Going to Whistler last year, was supposed to be a one off ‘special’ snowboarding trip for us and although we had a great time, we certainly didn’t think we’d be going again soon as it was a little on the expensive side, but of course it was fabulous and it left us feeling that we’d just love to see a lot more of that beautiful country, so of course we would have to add more of Canada to our never ending travel wish list or so we thought..
Of course for those who love to ski or snowboard, Winter is Fun Season and we had already booked to go on a budget snowboarding trip to Schladming, Austria which we were obviously looking forward to, but then my youngest son decided he was going to Canada this year to train as a snowboarding instructor for three months between January to April, needless to say it didn’t take me long before I had decided that three months was just too long to go without seeing him and it took Jon even less time to agree, so we just had to do it…yes, we just had to book another trip to Canada to see him mid way through his time there and obviously we just had to pack our snowboarding gear too…Yeahyyyy we had an excuse to go to Canada again, we’d worry about the money later!! Life’s for living – Right?! Definitely right!!! So by January of this year we’d already failed abysmally at having a careful year with money and were looking at two booked snowboarding trips – Yippeee! We weren’t sorry at all!
The Shladming trip in January was great, I wrote a couple of posts about it, ‘Not an easy journey to Schladming’ and ‘9 Reasons to visit Schladming’. We do love Austria and it certainly didn’t disappoint, but it was the Canadian trip we were really excited about this Winter season, not only because we’d be seeing my son, but also we’d get the rare chance to snowboard with him and especially now that we were at a decent level ourselves we’d have a better chance to a) not totally embarrass him and b) actually keep up with him!
We were going to Canada again! We were going to Fernie to be precise…
Fernie is a town which has a main street running through it which, to me looks like a scene out of an old western movie, but instead of horses dotted along the road, there are large American style trucks, which Jon must have a billion photographs of! Fernie is encircled by the Canadian Rocky Mountains, creating an amazing backdrop whichever way you turn and it’s in the Elk Valley area of the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia. There’s also a beautiful River called The Elk which winds through the heart of the town, creating a beautiful place for every season.
Obviously we were there for the snow, which didn’t disappoint, in fact, because of where it’s situated, (I was told, because of it being encircled by the mountains, the Alpine Resort creates a microclimate) Fernie is known for it’s heavy snowfall boasting an average of 30 feet per Winter season, bringing fresh powdered snow most days. I just love boarding whilst it’s snowing heavily and with the 142 ski runs and 5 Alpine bowls we had an absolute ball in this fabulous winter playground, it wasn’t at all busy either, we never seemed to queue much for any of the lifts.
The Journey – for us, was a two hour drive to London, an eight hour flight to
Calgary, then a three and a half hour transfer south to Fernie. Yes it was long, but thank goodness we’d booked for ten days rather than just a week and when we arrived and saw our hotel and the amazing place we were about to spend those next ten days, we soon forgot all about the journey.
Our Accommodation – The Griz Hotel is a ski in/ski out hotel directly at the bottom of the mountain, which was fantastic, it just meant no transfers to and from the mountain every day, because we were right there at the base of it, just a very short walk to the first chair lift and of course the views from the Hotel were stunning! We were self catering and so had a kitchenette in the room which was well stocked with everything we needed and of course, being in Canada, a coffee machine with a well stocked basket of real coffee and a few token ‘T’ bags for us ‘Brits’. Along with such laid back and helpful staff there was a great, busy bar and restaurant called The Rusty Edge and a very popular Bagel bar, ‘Big Bang Bagels’ for quick, quirky and delicious Bagels. There was a small grocery shop a little walk down the road from the Griz Inn, which we used when needed, but we tended to take the bus, late in the afternoons after snowboarding, into Fernie town to buy cheaper groceries from the supermarket or eat in some of the restaurants and also share some Après Ski with my son in the local bars.
Something to think about… I would strongly recommend if anyone was thinking of coming to Fernie for Skiing or Snowboarding, is to think about where you stay. The Griz Inn as I said above is directly at the bottom of the mountain so no transfers needed, but there are also many hotels in Fernie town, which look great, although the bus transfer between town and the mountain is not free, the trip takes around 10-15 minutes and it’s $6 one way or $12 return, so this could be an extra expense on top of your holiday if you had to spend that per person, every day, although of course there’s more choice of bars and restaurants in the town, so it would depend on what you’d prefer – like I said it’s just to think about…
The Weather – Changeable, I suppose is the best description. During our time there, in late February, we mainly had heavy snow, which we loved of course, but some days we also snowboarded in deep snow, whilst beautiful sunshine was showing off the amazing skies and scenery, then there were days where we were boarding in quite dull days. It was always very cold while we were there, some days being as low as -15, but we dressed for it and we made sure we moved quickly which, with the fabulous snow conditions was fairly easy. Have to say though, it was SO cold on the chair lifts – brrrr!
The Scenery – What can I say, except Stunning, even on the dull days…
Fernie’s History – There is a museum in the town, which I really wanted to visit, but missed each time we got there. On the window of the museum there’s a great old photo of the towns’ main street as it would’ve looked around 100 years ago, (I couldn’t see a date), but it was fascinating.
I took the following excerpt from the website Fernie.com
“Just over a century ago, populated seasonally by First Nations people, Fernie was a pristine wilderness. The region remained relatively untouched until the exploration of the Crowsnest Pass in 1873 by Michael Phillips. This discovery and the sighting of outcroppings of coal, opened the region to the rest of the continent”.
“Fernie takes its name from William Fernie, who along with Colonel James Baker were the main players in the drive to bring coal mining to the valley. It took ten yeasrs to raise enough money to build the mines and the railway needed to transport the coal to market. In 1897 coal mining began in the region and in 1898 the Canadian Pacific Railroad arrived and with it the town of Fernie. As Fernie grew, logging quickly became the second lagest industry in the area with logging camps employing hundreds of men”.
It goes on to explain that Fernie had its fair share of both natural and human disasters, but each time, the strong people of Fernie re-built the town and so were able to make it a thriving place to live. Read more Here
Who is Griz? – Well as the legend goes… back in 1879 a baby boy was born in the middle of a cruel Winter within a bears cave. Sometime later the bear awoke and a fierce fight broke out between the bear and the young boy.
Since then, many have said they have seen a large man up in the mountains wearing a bearskin coat and hat, shooting a large musket into the sky making it snow heavily. Of course Griz has been a very popular character with all the skiers and snowboarders in the area and when I met him on the mountain, I just had to have a photo with the ‘cool dude’ and thank him for the awesome Pow (as they say here).
Comparing Whistler v Fernie? – Close call, both fantastic places and holidays, we were lucky with the snow and weather when in Whistler, but I think we had better conditions in Fernie and as I mentioned earlier it does tend to be consistent with the snow fall. Fantastic long runs both in Whistler and Fernie, but Whistler did have the longest run we’d ever been on and the lift network is great in both resorts.
Have to admit, if it hadn’t been for my son going to Fernie to do his snowboarding instructor course then we wouldn’t have known about this place, whereas Whistler and Banff are well known as The places to go for your Winter holidays in Canada, personally, I feel Fernie does deserve to be on that list too.
All in all– It was lovely to see my son and with him being full-on with his training course, he’d already become very proficient on his snowboard and was loving his time there, wasn’t missing home at all, made some great friends, knew his way around the mountains, watched a few ice hockey games, ice skated on a frozen lake and spent a number of evenings showing off his ice skating skills at a local ice rink, which is where he damaged his shoulder! Yes – just before we arrived – An ACL injury, but luckily a ‘low grade’ one, although he was told if he fell on it, the injury would escalate to a higher grade. Great! He was there training in snowboarding, which included fast hard boarding with tricks and jumping skills too! So, he rested it for a few days then made the decision to carry on the training, come out with us for a few days and taking the risk. He had good days and bad days with his injury, but it didn’t stop him. Myself and Jon enjoyed most days on our own, exploring and enjoying the mountains with its runs, powder and incredible scenery, every now and then seeing my son with his group disappearing quickly down a mountain, but on the days when my son could join us, he showed us the areas we wouldn’t normally go to, unless you knew these places existed. I was a little worried about some of the runs, (they weren’t exactly run’s, they were mostly off piste ways to get down), I only learnt to snowboard in my late 40’s and I’m not bad now for a 50 something, I’d say I’m an intermediate, although I don’t normally do black runs, (it’s a confidence thing), but my son didn’t want to hear this, he’d certainly learnt a lot and in turn taught us such a lot, helping to build our confidence, tweaking our skills and making us better boarders. Needless to say, while boarding with my son we did plenty of black runs and off piste stuff and we hardly noticed! Jon and I came away from Fernie feeling that I’d improved greatly and that’s thanks to my son and his training.
Jon and I absolutely loved our ten days in Fernie and didn’t want it to end. I totally recommend it, certainly as a Winter Ski/Snowboarding holiday destination, but also as we were in awe of the scenery and mountains, we’re sure it would be a stunning place to visit any time of the year with plenty to do and see.
And Finally…Proud Mum Moment – My son safely returned home earlier this month after spending his three months in Fernie and he loved every minute of his time there. It was such a positive experience for him in many ways, (apart from his shoulder mishap) not to mention him passing his Level 1 & 2 in Snowboarding Instructors – Yeahyyy!
Anyone else been to Fernie, Canada? If so would love hear about your time there 🙂