When I completed the Ski Club of GB leaders’ course in December (see previous posts) and was offered Fernie, British Columbia, as my first three-week leading slot, I suspected I’d landed on my feet. “Wow!” sighed fellow leaders. “Lucky you!” I’ve been here 10 days now: lucky me indeed – and lucky everyone who has visited this mountain lately. As Europe yearns for a few flakes, and visitors to the Alps return home with tanned faces and skis full of holes, in Fernie I’ve barely seen blue sky, and the last four days we’ve skied nothing but powder.
I’m here to ski with Ski Club members and find them the best runs and conditions, so I’ve had to get to know the place thoroughly. In Where to Ski and Snowboard 2011, editors Dave Watts and Chris Gill report that signage is limited, though they say it has improved lately. They also note that there is masses of steep ungroomed tree skiing. On both counts they’re spot on.
There are no markers as such on either groomed or ungroomed runs; signs indicate the top of most runs, some perched in trees. I spent my first two days here skiing with Andy Soar, the leader from whom I’m taking over. A regular here, he devised a clever route taking in the ridges between Fernie’s five bowls to show me some of the 112 in-bounds runs. As leaders we’re allowed to take members anywhere in-bounds and open, whether groomed, marked, tracked or not, but nowhere out of bounds.
It has taken me a few days to feel at home on the steep tree runs – although because the snow is lighter and easier than it typically is in Europe the gradient matters less. And I’ve bought a helmet: the snow-laden trees aren’t as soft as they look. Fernie’s lift system, at least, is simple – there are six chairlifts, one t-bar and one beginner button. And because none of them are too flashy or fast, more people are probably going up at any one moment than coming down – meaning plenty of room on the slopes.
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