“We live other people’s holidays.” That’s the bumper sticker I used to see plastered on beaten-up hippie vans, favourite skis and Fernie Alpine Resort chairlifts.
I imagine season-pass holders high-fiving to this sentiment as giant snowflakes slowly bury the town, eager skiers signing off on their bar tabs early and promising to meet at the hill for first chair. This miracle of wintertime Fernie lost its secret status long ago.
The Fernie I love, though, comes into full bloom in the summer. The snow melts. The big crowds go home. And the spring rain dries—leaving a forest impossibly lush and green, so surreal it seems sprung from a Tolkien novel.
Heiko’s Trail / Photo by Mike McPhee
This coming month (June 12), Island Lake Lodge—an internationally renowned cat-skiing playground—re-opens to the public post winter. Even an impoverished writer like me can spend a summer day hiking the Spine Back Trail in search of corral fossils and then refresh with drinks and snacks on the Bear Lodge patio.
I have been indulging in this particular luxury for over 15 years, but the view still inspires pure awe.
In the summer, Fernie’s adrenaline-fuelled rush for fresh powder gives over to a mellower way of life. I like this energy shift: the not having to line up for dinner at my favourite restaurant; the basking in the morning warmth with a coffee from Beanpod while admiring the sunlight reflecting off the Three Sisters mountains; the kids whooping at the possibility of an afternoon float down the Elk River.
This summertime pace jives more with my idea of a holiday.
Fernie, BC / Photo by Kyle Hamilton
I experience Fernie at its best when out-of-town friends visit and I play tour guide for the day. After a few less-than-successful attempts in this role, I learned that not everyone shares my intense admiration for big trees, and I now work more variety into my tours.
But for those summer vacationers who do love a really big tree, there is no better way to pass time than a morning in Island Lake Lodge’s old-growth cedar forest followed by an afternoon in Morrissey’s old-growth cottonwood forest.
For those whose interests extend beyond big trees, I’ve developed an alternate perfect Fernie day.
First, we’re sleeping in because…holiday! With a sun that won’t set until nearly 11 p.m., there’s no rush to get this day started.
Then, we’ll mosey down to Freshies Coffee Company. I recommend a cappuccino and a Secret Stash. Strategically, we won’t ask exactly how much butter, chocolate and sugar is in this house-made energy bar. No worries, though, we’ll burn those calories.
From Freshies, we’re heading to Mountain Lakes Trail. Locals call this spectacular hike “Heiko’s Trail” for the legendary Heiko Socher, the 83-year-old German man who built the trail and is responsible for so much of what is good in Fernie.
Ambitious trekkers can tackle the full 20-kilometre route (from the Sulphur Creek Road trailhead to Island Lake Lodge), about a 12-hour journey. For an ideal day, though, I suggest we highball it with a quick out-and-back that includes the best features.
We’ll start at Sulphur Creek, climb up past a spectacular waterfall and head to the űber-cool Bisaro Cave (an inspirational setting for my mountain-town novel, The Canterbury Trail).
We can spelunk for a bit before trekking through the forest above to find a perfect lunch stop at the canyon with a view of the Bisaro headwall.
Heiko’s Trail / Photo by Mike McPhee
After a good, sweaty hike, the refreshing waters of the Elk River beckon. I love a hot summer afternoon with my raft “Fish Hunter” packed full of five-to-seven-year-olds, all hollering at full volume: “THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”
Nothing says joy and adventure like a trip down river. No phones ring. No text messages buzz. Work can wait. Kick back, dangle your feet in the water and watch the world float by.
After an outdoorsy day, we’ve earned some guilt-free indulgence. With the tourism boom, Fernie boasts a plethora of culinary choices, but I have my old favourites. First, we’ll drink an ice-cold beer on The Brickhouse patio, enjoying its view of the Lizard Range. For dinner, tried-and-trusted Yamagoya Sushi is my No.1 choice.
By now we’re tired and satiated, but I’m not ready to say goodnight to this day. There’s more. A town long appreciated for its sporty offerings, Fernie has experienced a cultural renaissance in the last few years. There’s a regular art film series at the Vogue Theatre, great music at The Arts Station, and Booked!, an inspiring author series at the Fernie Heritage Library.
For my dream summer day, it’s early August and we can end at Wapiti, an outdoor music festival drawing talented acts from across the country. Surrounded by stunning mountains and good people, dancing barefoot in the grass to the fun-loving tunes of local favourite Shred Kelly, I will marvel at my good fortune to have fallen for Fernie.
Wapiti Music Fest / Photo by Kyle Hamilton
Note: This story was created in an arms length collaboration with Tourism Fernie. It was not reviewed or edited before publication. Check out our other posts if you’d like to learn more about North America’s coolest historic ski town: Emma’s Fernie: Local librarian highlights towns hotspots; Winter awesomeness in Fernie, B.C.: Historic mountain town delivers epic, family-friendly adventures; and Chasing chill in Fernie, B.C.: Toque & Canoe land the ultimate girls’ getaway.