Last week I found out where the Ski Club of Great Britain plans to send me as a leader next season. I’ve been asked to return to Fernie in British Columbia, Canada, where I spent three weeks earlier this year. I’m delighted as I had a great time there. It means I’ll be able to re-use not only the several unattractive serious-sub-zero neoprene masks but the map that is still in my head of hundred-plus runs (most of which are ungroomed: see previous posts such as these http://tinyurl.com/6g6p9l6 and http://tinyurl.com/6knhh5y).
Fernie has extra appeal for Brits this year because you can fly much closer than you could in past years, to Cranbrook an hour away rather than Calgary nearly four hours away, with Inghams. I hope to give this a try.
The resort’s slogan is ‘Legendary Powder’ and last season, it certainly was. When a New Zealander friend of mine, Chris Johnson,visited me there in February, it snowed every day – and on average every other day of my entire stay. I soon loved the trees as they make for good visibility in all conditions and the snow stays better among them for longer. They are almost everywhere, as the top station is at less than 2,000m. See what it was like here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VECeNhuTLc.
When I spoke to Matt Mosteller (read his blog at www.skircr.com/matts-blog) from the tourist board a month ago, he said there was still four metres mid-mountain, two months after Fernie’s lifts had closed. When I go next year I’d also like to visit nearby Red Mountain – another ‘steep and deep’ spot – and White Fish, just over the US border in Montana. I also want to buy a ‘ski skirt’ of the kind worn by locals to stop them getting a wet behind on chair-lifts.
Just to explain, Ski Club leading works as follows. Competent, confident skiers and boarders can apply to enrol on the two-week Ski Club of GB leaders’ course, which is held each December in Tignes, France. Applicants need two references who will attest to their ability on two planks (or one), as well as to their off-piste experience, and they must attend an interview. The course cost me around £2,000 once I’d paid fees, travel and extras. It involves tuition on and off-piste, snowcraft, avalanche essentials, basic rescue, leadership, Ski Club policy and so on. Some of the teachers are respected names, such as mountain guides Nigel Shepherd and Kathy Murphy and technique guru Phil Smith.
From a skiing and social perspective it’s a highly worthwhile course, whether or not you plan to ‘lead’. See the blog posts of December 2010, starting with this one – http://tinyurl.com/69mgah9 – to find out what goes on. If you pass, you may be sent for a few weeks to one of the Ski Club’s 34 resorts that host leaders. Each leader appoints a skiing meeting time and place six days a week, plus a daily ‘social hour’, and members in those resorts can join the leader for free – at a specified level each day, from intermediate to advanced, including ‘near-piste’ off-piste some days. Non-members can sign up for a free taster day, and sometimes the leader will organise a group to go out with a mountain guide.
During my time in Fernie, between one and half a dozen members came along most days. Only on three days in the three weeks did the members want to ski on piste, which illustrates the sort of skiers who love the place – and the ‘in-bounds’ and ‘out-of-bounds’ system, plus the very clear closed signs, made it easy to choose safe powder routes. I was glad I had no days with no ski buddies at all, as I’m not a fan of skiing by myself.
The system and leaders’ course has been around since the 1960s and it works pretty well – although the club has plenty of leaders at the moment so beware, if you sign up to this year’s course I gather they may not guarantee you a ‘slot’.
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