Tag Archives: Fernie

16/12/11 – Winter campervanning in Fernie in Fall-Line magazine

Nick and Bethan, the plucky campervanners

Two of the most brilliant people I met last winter were Bethan and Nick Lowe, who spent a ski season living in a campervan in Fernie, a great resort in British Columbia, Canada.

Happily for them, it was a fantastic snow year, and Bethan – who arrived an out-and-out beginner – was able to master powder skiing on Fernie’s scores of lovely, ungroomed, gladed (and often very steep) runs. Nick turned out to be a superb patient fiance (check out this post – http://tinyurl.com/d845cgm – and see if you recognise who I’m talking about) and it turned out to be a great way to spend a winter in the mountains at very low cost.

Chilly but cosy: the happy couple's home sweet home

My article about Nick and Bethan is out now, in the current issue (101) of Fall-Line, the excellent ski magazine. Find it in the newsagent, or to have a look at the piece – “Maximum Freshies, Minimum Cost” – here, follow this link:

Maximum Freshies, Minimum Cost – Fall-Line magazine, issue 101 

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw

5/8/11 – My his-and-hers collection, part two

It's a nice touch that his teensy rucksack matches her shoes and hat

Welcome to the second instalment of pictures from my his-and-hers library. If you’ve read part one (http://tinyurl.com/3pbzz37) you will know what it’s all about. Twin-suits roaming the slopes a deux, attracting a chuckle from people like me.

I was lucky enough one day when ski hosting for Inghams in Obergurgl (perhaps in 1997) to have my very own his-and-his in my group – a father and son in identical pale blue jackets. I remember them being very nice chaps and I think they had the plausible excuse that the coats were something to do with the family firm.

Matching Inghams guests, a father and son, around 1997

I wonder if hitting the slopes clad in his-and-herses makes couples more harmonious on ski holidays. Common is the sight of a bored husband waiting impatiently at the bottom while his wife slides nervously down.

Last winter a friend and I came across a classic on St Anton’s Rendl slopes: the husband fed up, planted in the middle of an icy red run and bellowing  unhelpful instructions at his poor near-beginner wife edging her way down. She would have been happier in ski school; he would have been happier on his own (and could probably have done with ski school himself).

A shame this Bogner-style pair didn't complete the look with identical trousers

There is an entertaining thread I found a few weeks ago on the Snowheads forum about skiing with ‘other halves’ – follow this link to read it http://tinyurl.com/3cesfpc. I am very much with the school that says be patient, encourage and wait for your slower loved-one – and it will pay off because you will eventually be able to enjoy skiing together.

Follow-my-leader, a great formula for patient couples

I met two couples who are brilliant examples of this approach this February in Fernie.

One is an expert skier who was repping there for the Ski Club of GB before me, whose wife only learnt in her 20s and can now easily tackle anything he can. It seemed to me his patient, kind and positive attitude had been a big factor.

Another couple I met were a complete beginner and an out-and-out expert living in a mobile home for the winter, with the express purpose of transforming her into a ski-fanatic. By the time I got there in February, she could ski virtually all Fernie’s off-piste runs – and many of them are seriously steep. Her husband-to-be got the balance just right between taking her down new slopes and letting her get her confidence on familiar ones.

Having said that, I also met a great family in which the mother stuck happily to the green runs near the base station and the father and sons ventured off to the steeps. All seemed perfectly happy to ski separately – there was no martyred husband being deprived of his fun and no bullied wife being told to turn on a patch of ice by a husband who had sailed on instead of giving her a patient lead down the tricky bits…

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Filed under Austria, Canada, Gear, Off-piste

18/7/11 – Is it too soon to dream about powder?

Well, there are a few blue runs - picture by Nick Lowe

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.

This was the weather we liked

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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Filed under Canada, France, Link to film, Off-piste, Transport

23/5/11 – Bomb squad: Kevin Giffin in Fall-Line magazine

Part of Kevin Giffin's patch

In the current (summer, number 97) issue of Fall-Line Skiing and Snowboarding (www.fall-line.co.uk), one of the coverlines reads: “FERNIE PATROL – He’s got a bag full of bombs and he’s gonna use ’em”.

It always makes writers happy when editors make their material sound fun and readable. That’s how I felt about this coverline. You can read the three-page article it refers to, in pdf form, here:

My piece in Fall-Line about Kevin Giffin

The piece is about Kevin Giffin, the chief patroller at Fernie, western Canada, who I interviewed for Fall-Line when I was there in February/March.

At first, I was surprised that someone whose routine involves dynamiting, avalaunching, blasting, heli-bombing and more dynamiting (plus a daily contingent of ‘wrecks’) could be so laid-back.

But on reflection a calm temperament is probably a bonus in this job, and Kevin also came across as super-organised, outstanding at motivating his team, utterly reliable and – crucially, I think – keenly aware that there’s always something new and useful to learn. When a mountain guide, a patroller or even an instructor thinks they know it all, and doesn’t allow for the unexpected, I get jumpy.

In the article Kevin also reveals…

…that most injuries happen on green runs – the ones with the best signage and grooming

…that increasing the number of girls on his team of patrollers has created a ‘better dynamic’

…that he carries a 50m spool of dental floss in his rucksack

Follow the link to the pdf above to find out why – and to read more about one of Canada’s premier powder hotspots (also see February posts).

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Filed under Canada, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste

9/3/11 – Fernie’s loose moose, on film

Check out this film from a blog from Fernie in Canada, where I spent three weeks earlier this year. It shows the moose of Cedar Bowl, mentioned in a previous post, at the bottom of Boomerang chair. Note that a few weeks after this (see comment from Bill Handley on previous moose post) the moose met a sticky end…


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Filed under Canada, Link to film

28/2/11 – When Fernie’s 20cm rule kicks in

There’s a fantastic unwritten rule in Fernie that makes it rather a good place to live and work. When more than 20cm of snow falls, shops, cafes and businesses in Fernie town are allowed to shut down so that their owners, employees and staff can head for the hill and enjoy the powder. After all, there won’t be any customers, as everyone will be doing the same!

Downtown Fernie, with the ski hill in the background

After 33cm last night, today was a prime candidate for the 20cm rule, and indeed hundreds of locals pitched up first thing. In fact there were almost scenes of ‘powder rage’ when the lift company delayed opening several of the lifts and the crowds gathered expectantly at the barriers.

I’m told the rule doesn’t count for consecutive days, so in the event of daily snow of more than 20cm, a decent interval has to be observed before the next mass exodus. This is probably a good thing for business in a place where it can snow daily for weeks on end…

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Filed under Canada, Off-piste

21/2/11 – The moose of Cedar Bowl, Fernie

During my coach journey from Calgary Airport to Fernie last week, a woman declared that her son and his girlfriend – both ski instructors – had been chased down the mountain by an angry moose, somewhere in Cedar Bowl. I’d almost forgotten about it – bar one anxious moose-related dream a couple of days ago – but the other day there was a sign at the top of the Bear Express chair saying: “Moose sighted on Red Tree Road – take care!”

Cedar Bowl, where the moose family dwells

I’ve been asking around to find out more about this potential hazard, and one afternoon I met someone who had seen the moose only an hour before, standing firmly in the middle of Red Tree Road, on the way back from the Red Tree black. He reported making a detour under the out-of-bounds rope to give her a wide berth. Bill Handley, who saw her from further away, said: “You could go up and pat her on the nose one day and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but next time she saw you, she would attack, and trample you to death – and she weighs 1200 pounds!”

Another local who “got stuck” telephoned mountain rescue, who tried to chase her away with the skidoo. “They’re dangerous, and it’s difficult to get them to move, even with a snowmobile,” confirmed Kevin Giffin, head of mountain rescue, adding that there was a family of around six moose living in the valley.

So far, my wildlife viewing has been limited to the occasional squirrel, ermine and finch – and I’ll be happy if it stays that way.

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Filed under Canada