Here’s the thing. One of the best, most awesome things about travel writing is that you get to meet locals on the front line who are not just passionate about where they live, but who are determined to show travelers the hidden gems in their communities – ideally giving us something of value to write home about.
Lucky for me, I can say this was exactly the case after – just a few weeks ago – I piled my 16-year-old daughter into our family vehicle and hit the road with Fernie on our radar. Our mission? To experience some of the best of what the town has to offer during the winter months.
From the moment we arrive – after a picturesque drive via The Cowboy Trail from Calgary, AB – the tone for our three day visit is set. In other words, we do not stop.
We’d heard rumours about how active this community is. We had a taste of it a few years ago with our summer post Flying high in Fernie. Our story Emma’s Fernie – which ran in the fall and profiled the town’s award-winning librarian – also alluded to the fact that Fernians live intensely active lifestyles.
What’s more, our recent post Romancing the Snow, featuring nearby Island Lake Catskiing, is proof that hardcore powder hounds – locally and internationally – target Fernie as the ultimate Canadian winter playground.
Before we know it we’re heading to Gear Hub Sports to rent nordic skis for my daughter and then we’re following Rebecca Hall – our guide for the afternoon – to Mount Fernie Provincial Park. As much as this mountain town is synonymous with downhill skiing, the cross-country ski scene in Fernie, we’re told, is growing steadily.
As much as her parents enjoy nordic skiing, my daughter has never been wild about the sport. Yet she instantly finds her bliss as she glides, with little to no effort, past the park’s tall, snow-frosted evergreens.
The trees, lit by the late afternoon sun, stand at attention beside us along the well groomed trail and all is peaceful save for the scraping of our skis against the snow. Stunning mountain vistas in every direction combined with powder blue skies make for a dreamy introduction to the area.
For the first time in her life, my daughter is sold.
We’ve got just enough time to have a charming young Australian from Mountain High Snow Pro Ski Rental visit our room to fit my daughter in custom ski boots for the following day. (It’s gotta be said that the town is brimming with ski-loving Australians and Europeans who have found a way to make this winter rich destination home.)
Then we’re racing to make dinner reservations at Stanton’s Local Cookhouse with a gang of Fernians where we enjoy a delicious meal – one which, aside from being delivered with warmth and expert service, includes an unforgettable rabbit stew encased in pastry to-die-for.
The next morning finds us bundled up, facing all kinds of weather, at the base of Fernie Alpine Resort. We don’t mind the weather. We’ve never skied in ice fog before and the snow conditions are epic. Plus, we’ve been lined up with local ski instructor Kathy Murray from Resorts of the Canadian Rockies to tour the mountain with us.
“Let’s go girls,” announces our guide as we’re jumping into our skis. “We’ve got bowls to ski!”
I’ve skied my whole life and I’ve never taken advantage of a guided mountain tour (many hills offer them for free, including Fernie Alpine Resort). I can’t tell you how luxurious it felt to have an expert skier not only give us gentle instruction along the way – but also direct us to the best snow on the mountain, on runs most suited to our ability.
After several hours on the slopes (there was no slowing down with Kathy!), we lunch on top of the mountain at The Lost Boys Cafe and our guide, formerly a competitive skier, tells us that when she moved back to Canada from Europe, she hand-picked Fernie for its strong sense of community, world-famous powder and steep, tree skiing.
With lunch in our bellies and a new appreciation of sub-alpine fir trees (which, aside from their cool symmetrical shape, helped guide us through the ice fog) – we head back to Timberline Lodge where we warm up and prep for the next leg of our journey.
We’re heading back to Mount Fernie Provincial Park, only this time we’ll be snowshoeing with local Lee-Anne Walker of Wild Nature Tours.
My family used to snowshoe when I was a child. I haven’t done much of it since but according to Showshoe Magazine, it’s the fastest growing winter sport in the world. “Hey, if you can walk, you can snowshoe,” insists Lee-Anne, as she heads into the snowy wilderness, breaking trail, with a small group of us on her tail.
We see moose, lynx and snowshoe hare tracks – even mice tracks that look like stitching from a sewing machine in the snow. We also see grizzly claw marks on surrounding trees. Chasing after Lee-Anne turns out to be a pile of fun and, thanks to her riveting nature commentary, the experience brings out the child in all of us.
By the time we wrap, we’re all grinning – having especially enjoyed the home-baked cookies and hot apple cider offered up toward the end of our tour. More than anything, though, we’re stoked from having spotted a gorgeous, velvety brown pine marten – looking like some crazy, awesome version of a winter forest kitten – peering down at us from a tall, burned-out tree.
Snowshoeing, it’s decided, is one of our new favourite sports. Exhausted and hungry, we head back to town and grab a private booth at Yamagoya Japanese Cuisine – probably one of Fernie’s most popular restaurants. We enjoy a huge meal of sushi capped with a sinfully yummy chocolate mousse dessert.
By this stage of the game we’ve been so active, it’s almost laughable.
Our snowshoe guide told us that in her world, “there’s fit, and then there’s ‘Fernie’ fit.” Of course, it’s all making sense now. Fit lifestyles in this part of the world are contagious and we’re enjoying the feel-good fatigue that comes from having used our bodies in ways they were meant to be used.
Our final morning in Fernie sees us heading up to Island Lake Lodge via snow cat for lunch and a snowshoe or a cross country ski or a hike or a spa treatment (for these are our options).
According to Island Lake’s Mike McPhee, the lodge’s snow cat offer is an invitation for locals and visitors alike who aren’t necessarily looking for a hard core cat skiing day. “We’re a bit of a winter wonderland up here,” explains McPhee. Uh, yah, you could say that.
With a handful of other guests, we ride a bright red snow cat through a frozen, temperate rainforest to the top of a mountain where we’re greeted by a gorgeous log cabin, sophisticated lunch menu (can you say Ossobuco?) and roaring wood-burning fire.
Pretty sweet way to wrap up our three day winter extravaganza in Fernie. Forgive us, fellow Fernians, if we don’t – like the others who travelled with us – head outdoors the moment we arrive at the lodge.
We opt to draw in our sketchbooks and play chess and lose ourselves in an outstanding view of snow-capped mountains.
To be honest, we’re ready to wind down and relax. We may be fit but we’re not ‘Fernie’ fit. At least, not yet.
*Our writer was a guest of Tourism Fernie. This post was not reviewed or edited by our partners in tourism before publication.