“HOLD TIGHT, FÉLIX! WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU!”
“I’M IN DEEP! BUT I’VE STILL GOT ONE SKI.”
“10-4! WE’RE ON OUR WAY. RESCUE MISSION INITIATED!”
The nine-year-old boys climb up the mountain through hip-deep snow to save Félix. In reality, they’re directly under the Bear Chair, and they climb about five yards, but in their imaginations they’re deeply immersed in a backcountry survival situation.
Sadly, I see mere snippets of the mission on a shoddy helmet-cam recording. I missed their remote, life-and-death adventure entirely. Why? Because I had the brainstorm of not getting a season’s ski pass that year. Here’s my logic: I’m the hockey mom so that sport takes me away from Fernie a few weekends. I work in Alberta so lose other potential ski days there. I decided “it’s not worth it.” Or more precisely, I decided I am not worth it. Everyone else in my family has a season’s pass, even if they don’t make it up to the hill every weekend.
When I saw that video of my favourite nine-year-old boys, rosy cheeked and fired-up on adventure, I wished I’d been there. After two years with no ski pass, I’m declaring project No-Pass a failed experiment.
Because you know what happens when I don’t have a season’s pass? I don’t go skiing. In the morning, I decide I should wait until after lunch and get the half-day rate. Already I’ve missed the best part of the day: fresh powder. By noon, while the rest of my family flies high, energized by fresh air and exercise, I’m hitting the post-lunch lethargy. So I decide maybe I’d better stay home instead: there’s laundry to do, emails to answer. When the family comes in at 4:30 giggling about a day of snow fun, I’m grouchy because I’ve spent the afternoon folding clothes and scanning social media. But I’ve saved money!
That saved money will not be what I remember when my kids have grown and gone.
My husband always tells me: “You’re not supposed to think about getting a season’s ski pass. It’s the Fernie Fun Tax. Like any tax, you pay it and then you forget about it until the next year.” He has paid his Fernie Fun Tax every year since 1995. He has never once regretted it.
He’s right. In two years, I missed many fun days on the hill. Katie’s first ski race. Crazy Helmet Day. Ollie’s first black diamond run. Pink-clad Katie straight-lining full speed into the SLOW sign (I know, ski patrol friends, not funny, totally not, obviously).
This year my experiment draws to a close. When it comes to Ski Fernie, I am all in: season’s pass, priority parking, new gear. When my kids look back on their 2018 ski season, I will be woohooing my way down Red Tree right beside them. I can’t wait.
See you up there, Fernie Friends!
Photos by Powder Matt, Rob Heule & Mark Eleven Photography
I like to take videos from the bedroom window of my Fernie house and email them to friends in Ontario. I’m a jerk like that. I start by focusing out over the forest, spectacular in a new way every season. I scan along the peaks of the Lizard Range out to the world-famous cat skiing operation Island Lake Lodge, and then I pop over to Mount Fernie, its green glory so impossibly close it seems I could reach out and touch it. I like to end the video with a bang by panning to the magnificent rock faces of the Three Sisters. Usually, I caption these videos with something witty and profound, like:
Fernie, BC: It’s Not Ugly
This is gloating at its worst. Look where I woke up today! Just LOOK! It’s as if I have to capture this natural splendor on video and present it to an envious audience in order to believe it myself.
I remember my first trip to Fernie in 1996. I took a picture of a friend in the Overwaitea parking lot, toque over her straggly hair, Mount Fernie towering behind her, the sky alive with a deep pink alpenglow. “Even grocery shopping is beautiful in Fernie,” I’d said. “I’ll never get sick of this view.”
Twenty years later, I can confirm: I never have.
Plus I’ve learned that it’s the kind of view that calls people out into it. I’ve stood atop each of those peaks that I showcase in my video. I’ve skied those runs.
When I’m at my happiest in Fernie’s terrain, skiing down Red Tree in powder to my waist say, I always think of my Swedish friend Åsa, her cheeks red with cold, her eyelashes full of snowflakes, her smile vast: “You are so lucky to live here!”
Åsa says the thing she loves best about Fernie is the activity. When Fernie friends get together, it’s not just to do coffee or have lunch or drink wine. It’s to ski or hike or bike. We get out into that view. We live it with our whole bodies.
But there are other pretty mountain towns with active residents. What makes Fernie the right one? When National Geographic’s “digital nomad” Andrew Evans came through town, he fixated on The Bean Pod and the high-quality chocolate products offered by owners James and Mary Heavy. The intricacies of the chocolatier process fascinated Andrew. He was also hooked, I think, on the family’s story of leaving Ireland and traveling the world to find just the right home for their product. Their quest for the best place to build the only bean-to-bar company in Canada led to this specific town of 5000 in the Canadian Rockies.
Though the particulars of the Heavy-family story are unique, the gist is common. People choose Fernie. They work to get here. They bring what they love. They live their passion. The shops lining Fernie’s main street – not a Gap or a Lululemon among them – reflect that character, that love. And if on especially snowy mornings, I find those shops locked-up and bearing POWDER DAY! GONE SKIING! signs, I understand. The signs remind me: yes, this small town is just right.
Photos: Henry Georgi