course in fernie starts after christmas but in Banff it starts mid-november, and am I right in thinking that Banff is open about 3 weeks longer than Fernie? I'm not all too keen on missing out on 6 weeks of skiing, though I guess I could arrive early in Fernie.

Thing I heard though is that Fernie has AMAZING powder, and that's what I'm really after. Banff looks great, but some of the stuff I've seen from Fernie is just mind-blowing. And I think, though I'm not sure, it might be easier to find an instructing job for longer in Fernie than Banff, and surely Whistler.

Whistler looks amazing too and I'm sure I wouldn't get bored, but how challenging is it? I'd like to go somewhere that offers me stuff I'm going to love and be challenged by the whole season, and really find some of the best powder - I've only done 11 weeks so far though so maybe I won't notice. Mind you I've only skiied in the alps and I'm getting the impression that any skiing I do in North America is just going to blow me away powder-wise as it'll be so much better.

I'm close to ruling out Whistler. I'm struggling with the decision though whether it's worth it to pay the $1400 more (and of course more living costs etc.) for Banff, when I can arrive earlier at Fernie and get what I'm told is much better powder. Short and sweet versus long and 'still-pretty-great' I guess is the question.

Anyone got any opinions on this?
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Think you have to get a bus to the slopes from Banff, so that would mean a no for me.

Watch youtube videos and you'll find plenty of backcountry gnarl in Whistler.

Know nothing about Fernie (frankly know nothing about any of them).

Could also be worth looking for courses in Europe too though. You can do a pre-Christmas course in St Anton with Peak Leaders, get the Austrian Anwarter and work the season with the ski school there. Working Christmas/Easter/in uni holidays is also very easy to do in Austria with this in following years (i did this btw).

Peak Leaders (and others) also have similar courses in other European places like Verbier and Saas Fe that could be worth looking into, as well as their North American ones.
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http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=88593
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My seasons in Fernie I've arrived late Nov for the start of Dec and left mid April, and they've been amazing early and late seasons. If anything, mid season is so cold that the snow hasn't been as forthcoming as it has been earlier and later on.

Banff is colder though, for sure, and doesn't get as much snow. But it is partytastic. Fernie has some really lively nights, but 'cos it's further from Calgary and Edmonton than Banff it doesn't get the influx of Canadians looking to have it.

Touring Fernie is epic also and if you need anything other than it's headwalls to get you pumped then you're gnarlier than me. Have explored pretty extensively and I haven't even really scratched the surface of the surrounding backcountry yet. To give you an idea, Island Lake (as featured in 'All I Can') is actually between Fernie town and the resort ski hill so you can see what you're in for if you explore a bit.

Depends what you're looking for I guess, but personally I'd go back to Fernie in a heartbeat.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Thank you very much for all that information everyone, it's been extremely helpful already. Particularly oz5000 you've told me exactly what I needed to hear. I hadn't relised Fernie was in All.I.Can but it's that sort of stuff I'm striving to find - that's actually easily my favorite ski film (and one of my favorite films in general), I've watched it like 6 times already so now I have another reason to! lol But yes touring backcountry is something I'm striving to do as much of as possible, if that's something Fernie has in spades over Banff that's enough to make my decision right there - I was told where it doesn't have Banff's snow park, it makes up for with its naturalhits instead. Sounds good in my book! Very Happy

The fact you say that you can ski late november to mid April is great, the main reason I was put off was because I didn't think there was supposed to be that much open except for January to end of march. But 4 months great skiing is better than 3 and I'll be happy to take it over 4.5 at banff then. Shame the nightlife's not so much, that's something I'm very keen on, especially when I'm up in the mountain - but if anything I'm up for a bit of a more close-knit community and I hear Fernie still has quite a bit to offer socially.

clarky999 - I've skiied everywhere in western europe though pretty much and I'm really looking for that scene change. There's no way I'm game for the french ski instructor courses just yet, I'm not much of a racer apart from a bit of dabbling in it before university, and it just sounds so hard! Plus, tree skiing and powder skiing's what I'm finding myself obsessing over every day right now (for the last 5 months, I wish i could stop torturing myself with it!) and that's just not that accessible in europe.

Mike Pow - oh wow that guy's situation is exactly the same as mine! Yeah as you probably guessed I've pretty much settled on going with NonStop. I actually was down in london yesterday to meet them as they did a presentation and questions session and I agree, they all were extremely friendly and helpful, and genuinely cared about getting us on the best course for us. I'm glad you think CSIA is a good idea, I'd like to be able to get the CSIA 2 qualification by the end of the season, while instructing, and I hear that's very doable. With Nonstop being the only company operating in Fernie too I think I should have a good chance of getting some work throughout the season - some of the things NonStop offer like lesson shadowing and community days sound like they'll vastly improve my chances too.

Thanks everyone, I think I've settled my mind (and heart) on going to Fernie this season then. I'll stop considering arriving late december now thanks to your input oz5000, if there's great conditions throughout December I don't want to get caught sleeping!
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I worked with the Nonstop coaches for the last few years, and spent 5 years in Fernie's ski school - I'd definitely recommend it.
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DaveC, hell of a sabbatical Dave. You done with Fernie then?
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Not sure Fernie opens in Nov?

I would still do Fernie over Banff though; really like Fernie. Everyone does Banff. Sunshine can be plagued by winds; don't get me wrong it has some nice stuff, but from this season I remember the wond whistling through the holes on my face mask on quite few occasions. Did have good snow this season though (but again conditions often don't get great until late dec. Just want to mkae sure you are fully appraised, DaveC, should be able to tell you.

Banff season is very long and lasts through till 3rd or 4th weekend in may.
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DannyB01 wrote:

clarky999 - I've skiied everywhere in western europe though pretty much and I'm really looking for that scene change. There's no way I'm game for the french ski instructor courses just yet, I'm not much of a racer apart from a bit of dabbling in it before university, and it just sounds so hard! Plus, tree skiing and powder skiing's what I'm finding myself obsessing over every day right now (for the last 5 months, I wish i could stop torturing myself with it!) and that's just not that accessible in europe.


Everywhere? Good work! NehNeh

FWIW, the Austrian isntructor stuff is much more like CASI/BASI than France, it's a simple and easy course. Plus St Anton has Stuben (aka, Powderville)! Big advantage is that it's then very easy to work in subsequent seasons (sounds like this is a pre-uni gap year? I got 8 weeks of skiing a year at uni this way). This might not be important for you though.

Plenty of trees and pow int he right parts of Europe too!

Does sound like Fernie is a pretty awesome place though.
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Alans deep bath wrote:
DaveC, hell of a sabbatical Dave. You done with Fernie then?


hello! er yeah, laptop died and I forgot to add Snowheads to bookmarks, unless you meant a sabbatical in Fernie rather than from Snowheads! But yeah, I'm back in the UK now - can't sustain ski bum life forever, the plan is hopefully university (primary education) this Sept and being a grownup and stuff. Not entirely sure how wise this was, we'll see..

Related to topic though, I can help out with any Fernie or CSIA questions.
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clarky999 - well not quite everywhere! haha But certainly enough for now. It's actually a post-uni thing, I'm about to finish uni and if I don't do a ski season now I'm not sure when I could do it, and it's something I know I have to do at some point! I'm actually kinda hoping I get hooked and just do season after season...we'll see.

gryphea - so it's a month less in Fernie then I guess, shame. But if you'd still do it that just makes me more confident that Fernie's the right place. I can always use that month off skiing to earn some more money for another ski season. Very Happy

DaveC - wow that's awesome, you're absolutely the perfect person to ask then, thanks! Am I right in thinking that getting an instructing job at Fernie is better odds than a busier place like Banff or Whistler? It'd be nice to be able to work most of the season really, if possible. What I'd like to do is get the level 1 qualification and start teaching soon as possible. How commonly do people do that and still take their CSIA level 2 by the end of the season? I'd definitely like to have that qualification, but also the work experience. As clarky mentioned it it'd be nice to be able to go off in non-french countries in europe with a bit of experience and some qualifications for a couple of weeks+ at a time and teach when I'm not lucky enough to be out for a season.
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
I don't know about better odds - generally, full time work is hard to get at the start of the season. As the season goes on, Fernie picks up a lot of people part time to cover demand and injuries, so going out and getting your level one, and introducing yourself to the ski hill is a good plan. I'd imagine Banff is similar, maybe Whistler too. CSIA2 makes you much more employable, but without some feedback and training is hard to take and pass first time.

It's worth noting that working as a level one won't do much for your skiing - you generally get rookie work - Daycare, and lower level kids lessons. Expect to spend a lot of time on the lower mountain or bunny hill. However, it'll do a lot for learning to teach, control a lesson and interact with clients. This is pretty important, as working instructors tend to breeze the CSIA2 teach, and Nonstop types tend to find it unnerving.

Nonstop is a really strong course for getting your 1 and 2 in the same season, as the amount of coaching you get is incredible.
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DaveC - when I spoke to Rupert yesterday (technically not yesterday anymore, I'm up too late!) he said that generally people who do the level 1 course and keep training for the level 2 course in the mornings before ski school starts have got fairly decent chances of passing the level 2 exam. I'd love to do the 11 week course though, it's just I don't think I'll be able to afford it unfortunately. Of course the main reason I want to go out there and do a ski season is to improve my skiing, so I don't really want to be working every day of the week. I imagine weekends are busier, so I'd probably aim to work as much as possible on weekends and two or three weekdays a week, leaving the remaining 2 or 3 days for everything else - and if I can't get lessons some weeks I guess I won't cry about it, hopefully I can get enough work before I go out there for it not to be too much of an issue. I really love the sound of those 45 minute lessons before ski school on week days though, is there much you can tell me about those?

Also, something I've been wondering quite a lot, what sort of techniques do they actually want you to be able to demonstrate on the level 1 and 2 exams technically wise? I'm actually looking forward to the teaching aspect of it (though a bit intimidated about how I'd show it in an exam!), though another thing I've been wondering is what sort of people I'd be expected to teach? I know it'd all be beginners on bunny slopes, but teaching a bunch of 18+ year old first-week skiers from england would be a hell of a lot easier to do than teaching a bunch of children from france! haha
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
To be frank, don't rely on any in house ski school training. The main reason I've called it a day is because of how much it's declined. The only morning session that went out this year was with the Nonstop coaches, and that's their session - going along is purely tagging along. There are 2-3 afternoon sessions a week, but they don't have much structure, and they're nearly always scheduled on friday afternoons/sundays (ie - busiest possible time). I used to recommend to people they just get their level one and work in ski school, but I'm so disheartened with the last two years that it just doesn't seem viable any more. In context, I did fail my level 3 twice in the last two years, and found the training I did get conflicting and at odds with two different examiners feedbacks. Regardless, the biggest perk of a poorly paid lifestyle job was the training, and that's why I stopped instructing for now.

Exam teaches - level one, you're shown basic progression, and if you can parrot it and spot (or, re-spot already observed) glaring technical deficiencies, they're happy. Level two, you need to spot a basic competency to work on and give an appropriate drill to a group. Keep in mind I'm not an examiner, but this is my recollection/impression. CSIA exams are great, you get a lot of coaching through them.

Teaching wise - generally kids at l1, and it's Canadians from the surrounding area 4-5hr drive area - mainly Calgary - plus holidaymakers (usually, brits). Officially at l1 you can't teach kids that ski much more than the upper mountain easy groomers. l2 you can teach any level of kid, and lower end adults. The best bet for work is weekend clubs - longest hours, at the weekends, and consistent work.
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http://youtube.com/v/eL3Ebf_vz3M
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Thanks very much for the honest advice there Dave, all I'd been told was it was most days and it had sounded awesome and an excellent reason to go for an instructing job in the day rather than other work in the evening (though I'll still want to do some teaching). Weekend clubs sounds like a plan for work then, and perhaps then I'll be able to afford to do the level 2 course as well, or at least a bit more, how much competition is there to get those kind of jobs? I don't have bar work experience unfortunately, just financial sector experience which I imagine won't get me that far up in the mountains... I might have to decide when I'm out there, according to NonStop some people on the l1 instructor course do choose to stay on to the l2 course while they're there. I'd do the 3 week course so that should give me a couple of weeks to see if the training in the mornings is sufficient for what I want, and if not I can always join the 11 week course once they've taken their l1 exam after week 5 (think it's week 5).

Cheers for the video Mike that's perfect! Everything on it makes me fell fairly confident, but I bet demonstrating that immaculate technique is incredibly hard to do. Hopefully some more coaching on stuff I've not done for ages like snow plow should sort that though.
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Pleasure.

Demonstrating the low level movements is what most people fail on.

The hardest skiing is slow skiing on a green run IMHO.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I think I know what you mean, much harder to get into a decent rhythm on something flat where you've got much less momentum.
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gryphea wrote:
Not sure Fernie opens in Nov?



That's not what I said - said I arrived late Nov for season start in early Dec.
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DannyB01 wrote:
I think I know what you mean, much harder to get into a decent rhythm on something flat where you've got much less momentum.


pretty much, yeah - less momentum to balance against, so you're forced to mechanically move correctly rather than be given cues by the external forces
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Thanks for all the help guys, just an update I've gone and booked onto the Fernie course now so hopefully I'll be there the entire season! Would've been a much harder decision without all your help. Smile
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oz5000,
Quote:

That's not what I said - said I arrived late Nov for season start in early Dec.



Yup that's what you said; but DannyB01, said skiing late nov in his next post and I didn't want hi to be misinformed.
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Ah well I'll be skiing from about 1st December this year if I'm lucky, planning to head down at the end of november. Getting in more than 4 months of solid skiing day-in day-out I think should be enough, if not I'll just head to New Zealand over the summer! haha Now all I have to do is choose skis, which is tough!
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Great. Enjoy.

My recommendation for a ski would be nothing greater than 85mm in the waist and no full rocker.
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Really? I was gonna get one ski specifically for the piste, but I plan on spending pretty much all my free time off piste in powder - after all I chose fernie cos I heard it's got great powder. For my on-piste ski I was thinking around 80mm, but I'll see what's best when I'm out there. I was gonna buy a proper powder ski as well though, I really like the sound of Armada JJs and the Atomic Bent Chetler.
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Fair enough, I'm a quiver of one person.

If you're going to get a teaching ski in addition to a play ski then I would go with a waist width in the 70-75 mm range for the teaching ski.

Plenty of brands and models out there with that waist width, a shovel in the 120-125 mm range and a radius between 13-15m.
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If you want a play ski, take a look at Line Francis Bacons (108 mm waist) - great powder tree skiing weapon, especially when the trees get tight. Loads of fun all over the mountain unless it gets hard and icy.

For pure piste I've just bought a pair of Movement Le Fers (77 mm waist) but haven't had chance to use them yet. I saw a lot of Canadian instructors this season on Head Titans (78 mm waist), so that would likely be a good choice too for teaching. The extra width would probably suit the soft pack and chopped up powder you often encounter on piste over there better than a narrower pure slalom or GS ski. I would have gone for the Titans myself but a good deal came up on the Le Fers and since they are very similar dimensions I thought I'd take a chance on those.
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Something between 70 and 80 is going to make life easiest for you for teaching. As far as days off are concerned you'll need to figure out what suits you but I'd be tempted to go for something like the Volkl Mantra.
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Thanks everyone, wow the helpfulness of people on this site is awesome! I'll get a lower width teaching ski then, I hadn't given that much thought to that one yet because I'll by it when I'm out there I think. I saw about the Movement Le Fers, there were a couple of reviewers raging about them and I did look into getting a pair, they're definitely a possibility, same with the Head Titans, but as Mike recommends I might look for a bit of a lower width too. Then again, it'd be nice for it to still not completely fail when it comes to powder, just in case. The Volkl Mantra is a ski I'm pretty keen on actually, more so than the Kendo but I also thought about the Gotama. Line Francis Bacons I know a lot of people love as well, but for me the ski it sounds like would most suit what I want is the Armada JJs. Unfortunately I'd be best with around a 181cm powder ski (apparently) and I don't know how to choose a length for it between 175-185. I reckon going bigger would be better for a powder ski but just take me a while to get used to, then again I love everything I've heard about the Bent Chetlers too. And of course there's the Salomon Rocker 2s that everyone rages about - so much choice! I'll probably just go with the best deal I can find, I saw the Bent Chetlers going for £400 including bindings which I thought was quite good.
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DannyB01, get on skis and try them. It would do your technique a lot more good having some traditionally shaped skis like the Mantra over a fun-shape which IMO requires a fair amount of adjustment from a standard ski. Some of my best powder days ever have been on smaller skis, and that's not to say I've not had great days on 190cm long/130 waist. Go long with the JJs if you're set on them but the key is to try skis and get a feel for them. As you improve your tastes will change as well.
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Try and pick up something at least vaguely performance based (sidecut like 15-17m, 85mm max waist - don't get a slalom ski or you're just making life hard) cheap, and demo fat skis out there - and after like two weeks adjusting to Fernie skiing your tastes might change...). Learning to actually ski well, especially following Nonstop coach advice, will be more productive on that kind of ski. You can still bust out the fat skis on heavy snow days for coached days etc.
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The thing with trying stuff when I'm there is that I reckon that the overall cost will be a good £200+ more, but I guess it's pretty important that I actually buy a ski I'm going to like... My most used ski will definitely be a performance-based one, I reckon I'll use that three times as much at least, but I just want the other ski to be a load of fun in the powder, which is why I think a second fat one (110mm plus) would be a good choice). The performance ski I'll definitely be buying out there, and it will be a narrow waste but I'll experiment with what I like when I'm there.

The mantra looks like an awesome ski, but I'm not particularly convinced that having two skis under 100mm waste is that great an investment when I'm only going to be doing off-piste stuff in the wider skis anyway.
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DannyB01,

Just a warning that ski equipment (boots/skis) is not cheaper in Canada, and remember any on line/store prices you see will have HST (12%) added to the price.

I'd also look around sales in UK/Europe now. You will probably get a better deal. Also not that many stores are set up for demoing that well.
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DannyB01, it's worth the extra cost + you'll be able to pick up second hand powder skis easily from TGR where the gear turnover is pretty high. IMO 110mm plus will only really be usable on the deepest days, and the best powder days will be whilst you are working anyway Wink
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gryphea - Yeah I know it'll be more expensive in canada that's the problem! haha Smile

Alans deep bath - well I'm going to be arriving actually a month before my course even starts and oz5000 said that the skiing was amazing even then, but I bet you're right all the best skiing will be when I'm teaching! lol What's TGR? And I'd definitely choose a ski that's at least semi-versatile, which is why I like the sound of the JJs and Bent Chetlers, the rocker-camber-rocker sounds like it's a good type of ski for me to go for, the reviews all say that they're excellent in powder and even in variable conditions step up to the mark. If there's not any powder (and I'd be really sad if that's the case in Fernie) then I'll just use the other skis.

Edit: Starting to think perhaps a more sensible ski might be more suited to me as a first time powder ski, like the Salomon Rocker 2s which is awesome. I just spotted the High Society FR Rocker skis as well, and I'm liking the sound of them. I think they'll be too long though, I'll probably ask for help in the gear forum once I've looked into this enough.
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Will answer over there...
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Some very good prices at

Edge & Wax
http://www.edgeandwax.co.uk/skis-6.aspx


Telemark Pyrenees
http://www.telemark-pyrenees.com/en/all/c-skis/skidiscipline-alpineskiing/f/?osCsid=69abc463098da3c8cf902a43b43854c7


Sport Conrad
http://www.sport-conrad.com/all_mountain_ski_packages_br_bindings_incl_/28/
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Keep in mind you can buy from America and get stuff shipped to Montana, then drive across and pick it up in a two hour round trip from Fernie. You dont have to pay import tax if you tell them you'll be taking anything you bought in the USA back to the UK. This makes Backcountry, REI and as Alans deep bath mentioned, TGR gear swap forums very handy.
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DannyB01,
I'm considering doing this season (12/13) at Fernie too, bit worried about the night life and slow lifts but everything else sounds good.
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I'd heard the night life's good in fernie, but I guess the town might not have places open til really late all that often. The night life's quite a big factor for me too but I think it'll be decent, though I will be on a course with plenty of people so should always have something to do really. I'd not heard the lifts were slow but even if they are it sounds like it'll be worth it for the snow. I can't wait to go, I'm leaving around the start of December which feels so far away! From everything I've looked at I'd say definitely do fernie, but people here speak from experience and seem to agree. Will you be instructing for the season also?
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