Canada's best ski town is a powdery mecca for mountain lovers
Fernie is a charming and historic mountain town that offers some of the best powder skiing in North America and a whole lot more. This incredible place, tucked into a valley of the Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies in southeastern British Columbia has a unique atmosphere, welcoming people, and an authentic spirit that is unmatched and must be experienced to be truly understood.
The town with a population of just over 5,000 could be the best-kept ski town secret. Sure, there is the Historic Downtown and a mountain resort that offers some of the best powder skiing in the world, but Fernie is more than that. It’s a community of creative and friendly people who say hello to all while walking down the street, who turn out fantastic cuisine and beers, who have created an arts scene that is lively and unique.
Historic Downtown Fernie (Photo: Tourism Fernie / Vince Mo)
It’s what brought Troy Nixon, an avid mountain biker and Fernie city councillor, and his family to town for the first time in 2010 before moving full-time in 2014.
“We love the access to recreation and the community,” Nixon says. “We are eight minutes to the ski hill in the winter and in the summer we can ride right from our door. Really, we don’t need a bike rack.”
Fernie was incorporated in 1904 and sits along the Elk River with its roots as a frontier coal-mining town. The gorgeous brick and stone buildings that date back more than a hundred years are today filled with shops, restaurants and cafés that offer visitors and locals alike a myriad of options and activities.
The restaurant and food scene is so good, Nixon has trouble recommending just one favourite.
Fernie's lively restaurant scene (Photo: Tourism Fernie / Vince Mo)
“I can’t have just one favourite….maybe all of them?” he says. “ We have excellent pubs (Northern, Brickhouse, Bridge Bistro) with a plethora of beer choices, we have incredible Indian food (Himalayan Spice Bistro), sushi (Yamagoya) and South American cuisine (Nevados). So many choices….so good.”
There is also a lively art and entertainment scene, including live music. In fact, alternative folk-rock band Shred Kelly cut their teeth as a young band at the Brickhouse’s jam night before making their name on the Canadian music scene and turning out five albums.
“There is a genuine feeling of possibility — many of my friends have taken big risks to pursue opportunities here, and it's amazing to see the success of small businesses, entrepreneurs and committed volunteers,” says Fernie local Megan Lohman. “I love that I can be skiing - alpine or nordic, within 15 minutes of leaving my house. I love that diverse small businesses, cafes and bakeries can supply everything we need.”
But, the great outdoors is where Fernie really shines. And it's not just at the ski hill. Fernie has become a four-season mecca for outdoor adventure with world-class mountain biking on hundreds of trails in the summer along with hiking, fly fishing, golf, and paddling.
In the winter, there is epic cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking.
Skiing at Elk Valley Nordic Centre (Photo: Tourism Fernie / Vince Mo)
And then there is skiing, powder skiing, catskiing, tree skiing, and the legend of the Griz.
The Griz is the Fernie mountain legend, half-man, and half-bear, who famously tromped up into the Lizard Range with his musket, firing away, and causing the plentiful powder snow that is the trademark of the area today. The Griz is celebrated every March with the town’s Griz Days celebrations. And, when it snows and snows and snows, the locals take a powder day, hit the resort, and perhaps, in a quiet moment of reflection and thanks for the abundance of pow, look up into the mountain and offer a nod of thanks to the Griz for what he’s done.
You see, Fernie has this incredible champagne powder and Fernie Alpine Resort is the epicentre of what has become known around the world as the “Powder Highway.”
So good is the snow that locals will recall days when the powder was waist-high walking from the parking lot to the resort, and it was so light you couldn’t even feel it as you walked through. Or that week it snowed three metres. Yes, that week, not month or season.
World-class skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort (Photo: Tourism Fernie / Matt Kuhn)
Fernie Alpine Resort is where it all happens. It’s located just five kilometres outside of town. And it features 142 runs, 10 lifts, five alpine bowls, and terrain for all levels. Yes, they do steep, and yes, they do deep. And, expect the best tree skiing you’ve ever experienced.
People come for the snow, for the incredible natural beauty, and for the adventure. But they fall in love with the town. Fernie is indeed something special.
Lead photo: Tourism Fernie / Vince Mo