What's that saying? "When in Rome, do like the Romans." Well, a few weeks back we experienced Fernie Alpine Resort in Fernie, British Columbia, during the Kokanee Snow Dreams Festival.
"The Kokanee Snow Dreams Festival is really to celebrate the heritage and sprit of the mountains," says Matt Mosteller, vice president of marketing for the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. "There's no place that does '80s events like Fernie Alpine Resort, wearing fluorescent one-pieces with loud '80s music. It's a longstanding heritage here; in fact, the movie Hot Tub Time Machine was shot in Fernie."
Matt, you had me at "'80s party." A few phone calls later, I'd be poised to experience the festivities with some of my ski buddies. One of my friends, Spokane's Desi Leipham, was beyond ecstatic at this opportunity, as she has a costume trunk — make that trunks — of '80s and superhero costumes that would make any Hollywood movie costumer green with envy. Desi pulled out a few sweet outfits and we were ready to roll.
A few miles past the Canadian border, we were met with quarter-size snowflakes dropping from the sky. This made for some challenging driving, but we took our time, knowing the payoff would be well worth it.
After getting settled into our condo, we slipped down to the Fernie Stanford Resort, home to the Tandoor & Grill's authentic Indian cuisine. There's an impressive menu, with numerous choices of lamb, beef and chicken dishes prepared from bona fide Indian recipes. We started off with the traditional naan bread and chicken shahi tikka kabobs as appetizers, along with a few frosty pints of local ales from the Fernie Brewing Co. The beef kadai with curry sauce, loaded with bell peppers and onions, was out of this world. "Medium" on the heat scale was plenty hot for me. My table was impressed with the quality and authenticity of the Indian cuisine — even Hayden Lake's Tommy Frey, with his cheeseburger!
Saturday morning, we woke to broken, cloudy skies that gave us a great view of Fernie Alpine Resort, only a couple of miles away. As this was my maiden voyage to Fernie, the lay of the land was pointed out to me from our condo deck by Jeff Bengston of Coeur d'Alene, who's visited Fernie numerous times over the years.
Fernie has a fairly large base area, with plenty of food and lodging choices, and its five legendary alpine bowls are serviced by 10 lifts, accessing 140 runs. The resort is laid out over 2,500 skiable acres. Throw in 3,550 feet of vertical drop, the biggest vert in the Canadian Rockies, and you're in for some thigh-burning runs. There's plenty of skiing to be had that won't deplete your pocketbook, especially with the current favorable exchange rate.
This is the triple crown, says Matt: "The snow, the terrain and the vertical. It has something for everybody, and it has an immense amount of beginner and intermediate terrain. Even though Fernie isn't famous for that, there's really a lot offered for all skiing abilities."
The resort, sandwiched between the Lizard Range and the Canadian Rockies, gets more than 43 feet of annual snowfall. Matt tells me in layman's terms why the resort gets so much accumulation: "The Lizard Range runs east-west and the Canadian Rockies run north-south, so when storms roll over, they get trapped in this box, kind of like a big toilet bowl — the storm swirls around, dumping huge amounts of snow over the resort."
Since this was the first day of the Snow Dreams Festival, I thought it best to check out the resort in normal ski clothing, to see if others were wearing costumes. I've been tricked once before: I showed up to party once in a costume after a few good friends pranked me and told me the party was a costume party. But that's another story.
First off, we rode the Timber Bowl express quad as our main transport to the upper elevation, then hopped on the White Pass quad in Timber Bowl. With a 4-inch reset after the previous night's deposit, everything was feeling nice and soft underfoot. We were looking to do a good thigh burn to get the legs going for the day, so we made a run back down to the base and banged out more than 3,200 vertical feet. That definitely gets the blood flowing! Now that we were warmed up, it was time to do some exploring.
We were hoping to get on the fairly new Polar Peak chair which rises to 7,000 feet, but it was closed, on hold until the ski patrol completed avalanche control work. We decided to stay and play off the White Pass quad in Currie Bowl. After a short hike we were on top of the Currie Bowl chutes, serving up plenty of steeps and rocks and lots of challenging terrain that would make even the most extreme skier take caution. For an inbounds experience, this zone is legit!
By noon things were warming up, so we hit the groomers and explored Lizard Bowl, featuring exciting groomers with plenty of varying terrain options.
After a full day of riding, it was time to quench our thirst. As we skied down to the base area, the Snow Dreams Festival was in full bore. We saw numerous '80s-costumed riders out on the hill throughout the day, and it seemed that everyone was at the legendary Griz Bar for après. The place definitely had an '80s vibe going on, and it was a full house. Not wanting to be packed in, our crew decided to slip into neighboring Kelsey's, where there was plenty of après action; there's something about a ski resort in a party vibe.
The town of Fernie has numerous choices for excellent cuisine, shopping and libations. On Saturday night we ventured downtown, and after dinner we were walking around and bumped into one of my old friends, Adam Laurin, who owns a snowboard shop in downtown Fernie. Adam was throwing a customer appreciation party for his shop, Commit Snow & Skate, and he invited us into a packed house of snowboarding locals who had already put away two kegs.
Now that we knew the costume theme was true, on Sunday morning we squeezed into the '80s gear. "Squeezed in" is a severe understatement. Tommy looked like he was stuffed into a mint-green sausage casing, and it definitely looked painful as we watched him walk through the resort's base. I'd say we were representing our 'hood pretty well at this event.
It looked like it was going to be a stellar day, and with clear skies and everyone in my group sporting '80s gear, we straight-lined back to Currie Bowl to ski the chutes again. Surprised to find lots of pockets that were still untracked, we spent a good couple of hours playing in the chutes and looking for our buddy Devin "Doof" Dufenhorst, who became separated from us immediately that morning after taking a wrong turn when he got off the chair. After "Doof" finally caught up with us an hour later, he lost his afro wig off the chair, spending the next hour finding it and catching back up with us. Now you understand why we call him "Doof"!
By 1 pm, the snow turned to spring-like conditions, and we all had our fill of some great skiing over the weekend. The resort and the town give off a true ski-culture vibe. It's easy to understand why they filmed Hot Tub Time Machine at this soulful location.
Fernie Alpine Resort has left a lasting impression with us, and you can be assured we'll be back. But next time we'll give "Doof" a trail map. ♦