31/8/11 – This new lift should be a cracker – but how to choose between the 22 ways down?

Fernie's ski area, which is due to expand this season with a new chair lift to the top ridge

I heard this week that a tasty piece of terrain is due to open up this winter in Fernie, my favourite Canadian resort. Well, I admit Fernie is the only mountain I have skied so far in North America, but that’s by the by: the place is known for its steep, gladed ungroomed slopes and when I was there it lived up in a big way to its slogan of ‘legendary powder’.

The new chair, apparently a three-seater, is being built on Polar Peak, a mountain locals already hike up when conditions allow, to give them a steep, open descent. I believe this is also a route up to the headwall, an extreme descent for the seriously intrepid and for freeskier competitions.

Polar Peak is peeping out on the horizon, behind the 'fingers' of Stag Leap, Skydive and Decline on the wooded hill

The top of Polar Peak rises behind Currie and Lizard Bowls, beyond the top stations, and will provide those crucial extra feet of altitude that will allow Fernie – which marks its 50th anniversary as a ski hill this season – to boast that it has biggest vertical in the Canadian Rockies, at 3,550ft. For Europeans the extra feet are probably no great shakes, as plenty of Alpine ski areas have a far greater vertical drop (measured in metres in Europe).

What is intriguing to me, though, is that the new Polar Peak lift is due to provide an extra 22 runs. This is something that amazed me on my visit to Fernie: there are only a handful of lifts (five meaningful chairs and one t-bar) yet the lift map details something like 117 runs.

The slope in the background rises up to Polar Peak - at least I think this is the one. PIcture by Chris Johnson

I thought this was a gimmick at first, but most, I was surprised to find, are identifiable and merit their status as individual runs, even though many are not groomed and marking is patchy. (As is usual in North America, all are avalanche-controlled.) Of course some of these runs are short and some lie close together, but I defy a mountain in Europe to have anything approaching this ratio of lifts to runs – sometimes it’s the other way round.

As I never made the hike up Polar Peak during my stay in Fernie, I’m looking forward to riding up next time I visit. I’ll leave you with a blog post by a man who knows Fernie better than anyone, Brit-turned-local Bill Handley, describing a day spent hiking up Polar Peak (three times…) http://tinyurl.com/3rzf5lq

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Filed under Canada, Off-piste, Transport

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