Considered by many of our staff to be the hidden gem of the resort, the Skeleton Flats / Summer Road loop takes hikers on a 4km loop through the stunning Lizard Bowl.
Beginning on the Summer Road trail at the top of the Elk Chair, hikers steadily climb (16% grade, 345 m elevation gain) a wide road with panoramic views of the city of Fernie and surrounding peaks before reaching the Lizard Bowl Observation Deck. Interpretive signs line the viewing platform and explain some of the historic features of the area.
Continuing further up trail, hikers will make two scenic road switchbacks before reaching a trail junction. From this point, hikers may choose to either ascend via the Skeleton Flats trail (and descend the Summer Road at the end of the hike) or continue up the Summer Road and complete the loop in reverse down the Skeleton Flats trail. Both options are equally as rewarding. The Skeleton Flats trail climbs through the Dancer avalanche path to reach a stunning sub-alpine meadow exploding with wildflowers. Of interesting note are large timber debris piles and trees which have been broken or become bent over as a result of powerful winter avalanches. Hikers may notice the large ‘caves’ or sinkholes, many of which have been filed in with large boulders for safety. These are formed by the easily dissolveable limestone rock which make up the Lizard Range, known as Karst topography.
The trail then begins its traverse across the top of the Lizard Bowl. Keep your eyes on the rocky headwalls for white mountain goats, as they are often spotted here! As you approach the Bear Chair unload, a marked Fossil Zone presents an exceptional rock wall, hosting a variety of ancient sea floor life fossils.
The top of the Bear Chairlift marks the junction with the Summer Road trail and the descent back down to the Elk Chair. Moose, bears, deer, ground squirrels, and even badgers can often be viewed here. Be sure to stop by the Nature Bob’s Interpretive Centre located at the top of the Elk Chair to learn more about the flora, fauna, and fossils that make Fernie unique or to discover more hiking options at the resort.
Blog & Photos by Nicole Matei
Ask any Fernie resident why they chose to settle down in the mountain town and they’ll tell you they stayed for the summer. It’s a cliché, but it’s true—the season of long, sunny days is when everyone heads outside to mountain bike, fly fish, canoe or lace up the boots for a hike.
The backcountry in this corner of B.C. is gorgeous, with wildflower meadows, ancient cedar forests and imposing limestone peaks. Here are the best trails—and epic picnic spots—for getting your Rocky Mountain high in Fernie.
Polar Peak Loop
Lift-assisted hiking at Fernie Alpine Resort is a great ROI—you gain altitude without breaking a sweat, and get to spend more time savouring the views. This five-kilometre round-trip trail is arguably one of the best—and most challenging—hikes in the region once the snow melts from the Lizard Range crest. Ride up Timber Chair and then walk up the access road toward Polar Peak. At the saddle, turn left and begin the trail, a thrilling ridge traverse where intrepid hikers navigate sections of rocky outcrops using a cable. The 360-degree views from this hair-raising hike are spectacular—to the west, the shimmering expanse of Lake Koocanusa; to the east, downtown Fernie and the Flathead Mountains. If you’re brave, peek over the cliff walls to see where all that snow gets blasted during winter avalanche control.
Lost Boys Loop
Berry picking, boulder scrambling, and great views of Fernie far below—this hike has it all. As a bonus, the Lost Boys Loop is perfect for families, and we’ve hiked it with our kids a number of times. From the top of Timber Chair, the 1.7-kilometre trail descends through dense forest to the Mammoth Droppings, a cluster of limestone boulders that have toppled down from Mammoth Peak, part of the Lizard Range. From there, the path climbs 100 metres to the Lost Boys Lookout for views of alpine meadows and the Elk River down in the valley. Don’t forget to look for ripe huckleberries, and fossils embedded in slabs of limestone, along the way.
This momentous day hike, also called the Mountain Lakes Trail, tackles 20 kilometres and crosses three mountain passes in the remote backcountry between the trailhead off the Hartley Creek Road and its terminus at Island Lake Lodge. The trek is a stunner because of its diversity—in a nine-hour day we ascended through a rainforest, watched a waterfall explode out of a hole in the side of a cliff, explored a cave and gained a total of 1,200 metres elevation. I’m not gonna lie—the final five clicks down to Island Lake Lodge felt like a slog. But I will say this: beer on a sunny patio never tasted so good!
Old Growth Trail
Ancient cedar trees, giant moss-covered logs, and a wide trail that gently ascends to Island Lake are the top draws on the kid-friendly Old Growth Trail. Look for the trailhead at the 4-kilometre mark on the road that cuts through Mt. Fernie Provincial Park on its way up to Island Lake Lodge. The hike is well maintained and well marked and — important to note for children — easy! It gains just 250 metres over four kilometres. After, reward the little troopers with a canoe ride on Island Lake (rent one for an hour from the lodge), or an ice-cold lemonade on the lodge’s patio.
Best Picnic Spot
If you like lunch al fresco with alpine views, score a table on the patio at Lost Boys Café, at the top of Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort. This sunny spots juts out over Timber Bowl and offers a panorama of area peaks including the Three Sisters, Mt. Fernie, Ghostrider and the Flathead Range of the Canadian Rockies across the valley. Those who prefer a little physical exertion before refueling can hike up to the top of Polar Peak for a bench break (no tables up there) with a bird’s-eye view into Fernie’s “back of beyond.”
I didn’t discover mountain biking until my mid-twenties. While Fernie’s epic trail network, both in town and at Fernie Alpine Resort had yet to be developed in my youth, mountain biking has become such an integral part of Fernie it’s difficult to remember it any other way.
After graduating, the lure to come home was strong. I spent every possible moment in Fernie and noticed a big change during the summer months. Bikes… they were everywhere. I decided to take a friend up on an offer to go for a ride. That friend was Emily Brydon, and she decided Verboten was great way to start (a Black Diamond at the top of Red Tree Road just off the ski hill.) A group of us rode from Timberline Village, and I was mesmerized as we crossed bowls I had only seen on skis. This feeling quickly shifted to fear and defeat as we made our way down the technical trail.
A few years later, I moved home and decided to park my car and buy a mountain bike. It was 2006, and while I still had a tremendous amount of fear, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I fell in with a fantastic group of women who supported and pushed me and were integral to me falling in love with the sport. In August of that summer, I watched in awe as rider after rider crossed the finish line of the TransRockies and thought… I’m going to do this one day. And I did.
While I love the accomplishment of finishing a race, I get the same feeling nearly every day riding in Fernie. Trail development and enhancement has meant new entry level and flow trails are available, along with more challenging and technical rides and everything in between. I love this about mountain biking. It allows everyone to test themselves whatever age, level or style of rider, and in turn can expose them to a side of themselves they may have long forgotten or didn’t know existed. The same goes for Fernie – it never saw itself as a summer destination, but mountain biking has sure shown us something different.
I bike a lot, from the first trails to show themselves in the spring, to the last trails to be covered in the fall. Typically during the week I stick to trails in town for the ease of a quick early morning or evening ride just out the door. A favourite loop is Hyperventilation to Hyper Extension, and slipping into Ridgemont to finish on Oh Dear if there’s time. But on any given Sunday I can be found in Mount Fernie Provincial Park, heading to Fernie Alpine Resort via Old Goat and Mega Hurtz or the newly revitalized Ben Emmett. From there, I catch a lift and laugh and giggle all the way down beautifully manicured trails like Duff Dynasty, Top Gun and Eville. And on the way home, I always climb my way to Verboten for the final descent, and remember how times have changed. For the better.
Fernie Alpine Resort was proud to honour 3 of our dedicated Mountain Hosts with long-term service awards this past winter. Glenn Sedgwick, Lyall Mahan and Wally Pfeifer have been 3 of the friendly faces that have been welcoming and assisting our guests for the past 25 years. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and congratulations to Glenn, Lyall and Wally!
Meet our amazing volunteers, who are out there in all weather conditions helping visitors to enjoy their mountain experience to its fullest!
“We moved to Fernie in 1989 as a result of a 3 year loan assignment from the Calgary Imperial Oil office to Byron Creek Collieries. Like so many others we loved Fernie so much we decided to stay here and raise our boys. Skiing and the outdoors was a great attraction for us, so in 1991 I joined the Volunteer Ski Patrol (CSPS) at the Fernie ski hill, then known as Fernie Snow Valley. Things have changed a lot since those early days. The ski hill consisted of only the Lizard and Cedar Bowls. The pro-patrol was small, about 6 people and the CSPS were responsible for the majority of the first aid work on the weekends. The Bear T-bar and Facelift serviced the upper mountain. The only way out of Cedar bowl was Cedar trail. During this period I also coached minor hockey and baseball. My wife Jeanette was enjoying the Fernie Host program, so in early 2000’s I joined too. I enjoyed touring and helping guests and proudly showing off our great mountain. I still love being a host, meeting and greeting people and enjoying the comradery of the host crew and it provides a break from my normal day job. It is great to get out of the house, enjoy the fresh air and get a little exercise. Maybe once retirement kicks in, I will be able to spend more time on this great mountain. “
“I originally came from the Saskatchewan flatland (Melfort), served 10 years with the Canadian Air Force, and then moved to Hinton, Alberta. While living in Hinton I was introduced to skiing at Marmot Basin. We moved to Fernie in 1981 but I didn’t take skiing seriously until I retired from Shell’s Line Creek mine. Retirement was cut short when Heiko Socher recruited me to do maintenance at the Griz Inn Hotel. This ski environment jump started my enthusiasm for skiing. Volunteering as a ski ambassador while at the hotel and with the Mountain Host program has been a rewarding experience as I enjoy promoting our ski hill to guests from around the world. “
“I moved to the quaint little town of Fernie in May 1979. Before moving to Fernie, I merely skied a couple times, skiing behind a ski-doo on cross-country skis.
I seriously started to downhill ski when the three daughters were fairly young (ages 7 to 9 years old) when they joined the Nancy Greene Program which was in the mid-80’s. Around about the same time, I also joined the Mine Rescue at Westar Mining where I worked. In 1990, I joined the Canadian Ski Patrol Program. In that first weekend of Ski Patrol, I administered more first-aid than I had done in five years on the Mine Rescue Program at the mine. I continued with the Patrol Program until 1997 which credited me with 7 years of volunteering with them.
The following winter I joined the ski-host pro-gram & presently am still a ski-host. My 25 years of volunteering seemed to have gone by way too fast. The glory years of ski-hosting was when we inter-acted with the guest by giving them 4 hours of touring the mountain; 2 hours in the morning on the old side of the mountain and 2 hours on the new side of the mountain in the afternoon. You knew when you did a good job when you seen all the smiles on the guest’s faces. Many of the toured guests came back year after year, became friends and some even retired and moved here. And, now some of them are the ski-hosts.
I will continue with the ski-host program well into the future. Now, I am the Duty Host for our Thursday Group. Come and say Hi. Thanks!”
The snow may be melting, but Fernie Alpine Resort is just starting to warm up for our closing weekend! April 15th and 16th will bring the 2016/2017 season to a close the only way the Resort knows how: with a party! Events and activities for everyone, with the Raging Elk Powder, Pedal, Paddle Relay race and the Coca-Cola Slope Soaker to the live music entertainment both days, Fernie has something for you.
Since 1984, The Raging Elk Powder, Pedal, Paddle Relay Race has been a wonderful way to end the winter and test your endurance on your own or with a team. A four and a half kilometre spring ski or snowboard kicks the event off and brings participants to the bike transition. Once on the bike, contestants ride the six kilometre route from the Resort into Fernie to paddle their way back to the toward the ski hill along the awesome – and ice cold – Elk River. Don’t worry, the fun is not over yet!
From the the river racers either hand off their “baton” or transition into the run. It may only be two kilometres, but it’s no slouch, after more than 16.5 kilometres runners will begin the ascent up ski hill road and to the finish at the base of the resort. Some awesome prizes await contestants; there not just for winners either! Contestants are encouraged to dress up, in the past the race has seen costume clad teams compete as the “minions” from Despicable Me, super heroes (superpowers may or may not be necessary) and even a BLT sandwich!
If you don’t feel like competing but want to be a part of the event, we always need volunteers to help with marshalling and transition stations, contact [email protected] for more volunteer information. On course cheering squads are also highly encouraged!
Saturday doesn’t end with the PPP! Day 1 of the 9th annual Fernival Festival in the Resort’s plaza kicks off with a live show from the high energy classic rockers the Backroad Traveler Band. This Calgary based band will be playing some beloved classic rock covers for the crowd. After a quick stage flip, DJ Skratch Bastid will be keeping the party going in the Plaza with his world renowned skills. The day will wrap up with an epic performance by Wide Mouth Mason who will play hits from their 20-year career. The Emily Brydon Youth Foundation will be on site to collect donations through various activities during the day.
In case you didn’t get enough live music on Saturday, for the first time in Fernival history a second day will be added to the lineup, bringing Fernie favourites BC/DC to the Plaza stage.
Sunday will also have the ski bum tradition – The Slope Soaker. Participate or come watch contestants do their best to make their way across a large pool at the base of the Mighty Moose Run. Costumes, and splashes are guaranteed for viewers and a portion of event proceeds go to Fernie Search and Rescue, who will be on site to pull waterlogged contestants from the icy cold pool.
Many of the closing weekend’s events have limited participation, so be sure to sign up with Fernie Alpine Resort’s Guest Services to reserve a spot for you and your team.
Words: Bryn Catton Photos: Jordan Johnson, Robin Siggers, Tourism Fernie
What does it take to crown an Extreme Griz? Come find out on March 4 when competitors flex their manly – or womanly – mountain muscle. This legendary event kicks off at 11 a.m. with a hearty pancake eating competition at Station Square in Fernie.
From 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Fernie Alpine Resort, competitors will prove their skills with entertaining mountain games at the base of the resort. While events like axe throwing will have competitors throwing a double sided axe at a wooden target, it’s about more than
strength and skill. Extreme Griz King and Queen prospects will also be judged based on their ensemble, so the more mountain-esque their appearance, the better!
The Extreme Griz is crowned at Fernie’s Station Square at 4:30 p.m., and participants are invited to walk Fernie’s history 2nd Avenue amidst the Griz Days Parade celebrations at 5:30 p.m.
Everyone 19+ is invited to enter the Extreme Griz competition. The event is $10 to enter and sign up is required as spaces are limited. Contestants should be available on the evening of Friday, March 3, for an hour around 8:30 p.m. and need to be available on Saturday, March 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To register for the Extreme Griz competition click here.
The final event of Griz Days is the Dummy Downhill where decorated “dummies” will dash downhill to delightful destruction on March 5th at Fernie Alpine Resort. A “dummy” for this event is a built structure on skis, it can be anything from a wooden rocket ship to the 45th President of the USA, the sky and your imagination are the limit. That said, we do have some rules to keep the competition fair, fun and safe so be sure to read the rules before you build!
The annual event is a fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society where participants build their very own “dummy” and send them sliding down the slope beside the Timber Chair and off of a large jump. The air time is almost as good as the carnage factor when these dummies land.
This is a highlight event of the year and is an ideal event for the whole family to participate in or watch. The area is easily accessible by foot and does not require a lift pass. The first “dummy” will be sent at 1 p.m. but be sure to come early to ensure a good viewing spot!
To register for the Dummy Downhill take the jump here.
Blog: Bryn Catton, Pictures: Jordan Johnson
The Winter Sports School at Fernie Alpine Resort offers lessons, skill development and specialized programs for all ability levels.
We spoke with Snow School Director Wendy Reade and Level 3 Ski Instructor Rodger Renwick to learn more about Fernie’s Winter Sports School.
How many instructors are there at Fernie? What kind of training do they have?
Wendy: We have about 130 instructors. They receive mandatory safety training, and we run training sessions every morning and afternoon. There are 4 levels of Ski and Snowboard instruction certification and we are lucky to have approximately twenty level 4 instructors, so per size of snow school probably the highest certified in Canada.
Why do you like being an instructor?
Rodger: I think it’s because I get a kick out of seeing people learn and when they learn, they light up and it makes my day.
When, and how often do lessons run? What levels of instruction are offered?
W: Lessons run daily, starting at 9 and finishing at 4. Privates, group lessons, specialty clinics, a variety of everything. 6 levels of instruction on skis, 5 on snowboard from never-ever up to all mountain, all terrain, all snow conditions.
Where do the lessons take place?
W: All terrain, all mountain. Levels 1,2,3 on the lower mountain, levels 4,5,6 all mountain. When we are in group time we tend to go minimum terrain, maximum speed so we’re not always challenging them with the most difficult conditions. We try to work on understanding and learning through reflection and some guided discovery to be able to then challenge more difficult terrain.
Why should a beginner sign up for a lesson?
R: First of all, you get to be out on the mountain and meet new people. It will shortcut you to having access to the lifts, if you don’t you could waste a lot of time. You get straight to the point: how to ski, what movements to make, how to balance and blast though all the myths around skiing.
Why should a parent sign up their child for a lesson?
W: I think it’s really fun for the kids. They love to play on skis and our instructors have a way of bringing that out, which they then share with the parents so that the parents can continue on with that positive experience.
What kind of new techniques can people learn?
R: Proper stance and balance, proper mobility, how to edge a ski properly, how to manage your speed, how to ski and read the terrain.
Why should an experienced skier/boarder sign up for a lesson?
W: I think it gets you to think about it differently, it gets you to really appreciate the sport. I think it gets you to appreciate yourself and what you can do physically, emotionally and mentally so you are able to challenge and do things and conquer things that maybe you had a bit of a barrier with before. Less fatigue, less injury, better performance, more enjoyment.
How does an instructor improve your technique, stance, form, etc.?
R: An instructor will set an objective and from that, can make an assessment as to if you’ve met that objective or how you can better meet that objective. They can give you feedback directly as to what you need to do to become a better skier.
What kind of different techniques do instructors use to teach kids, adults?
W: The kids because of the way that they learn it’s more global, so they learn by doing, by experiencing and by play. That’s how their brain works so it’s playing games that will develop those skills without them actually being cognitively aware that they’re developing something. Whereas adults need to know the why a little bit more, so that’s where you start to create development that ties into a bit of reflection on what’s happening and why, so that they really understand it.
Do you see improvement over the course of a single lesson?
R: Absolutely, yes. Sometimes it’s huge. Biggest improvement I’ve seen personally: I had someone who could barely turn snowplow left and right on the Mighty Moose. By the end of 2 hours, they were skiing down the Bear with parallel turns.
How long has the WSS at Fernie been in existence? How has instruction evolved since?
W: Since Heiko started the resort. Dave Rogers started with Heiko (and still works with us). Technique has changed because of ski design and snowboard design. Tactics have then progressed to be able to allow a broader range of skier or rider to feel comfortable and safe and really feeling good in more challenging terrain than they used to before. Teaching wise, we’re developing more of a scientific approach as to how people learn and trying to follow a good structure of development that gets people to learn not just to be taught.
R: Instruction has changed but not changed, a big driver around changing is the equipment, and the technique is slightly different because of the equipment. The component of teaching that hasn’t changed is the guest experience, giving people the time of their lives, and making peoples day. Years ago the skis were straight and skinny soyou needed to use a lot of up and down movement to lighten the ski to turn it. Nowadays there’s a lot of shape to the ski, so you don’t need so much movement up and down and the ski design can help you turn. In that respect, balancing on the ski is very similar.
Come try a lesson with our amazing instructors today! Call 250-423-2406 visit https://skifernie.com/purchase/telus-winter-snow-school/ or come into the Winter Sports School desk in Guest Services to sign up.
Fat Biking at Fernie Alpine Resort
What is fat biking? It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors when you’re not shredding down the slopes at Fernie Alpine Resort. Last week, I went out fat biking with my friend Charlie for the first time. We had a blast!
We started our ride at rentals where we got our helmets and fat bikes. The process was quick and simple. After a safety check, we grabbed our equipment and headed towards the trails next to Lizard Creek Lodge. We started on the View trial and merged right onto the Boom Creek trail. The trails were wide and the snow was compact.
I did not know what to expect, but it was surprisingly relaxing. We made it all the way to the Elk Valley Nordic Society Cross country trails. At that point, we turned around and headed back towards the View trail. After a leisurely 30 minutes bike ride we decided to venture up to the Boomerang triple chair. The next 15 minutes was all up hill, definitely a work out!
We arrived at the Boomerang chair and we were nearly half way to the end of the trail. Tired, but having a great time we headed back down hill all the way to Boom Creek, past the mountain condos and into the Griz Day Lodge for a hot chocolate and coffee.
Snowshoeing at Fernie Alpine Resort: Strapping Up For the First Time
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go snowshoeing for the first time. We had a blast! We spent the afternoon exploring the trails on the east end of the mountain. Neither of us had snow shoed before, but it was fun and easy to pick up.
We met up at the Fernie Alpine Resort rental shop and picked up two pairs of snowshoes. The staff were super friendly and the process was simple. Charlie rented the shorter Denali snowshoes and I took out the larger Tubbs snowshoes. Both pairs fit nicely over our boots. The Denali were more effective on packed snow and the Tubbs did well in the deep powder. For that reason, I lead the way on our excursion.
We began our adventure past Lizard Creek Lodge on Boom Creek trail. Charlie noticed an opening just to the right of the Mighty Moose lift. The view in between the trees was so incredible that we decided to take some photos to share with you.
After the photo shoot, we headed further down Boom Creek trail and up into the woods. We spent the afternoon exploring through the trees and getting lost in the moment. The experience was unforgettable and I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to spend a day in the woods. There is certain feeling you get when you are nature and are surrounded by nothing but trees and snowfall. Pure bliss.
Post by Neil Kabesh
The main reason we make winter weekend pilgrimages to Fernie, B.C. is the snow. Nearly 40 feet of the white stuff falls every season and covers the ski resort and nearby trails with an embarrassment of fluffy flakes. Naturally, downhill skiing is the main attraction, but there’s more to do in Fernie than just snorkel through powder on fat skis. It truly is a winter playground and that’s why we love it. Here are our Top 5 favourite things to do during a Fernie winter.
You can’t ignore nature, so when Fernie Alpine Resort receives an epic dump that blows a foot or more of fresh snow across its five alpine bowls, you’d best get yourself to the top of the mountain, stat. But even when there’s no new snow, Fernie’s 2,500 acres of terrain delivers. North-facing slopes like the 123’s in Currie Bowl hold the snow well into spring, and there are plenty of steeps, bumps, glades, groomers and beginner runs for everyone in the family. (Insider tip: head to Snake Ridge in Cedar Bowl for gnarly vertical, try the runs off Boomerang chair for moguls, and float between perfectly-spaced trees on Morning Glory in Siberia Bowl).
Ice, ice baby
No ski day is complete without a little bit of après. Fernie boasts more bars per capita than most ski towns—there are 14 bars for a population of just 4,000—and it also has the only Ice Bar in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The new vodka tasting ice room at Lizard Creek Lodge is an intimate indoor, refrigerated room complete with an ice bar, ice shot glasses and ice walls with ice alcoves into which are placed more than 20 kinds of vodka from around the world. Guests don a Helly Hansen parka and then shoot back a flight of three vodkas, from smooth Tito’s Handmade to Stoli’s sweet Salted Karamel. This après-ski experience will ease the pain of sore muscles (and dull the memory of any tumbles).
Like kids at a playground, once you’ve been sliding for hours, you want to try something else that’s just as rewarding. By all accounts, winter fat biking is the best new way to combine a great workout from the uphill climb with an adrenalin hit on the descent. For those not in the know, fat bikes are basically mountain bikes with custom forks to accommodate wide tires that provide more stability and extra grip and traction on snow. You can rent one at the FAR Rental Shop on the mountain, or at the Gear Hub in town, and then hit Fernie’s system of over 90 trails. Beginners can start on the flat riverside trails, and progress to the wide, groomed trails in the Montane area off Coal Creek Road, or tackle the 12 kilometres of groomed trails adjacent to the Timber Bowl chair at the ski hill.
Historic downtown Fernie, set with the dramatic Lizard Range as a backdrop, is one of the most picturesque ski towns in Canada. The best way to take in its charm is on foot, by strolling past original brick and sandstone buildings that date back to the early 1900s and now house an eclectic mix of bars, boutiques, restaurants and specialty shops. Pop in to the Fernie Arts Co-op to admire jewelry, art and photography by local artists, and check out the Ghostrider Trading Co. for Fernie clothing and souvenirs. Stop in at Nevados for delicious pork belly tacos and the best margaritas in town, or head to The Brickhouse if a burger and Fernie Brewing Co. beer are more your style. And don’t miss Beanpod for artisan chocolate made right in the store.
There’s something magical about gliding through a silent forest under your own power while giant snowflakes twirl down from the sky. It’s not all about steep and deep at Fernie—the town also boasts plenty of groomed and track-set trails for Nordic skiers. There are even cross-country trails right at the base of the ski hill for keeners who want to tackle both styles of skiing in one day! Or, check out the trails up at Island Lake Lodge, the groomed trails at the Fernie Golf and Country Club or the skier-only (no fat bikes) trails at the new Elk Valley Nordic Centre. Check in with the Fernie Nordic Society for trail conditions and details.
Photos by Abbydell Photography, Henry Georgi, Mark Eleven Photography, Fernie Alpine Resort & Cali Sammel
The Avalanche Rescue Dog program is an integral part of the snow safety and avalanche program of the Fernie Professional Ski Patrol. Dogs have been used in avalanche rescue situations since the early 1900’s and because of their heightened sense of smell, tracking abilities and agility they are some of the greatest rescue assistants.
We currently have 6 validated Avalanche Rescue Dog teams: Steve Morrison and Neko, Forest Latimer and Tarn, Kirk Gutzman and Digger, Jennifer Coulter and Pika, Megan Kelly and Mogul, plus the newest certified team of Sean Caira and Tabor.
Meet our avalanche rescue dogs who live and train with the lucky members of our ski patrol team:
Neko – (ski patrol assistant: Steve)
One of our veteran avalanche rescue dogs, Neko is a 6.5 year old Labrador Retriever who has taken part in several rescue missions. Working closely with his human assistant Steve, they have over 35 years of combined search & rescue and ski patrol experience. Neko is Steve’s second certified avalanche rescue dog.
Neko is an extremely friendly and personable dog and is our go to dog for on hill demonstrations. Here he is teaching us about his job during our Avalanche Awareness Days, held annually each January. Neko and Steve can often be found at the top of the lifts doing drills and other exercises to keep their skills sharp.
Tarn – (ski patrol assistant: Forest)
Tarn is a Border Collie and like many avalanche dogs, Tarn started training to be able to find people in an avalanche situation at just 8 weeks old. He was officially validated as an Avalanche Rescue Dog in 2011 at the course held right here in Fernie.
Now at 8 years old, Tarn and his human assistant Forest are daily companions. They ride the lift together in the morning, (occasionally mixing it up with a snowmobile instead) and ski down to the base at the end of the day. On a usual day at work for Tarn, there’s time for a little bit of play at the patrol shack at the top of the mountain although he’s always ready for a rescue mission if need be. Forest has been a ski patroller at Fernie Alpine Resort since 1998, and is on our avalanche forecasting team. He is a Professional member of the CAA, as well as being an avid backcountry ski tourer. Watch this Youtube video to learn more about the ski patrol program at Fernie and to see Tarn working and playing around on the mountain.
Digger – (ski patrol assistant: Kirk)
Digger is a yellow Labrador Retriever from Eromit Kennels in Quesnel, BC. His birthday is January 25, 2011 making him 6 years old this winter. He validated (got certified) with his handler Kirk Gutzman at the annual CARDA (Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association) course at Kicking Horse Resort in January 2013. Digger is Kirk’s second avalanche dog (his previous avalanche dog was Lily) and he has been on the Fernie patrol since 2000. Digger loves his days out on the snow with Kirk and is fuelled and graciously sponsored by Horizon dog foods. Check out this video of Digger and Mogul working on the mountain.
Pika – (ski patrol assistant: Jennifer)
Pika is a 7 year old Belgian Malinois, and Jennifer’s second certified avalanche dog. Pika is always ready to work, and is happiest when giving 110% (or more)! You might see this team working fun obedience drills near the patrol huts, or doing practice searches around the mountain. Check out this video to see Pika in action. Jennifer has been with the Fernie ski patrol since 2001, though now has more of a part time presence. She works full time for Avalanche Canada in the South Rockies Field Team, and is the Instructor Coordinator for the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association.
Mogul – (ski patrol assistant: Megan)
Mogul is a 2 year old German shepherd who was validated at the course in Whistler January 2016! His human assistant, Megan Kelly, has been a ski patroller for nine years at Fernie and is one of our snow safety educators, talking to schools about our snow safety programs. When not training, Mogul loves playing with his favourite toy- a ball on a rope. You can often see him and Megan at the top of the mountain practicing his obedience and having lots of fun. Here’s a video of Megan and Mogul training last winter near the Lizard Bowl top hut.
Tabor – (ski patrol assistant: Sean)
Tabor is a black Labrador Retriever and the newest member of the avalanche rescue dog team. Tabor was born in Quesnel, BC but it wasn’t long before his handler Sean and his wife Emma came and picked him up. He was a little unsure at first to leave his brothers and sisters but soon learned that his new home in Fernie is a pretty great spot too. Tabor fun fact – he and Neko are half brothers!
Tabor will be turning 2 this winter so he still has LOTS of energy and LOVES to play. Sean and Tabor always have lots of fun on the mountain and you can see them around playing and doing training exercises. His handler Sean is his favourite person and if you see him on the mountain playing with Sean, please keep your sharp ski and snowboard edges away. Tabor and Sean were validated this January 2017 here at their home resort in Fernie!
Check out this video for more information about our avalanche program at Fernie Alpine Resort and be sure to come check out Avalanche Awareness Day (January 28, 2017) for demonstrations of avalanche dog skills, the avalauncher shooting t-shirts, avalanche transceiver beacon training and more!
Words: Steve Morrison. Pictures: Jordan Johnson