Fernie, Kicking Horse ski resorts pile on winter fun
Skiing powder at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in British Columbia. ANDREW MIRABATO PHOTO
British Columbia is a candy store for skiers, with a little something powdery and sweet for every enthusiast.
But two sister ski areas you may never of heard about are emerging — two under-the-radar resorts with hectares of open bowls, steep chutes and glorious views, plus plenty o’ western cowboy appeal: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Fernie Alpine Resort.
With both situated along the Powder Highway (Hwy. 3) and both hugging the border with Alberta, Fernie and Kicking Horse have much in common, the least of which is both are owned by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), one of Canada’s largest ski area consolidators.
Kicking Horse was picked up by RCR last season, joining Fernie, Kimberley, Nakiska, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Stoneham on RCR’s impressive roster for skiers.
Also similar is the way they feel and, to some extent, the way they ski: Edgy at times, with play patches galore of trees, steeps and pillows of powder, but also accessible for most types of skiers.
Their western auras — both are in cattle country—add to their charm. Both are within a four-hour drive of Alberta’s Calgary airport. And both feed off real (as in unmanufactured) western towns (Golden and Fernie), with saloons, general stores and communities that were in action long before skiing was in fashion.
FERNIE ALPINE RESORT
Fernie is about three hours south of Calgary and 40 minutes across the B.C./Alberta border. Skiing Fernie for the first time this winter, I was thoroughly surprised by its breadth and scope.
The resort has not one, not two, not even three alpine bowls, but a fantastic five: Siberia Bowl, Timber Bowl, Currie Bowl, Lizard Bowl and Cedar Bowl, my personal favourite. These line up along a slithering spine of mountains aptly named The Lizard Range. When you see it you’ll know why — the landscape looks just like the spine of a lizard with ripples and pointy bits.
Somehow all these bowls drain into a common space that leads out to the ski area’s base. Fernie has 1,013 hectares of skiable terrain, 10 lifts, 142 runs and a 1,082-metre vertical. All these alpine bowls make it fabulous for family skiing. Novice and intermediate skiers can head into the centre of the bowls, where the terrain is gentler and snow is often swept smooth. More advanced riders can head to the bowls’ outer ridges, where the trees thicken up and the terrain is seriously steeper.
Fernie is an awesome spot for loosely gladed (tree) skiing. Plus the arid landscape keeps snow plentiful (11 metres-on-average per season) and dry.
Fernie Alpine Resort has a small collection of ski-in/ski-out condos at its base, my favourite being Lizard Creek Lodge, with its heated outdoor pool, hot tubs and lofts that sleep a family of four very comfortably. Griz bar is one of skidom’s most legendary drinking holes. Restaurants and shops are 10 minutes down the road in town.
Head west from Calgary airport, past Banff and Lake Louise along the Trans Canada Highway and you’ll hit Golden. The B.C. railroad town nestled between the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges boasts an eclectic mix of healthy gourmet restaurants, bars, dollar stores and mom-and-pop shops in its downtown. Steer the car 14 km and you’ll reach Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, established in 2000.
Here’s the thing, folks: Kicking Horse is for skiers. True skiers. Yes there are sections where novice riders can learn and practice, and yes, it’s Kicking Horse’s intention to make it more “family friendly.” But the skier/snowboarder who milks the most out of this mountain will be one who can ride.
Kicking Horse has an incredible offering of expert terrain — 1,260-metres of vertical, with 121 runs, four alpine bowls and 85 inbound chutes. From trees to chutes to steeps to pockets of powder that stays fresh for days after it has fallen, Kicking Horse is really, really fun for adventurous intermediates and experts to ski, period.
All this terrain is served by a single high-alpine chairlift and a cozy, top-to-bottom gondola. Kicking Horse has a modest mix of ski-in/ski-out condos at its base, all relatively new. Its gem, though, is its Eagle’s Eye restaurant atop the mountain — a gourmet spot that serves delicious food with an eye-catching, 360-degree view of the Purcells and the riveting Rockies.
NEED TO KNOW
— These resorts are local treasures best skied off the beaten track. Skiing the main runs of Kicking Horse and Fernie will be fun, but you’ll miss a lot — maybe the sweetest of all that candy — so consider pre-booking a guide for a day to show you the mountains. For information, see kickinghorseresort.com and skifernie.com.