Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ski Fernie

So, the main event of this ski season, two weeks in the Canadian powder paradise, Fernie. We got picked up from Calgary Airport by Tom, after a long, but uneventful flight out of Gatwick. Tom provided a running commentary on North American skiing, and Fernie in particular. During January and most of February they've had a sequence of big powder dumps, snowing on average twice a week - until now, two weeks without snowfall. Our hearts sank a bit a this tidbit of local knowledge. We pulled in to the Chalet, and got greeted by Susan, the owner and manager - she's Canadian, but lived for many years in the UK, and she sounds much more English than Canadian. The first week the chalet is onlly half-full - there's Ken, a keen ski-tourer and long-time visitor to the chalet, and Gordon and Helen, another English couple. The Chalet is very different from your youth trips to the Alps - beautiful wooden interior, massive open fire place, hot tub, large bedrooms. We settle in, and try to stay awake.

Fernie ski hill is anything but a hill. It consists of 5 large alpine bowls accessible by lift, and about as many again, technically out of bounds, but accessible by foot or by skinning. Part of the draw of staying with Canadian Powder Tours was that they will guide every day, and no pandering to the weakest link - keep up, or peel off. We covered some impressive locals only terrain, thanks to Susan. She did not guide us into Fishbowl, she just happened to be there by accident :)

Although the hill was in excellent groomed condition, and virtually empty by Euro standards, we had come for the powder. Susan was sure that we'd get a bit of a Fernie 'flurry' before we left - that's 40cm over night, and she was right - when it came, it really came. We had two days of the most amazing powder skiing - in the bowls, in Fish, between the trees, on the piste, off the piste. On the Tuesday the skies cleared, and we were at the lift before opening - the locals evidently only ski on powder days, and for the first time we actually had to queue for a minute or two. Two opticians from Slough, Dave and Mark, had joined us a few days before, and thus timed it immaculately.

It's amazing how quickly the powder gets tracked out, at least the accessible bits. Come 3pm our legs were jelly, but it didn't really matter that much as what was left was pretty choppy. We retreated to the bar, and decided to go cat-skiing the next day in search of virgin snow. Cat-skiing is sometimes referred to as a poor-man's heli-skiing - it's still pretty costly, and can't quite cover the same terrain. The 'Cat' is essentially a piste bashing machine, and we got 8 drops done. Unfortunately, we were slightly let down by the temperatures, in that the snow was getting the full brunt of the sun, and being more akin to wet concrete than Champagne powder in places.

Fernie is a most excellent place to ski. By Euro standards the infrastructure is primitive, but there aren't any crowds. Susan's chalet is a real home-from-home, with a really good bunch of like-minded people. Even the boarders.

Oh, and I proposed to Sarah.

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