Say the name Fernie to anyone familiar with this picturesque mountain town of about 5,000 permanent residents, and you’ll without fail be met with responses akin to “Tons of snow, eh?”, “Doesn’t that place get more snow than anywhere else in Canada every year?” or “Best powder days I’ve ever had!”
words: Brian Peech
Ah yes, Fernie, a powder hound’s dream. It’s no secret that the town anchored to the foot of the Lizard Range is blessed by its geographical location: smack dab in the middle of a relatively consistent weather pattern that, during the winter months, blankets the area with buckets upon buckets of light, fluffy snow.
But above its renown as one of the world’s best regions for alpine pursuits, Fernie—with its kaleidoscope of downright welcoming locals, endless list of activities on tap and a blossoming arts and culture scene—is so much more.
I recently spent time in the area catskiing and tearing laps through Fernie Alpine Resort, so I can attest to its reputation as a skier’s or snowboarder’s paradise. Without a doubt, it will go down as the mountain experience I will weigh all others against for a long, long while. Still, what has stuck with me most is what the town has to offer outside of the expected.
So if you find yourself between faceshots in Fernie, here are just a few of the many extra-curricular activities you might want to check out.
FAT BIKING GIRLS MAKE THE ROCKIN’ WORLD GO ROUND
Fernie’s mountain bike trail system is world-class to be sure. With over 90 well-maintained (mostly single track) trails, it’s no surprise Fernie offers some of the best fat biking around. And if the amount of fat bikes I saw around town is any indication, the sport has sunk its hooks deep into Fernie’s residents and visitors alike. Never been fat biking? There are many outdoor gear shops in Fernie that have everything you need to get started, including rental gear, maps and professional advice.
TAKE A DINING TOUR: FROM TANDOOR TO TORTILLA SOUP
Sure, every town has places to grab a bite, but few mountain towns of this size offer the level of quality, character and diversity as Fernie. From the staple morning hit of homemade bagels and coffee at Big Bang Bagels, to the lively South American cuisine of Nevados, dining in Fernie can be as simple or robust as you want it to be. Hit The Loaf for fresh baked breads or a superb brunch, or Yamagoya for some of the best sushi in the area (the sushi carpaccio is a must-try). The curries and kebabs at the Tandoor & Grill are second to none, and if you’re lucky enough to experience the fine dining experience at Island Lake Lodge, you will not be sorry. There are many more establishments worth checking out, from food trucks to one of the few bean-to-bar chocolatiers in the world—one thing’s for sure: you will never be bored of the culinary choices in Fernie.
GET ROWDY WITH THE GHOST RIDERS
One night, stumbling home from a sake fueled sushi feast at Yamagoya, I heard a boisterous rumble growing louder in waves. Honing in on its source, I came across a large, old-school arena just off the main road that had been so dead quiet the night before, I’d spotted a massive elk sauntering up the highway towards it.
Quiet no longer, a different sort of wildlife had descended upon the arena. It was Ghost Riders night, and the local Junior B hockey team’s fans were out in droves. If you’ve never been to a Junior B game, you are in for a treat. Lively would be one way to describe the atmosphere, chaotic another. Locals tell stories of salmon and even live chickens being thrown on the ice. Not to mention the occasional streaker. And a streaker on ice is about as brilliant as you’d imagine.
Although the arena has since installed netting to discourage the throwing of poultry and fish onto the ice surface, if you fancy a good ol’ hockey game, get to the arena early as tickets sell out fast.
GET YOUR ROCKS OFF
Could there be anything more Canadian than curling? Sure, there’s maple syrup, beavertails, Coffee Crisp and poutine, but, come on… Curling! If you’ve never tried, it’s the most fun you can have with eight rocks and a broom. Swing into Fernie Curling Club to pop your rock throwing cherry (no experience required and drop-ins are only $10). Try to find anything this fun and that affordable in a mountain town. The best part? The facility, which houses four sheets of ice, is fully licensed.
NOT EVERYTHING IS DOWNHILL FROM HERE
Not all days in the snow need to be downhill. Fernie offers kilometres of Nordic ski trails and abundant snowshoeing opportunities, from beginner circuits to the more advanced. Some favourite tours include those at Fernie Alpine Resort, Fernie Golf & Country Club, Island Lake Lodge and the new Elk Valley Nordic Centre. Enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains while getting some excercise on the diverse trail systems. And since you likely didn’t pack a set of cross country skis or a pair of snowshoes, rentals are available from a number of locations around town.
If you really want to do it up right, hitch a shuttle up to Island Lake Lodge to tour around and then lunch at the lodge while soaking in the unbelievable mountain vistas. Top it off by booking a spa package to really put your day over the top.
BREWERY TASTINGS & OTHER IMBIBING IDEAS
While there are no doubt solid après experiences on hill, whether its at The Rusty Edge or The Griz Bar you would be remiss to miss the watering holes closer to sea level.
Head to Fernie Brewing Co., the region’s micro brewery, for a tasting, or stop in at The Kodiak Lounge, The Pub Bar & Grill, The Brickhouse or The Royal, where you can catch both local and touring artists perform while downing a few lagers, or ales, or shotskis, or all of the above.
WINTER FLY FISHING
Fly fishing in the winter? You bet. Set against a backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, Fernie’s blue ribbon freestone trout rivers are some of the most picturesque and productive dry fly destinations in the world, even in the winter months. As long as the waterways are flowing free from ice, the fishing can be excellent. The Elk River is home to one of the largest remaining populations of wild, pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout, a species renowned for its eagerness to rise. And if you’re looking to hook into something a little less delicate, the brutish bull trout has no qualms about peeling you into your backing. You can book guided trips from Fernie Fly Fishing and Elk River Guiding Company, or just mine the knowledgeable staff for advice and stock up on any gear you might need.
I had an absolute blast in Fernie, both on the hill and off. I’ve even booked a trip for this summer to fly fish the Elk, hike some incredible trails and check out what this mountain town has to offer in the warmer months. If it’s anything like this past winter’s experience, I have no doubt it will be another one for the books.
For more information on Fernie, visit http://tourismfernie.com/.
You might also like:
WATCH NICK McNUTT GET DEEP AT ISLAND LAKE
Skier Nick McNutt visited Island Lake Lodge earlier this year to film a new TV show. The powder was deep and perfect for playing around with some butters, tree taps and hero turns. Check the teaser, and watch for the full video set to drop in fall 2016… Watch video
SIX OF CANADA’S BEST APRÈS BARS
Sure resorts use vertical drop, yearly snowfall, and total acreage as their main marketing tools, but any skier or snowboarder worth their salt knows that après is a major consideration when choosing which resort to visit. After all, what’s a day on the mountain if you can’t enjoy a nice cold beer afterward? We checked in with some of the best après experts in the country to see where you should be tipping one back this winter… Read more