Canada is loaded with incredible ski resorts. Lake Louise near Banff and Whistler-Blackcomb near Vancouver are so good, in fact, that Europeans and Australians regularly make the trip to sample the snow in the Great White North. Five years ago, then, when you thought of Canada, the name "Fernie, B.C." probably didn't pop into your head. Now, however, after the Mom 'n' Pop ski hill was purchased by the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies back in 1998, it has quickly climbed into the world's snowy consciousness.
"Fernie has legendary powder and limitless terrain," says Matt Mosteller, a spokesman for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. "It's a massive skiing experience."
Listed as one of the world's top 20 ski values by London's Daily Mail and in the top 10 for great powder by Australia's Powder Hound, more and more international travelers are nonstopping into Calgary, which is four hours from Fernie -- about the same time it takes to get there from Spokane.
Founded in 1897 as a coal-mining town, Fernie's sleepy little hill was a favorite among locals through the 1970s. In the '80s, many who live to ski migrated to Fernie as their own favorite hills became overcrowded, says Mosteller.
In the mid-1990s, Charlie Locke, a world-class skier and president of the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (which also owns Lake Louise and Kimberley), drove through Fernie. Locke was greeted by two feet of new snow in the parking lot -- Fernie has always been known as one of the snowiest hills in Canada -- and he saw a diamond in the rough.
Now Fernie's not off the beaten path any longer, but Mosteller says it's plenty big to accommodate regulars and tourists alike. After purchasing the resort, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies put in four high-speed quads and doubled the terrain. Today, there are 2,500 skiable acres and 2,800 vertical feet of downhill. There is also dog sledding available, a snowcat skiing service and tons of snowmobiling trails, says Mosteller. And on Jan. 24-26, the World Cup Freestyle competition hits Fernie -- the closest World Cup event to Spokane this season.
Fernie the town is only four miles down the hill, and it has been prospering along with the resort. It features a variety of pubs and restaurants way out of proportion to its native population. And it offers lodging from five-star stuff the Europeans might like to youth hostels (there are three of 'em).
"Fernie's got a real funky cultural weave to it," says Mosteller. "Like Sandpoint and Ketchum, there are a lot of old brick buildings -- they have 40 historical buildings. And the mountains around it are spectacular. It's like a national park, but you can ski in it."
But any time you talk about traveling to Canada, the values have to enter into the equation. With the exchange rate hovering around $1.50 Canadian for every American dollar, it's hard to beat. Mosteller says it's a big selling point for the globetrotting skiers, too: "We tell them that a whole family of four can come to Fernie for two weeks for the same cost as one person going to France for a week."
For more info, call 800-258-7669 or go to www.skifernie.com