Fernie Alpine Resort, B.C.

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Published October 1999. This article does not reflect any lift upgrades or terrain expansions since then.

Terrain Ability






Fernie Alpine Resort






Fernie is located in the southeastern corner of British Columbia, less than an hour from the borders of Alberta and Montana. The ski area has traditionally enjoyed a cult status among powder skiers due to its abundant snow and remoteness from major population centers. Fernie Alpine Resort has attracted more attention since it was purchased by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (seven areas, of which Lake Louise is the largest) and nearly doubled in size to 2,500 acres for the 1998-99 season.

Lift Serviced














High Mths

Low Mths


Direction of Exposure





GE 90 in.

LT 30 in.

Base Depth





Fernie Alpine Resort, B.C. 5,400











Fernie's Lizard Range has a very unusual microclimate compared to most mountains of the Northern Rockies. Most weather comes from the Pacific Northwest, with little obstruction from other mountains, thus boosting snowfall and raising temperatures relative to most western Canadian ski areas. It can rain to the top of the ski area 2 or 3 times a year, about as frequently as to the top of Whistler's high alpine sector. Fernie also gets some snow from smaller and colder storms which work their way along the north to south valleys of eastern B.C.


Fernie Alpine Resort has minimal snowmaking, so it can open anywhere from late November to mid-December when the base area is adequately covered. By this time, there is usually considerably more snow up higher. Most steep runs will be open right away with minimal rocks, although alder bushes may obstruct some fall lines that open up later in the season. Fernie is a good bet in December and January due to reliable coverage and more moderate temperatures and better visibility (more trees than alpine) than most Canadian resorts.


The highest lifts are 700-1000 feet below the steep and rocky peaks of the Lizard Range. The ski area is generally well sheltered from wind, even during intense storms. While visibility in the bowls can be poor, the abundant tree skiing makes Fernie an outstanding foul weather ski area. Some avalanche control is necessary above the bowls, but only the 300 vertical Face Lift is subject to frequent closure.


The predominant exposure is east-northeast, with many runs dropping north or southeast from ridgelines into the major bowls. The sunny exposures can develop spring conditions by late February, while the more shaded glades will retain winter conditions through March.



Terrain Type:


Cruising: There are substantially fewer groomed runs than at most ski areas of comparable size. Bear Run, between the Bear T-bar and the Boomerang chair is most popular, with North Ridge offering a slightly steeper cruise when groomed. If it hasn't snowed for a couple of days, some of the blue-marked runs in Cedar, Lizard and Timber Bowls will be groomed for excellent cruising, along with the center of Currie Bowl. The lower mountain runs off the Elk and Deer chairs are groomed regularly, but the terrain is quite flat down there.


Moguls: Incline, Stag's Leap and Skydive loom prominently above the base area on the ridge between Lizard and Currie Bowl. You must traverse across Lizard or Currie to reach these runs, and the Lizard traverse will include a hike if the Face Lift is closed. Similar in character to the Incline group is Diamond Back, on the ridgeline between Currie and Timber Bowls. The steep fall lines under the Boomerang chair will also develop challenging moguls.


Steeps: Moderately pitched open bowls characterize most of Fernie's upper mountain terrain, with the steep runs dropping in from ridgelines on either side. Some recommendations: Steep and Deep and Extreme Hazard from Snake Ridge, Punji Chutes on skier's left and Bear Chutes on skier's right under the Boomerang Chair, Windows Chutes at far skier's right of Lizard Bowl, and the Concussion Chutes at skier's left of Currie Bowl. While most of this terrain falls within the black rather than yellow definition of steepness, nearly all of it is gladed and should be considered hazardous in the occasional event of hard or icy snow conditions.


Wide Open Spaces: Lizard Bowl has the most expansive open terrain, with a considerable amount in Cedar Bowl also. Both are mostly moderately pitched, with some optional gullies and dropoffs for those looking for more adventure. The 1998-99 expansion terrain has more tree outcroppings in Currie, Timber and Siberia Bowls. Currie has the longest fall lines, while Timber below the White Pass chair and Siberia have long runouts back to the base area.


Trees: Fernie was renowned for its tree skiing even before the expansion, and now can make a convincing case for having the best lift-serviced tree skiing in North America. In general, spacing is adequate for skiing in the trees nearly everywhere in the upper 1,500 vertical of Fernie's terrain. The only limitation for advanced skiers would be closures for hard snow or late season slop in the most sun-exposed areas.


Powder: Fernie's powder reputation rests upon its snowfall, well-sheltered terrain during storms and low skier density. Early morning skiers usually head for the Boomerang chair, where its fall line glades and the Cedar Ridge glades dropping into Cedar Bowl are easily accessible. Avalanche control is sometimes required before skiers can traverse across Cedar, Lizard or Currie Bowls. The 5-10 minute traverse across Cedar to Snake Ridge is rewarded on powder days with deep snow on Snake Main, Steep and Deep and Red Tree. Powderhounds similarly traverse across Lizard Bowl to Easter Bowl. In the expansion terrain, it's worthwhile running Timber Quad to White Pass chair circuits to get at numerous powder runs of up to 2,000 vertical in Currie Bowl. Alternatively, you can ski shorter runs on the White Pass chair in Timber Bowl, but Timber's exposure is partially south.


Hiking and Backcountry: Skiers can traverse beyond Snake Ridge to Fish Bowl to catch a few fresh tracks and then cut back into the ski area at the bottom of Red Tree. A local guide and rescue equipment are recommended for exploring above the top lifts, south of Siberia Bowl or north of Fish Bowl.


Crowds: Fernie's skier visits have increased substantially in recent years, but it's still pretty quiet compared to similarly sized areas. Lift lines occasionally form at the base in the morning of holidays or big powder days. The easily accessed runs now get tracked more quickly on powder mornings, but fresh snow still lasts days after a storm in such outlying terrain as Snake Ridge, Fish Bowl and Siberia Bowl. The base facilities can be busy during Canadian holidays, but skier density remains low over most of the mountain.


Intermediates: Fernie does not fit the standard profile of an intermediate area. The lower mountain is flat and most of the upper mountain is ungroomed. Snow conditions should be considered in evaluating difficulty. Some blue-marked runs, such as Puff and Heartland, which access White Pass and Currie Bowl from the Timber Quad, are at least red in steepness, and could be considered black with hard snow or moguls.


Fernie can be regarded as a golden opportunity for intermediates aspiring to learn powder skiing. The wide open bowls are moderately pitched, and not tracked quickly on powder days because the hard-cores are looking for the steep and deep in the trees. Fat or mid-fat ski rentals are highly recommended for most skiers.


Novices: There are numerous easy runs on the 700 vertical Deer chair and the 1,000 vertical Elk chair. The few green designations on the upper mountain should be taken with a large grain of salt.


Children: As the easternmost ski area in B.C, Fernie gets a fair amount of school holiday business from Alberta and the Canadian plains, particularly when snow conditions are poor in the less reliable Banff ski areas.


Some condos are being constructed at the base of the mountain, but most skiers stay 5 minutes away in the town of Fernie. The bed base is fairly small, so with Fernie’s growing reputation we suggest advance lodging reservations, especially on weekends or Canadian holidays.


While there is a small airport one hour west in Cranbrook, most skiers reach Fernie through Calgary, 3 1/2 hours northeast. If you have a car for a week, you can drive a loop trip combining Fernie and Banff / Lake Louise. Another attractive combination is to fly into Whitefish, Montana, home of the Big Mountain (reviewed May / June 1999 IT), which is 2 1/2 hours south of Fernie. Finally, the cheapest gateway airport for some Americans is Spokane, 5 hours southwest of Fernie with the drive passing through Sandpoint, Idaho, home of Schweitzer ski area (reviewed Dec. 15, 1998 IT).


The definitive resource for Fernie ski info is The Unofficial Fernie Alpine Resort Page, run by resident Craig Morris at http://far.redtree.com/index.html. During the ski season, he posts several detailed ski reports with photos per week at http://far.redtree.com/cgmrep.html. The website includes an archive of Craig’s daily reports since 1996-97.