By Louise Hudson
Do you know the best way to lure the lads back for the holidays when they’ve flown the nest? Skiing: the ultimate parent persuasion! Worth all that investment during their youth, annual ski vacations are a fabulous incentive to induce them to travel across the country for a family get-together. And, once they reach their 20s, it seems that ‘family’ actually becomes more like ‘friends’ in terms of hanging out on the slopes and enjoying hotels, hot tubs and après ski bars.
Fernie Alpine Resort was one of the powerful powder persuaders with my sons this winter. With its reputation for up to 37 ft of snow each season, it is one of Canada’s highest profile resorts for Millennials (and their moms!) Add to that a rocking après ski bar – The Griz Bar – and a massive heated pool and hot tub on the slopes at Lizard Creek Lodge and the boys didn’t need to be asked twice. They already knew the expansive terrain from regular childhood visits when we used to drive down from Calgary. And they’ve never forgotten the April trip when it dumped day and night and they got their first ever turns in waist deep powder!
Arriving just as the holiday hordes departed on Jan 2, there was still a great atmosphere on the hill but none of the lift-lines. Chairlifts are in tiptop condition after various repairs during the off-season and brush work on Morning Glory, Steep & Deep, Tuck Out, Cedar Ridge, Boomerang and Boomerang Ridge means fewer obstacles to contend with. Fernie’s foremost feature for me is that you can ski everywhere – the runs meld seamlessly into the off-piste and glades, meaning you can run in and out at ease.
New to us was the iconic Ice Bar which was built in Lizard Creek Lodge two winter ago. A signature way to taste top-shelf vodkas, swaddled in Helly Hansen parkas. Close proximity to the massive four-sided fireplace in Cirque Restaurant means you can warm up quickly when you can’t cope with ice glasses anymore.
With a gorgeous suite on the ground floor at Lizard Creek, we had a fabulous few days staying at the 4.5-star lodge, whose decadence starts with its position a snowball’s throw from the Elk Chair and extends to its décor, amenities and fancy fixtures. Definitely the swankiest condo-style rooms I’ve experienced so far this winter, they have cushy heated floors, a dedicated washer-dryer room, big bathrooms en suite for each spacious bedroom, a huge kitchen with full-sized appliances, and a lovely living room with fireplace and view-encompassing balconies.
Novelties attracting attention this winter at Fernie include the Powder & Ice Package which combines catskiing capers with Ice Bar bevvies. Partnering with Fernie Wilderness Adventures, these day trips are based from Lizard Creek Lodge with hotel pick-ups available. Safety briefings at 8 am precede loading up the snowcat and heading out into the backcountry. “You step out of the snowcat after ascending the mountain and our guides begin a quick orientation to ensure your comfort with our safety procedures and equipment,” Media Manager Scott Martin explains. The first “dream run” sets off a repeat pattern for the entire day. “A cool mountain breeze brushes against your face as you stare down the mountain at the lead guide, drifting effortlessly through the deep powder,” Martin describes. “Your hands feel shaky and your heart is pounding so hard you’re worried others can hear it. You briefly imagine your poor co-workers answering emails, stuck in an office as you are visually engulfed in Canada’s purest beauty. You take a deep breath and push yourself forward…Bliss!” Photo sharing over homemade soup back at Base Lodge tops off the signature day and then it’s back to the Ice Bar to celebrate with a champagne toast.
Ski touring is trending right now and Fernie is right on it with new Backcountry Overnights, including a basics course for all the skills and techniques needed for safe and successful ski touring. Participants top off the energetic experience with après ski at The Griz Bar, which is famous for its flamboyant drinks, authentic atmosphere and weekend bands.
Heard of Uptracking yet? It’s the latest term for skinning up the mountain to hidden stashes. Fernie has put together new Guided Uptracking Tours to complement their Backcountry Basics program which gives a great intro into the use of ski touring equipment, snow safety, uphill travel techniques and more. “I would recommend this program for anyone considering skiing side country as the first step and it is so much fun with the added bonus of great exercise,” ” says Powder Matt, whose enviable job is Sr. VP of Marketing & Resort Experience for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies which means he can ski Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse and Nakiska whenever he likes!
Key when you are starting out is to get as much education as possible, he says, and to go with people who have experience. “For sure take an avalanche safety training program, ask lots of questions about safe route choice while in your class and with your experienced friends. Get educated, go with experience and practice what you have learned regularly,” he adds.
For Powder Matt, uptracking is all about the silence of nature. “Very few sports can match ski touring’s powerful mix, incredible beauty, peace and massive fitness benefit. We enjoy touring within the boundaries of Fernie Alpine Resort as there is so much to explore and you always find fresh tracks long after the storm.”
The Backcountry Basics course is becoming very popular with more people wanting to explore the side-country or slack country around, or in, ski resorts. Fernie‘s 2500+ acres of terrain, provides a massive variety for endless exploration, says Matt: “Ski touring as a family for me has the added benefit of complete peace, sharing discussions on route-finding and spending loads of time doing snow safety training together adds another great way for us to spend more time in the mountains ‘togethering’. Nature is powerful, you feel small in her presence, we need this humbling benefit regularly in today’s busy world.”