In the early days, snow shoeing, tobogganing and skating were the winter sports most enjoyed by Fernie residents. Skiing as a sport gained popularity in the depression when with the mines closed people had time on their hands. Lack of money for equipment did not pose much of a problem; skis carved out of birch trees were the solution of choice for many. Not dissuaded by a lack of facilities; cars towing skiers were a common sight. Dog-sled, snow shoe and ski-joring (the skier was pulled behind a horse) races were popular events usually held on Fernie’s main thoroughfare, Victoria Avenue.
Organized skiing in Fernie began in the fall of 1947 when a ski club composed of local residents was formed. Hills in use were; “Owens Hill” in West Fernie and an area near the CPR tracks which, because of its location, was known as “Cemetery Hill”. Also outings in Cedar Valley were organized for the more adventurous.
In the summer of 1948, the club embarked on an ambitious project – a new ski hill on the north end of Ridgemont. By fall most of the hill had been cleared, primarily by hand, aided by bulldozers when the club could afford them. A rustic cabin was built near the top of the hill and a route for the proposed tow surveyed.
A period of comparative inaction followed. Ridgemont hill languished and skiers were once more using Owen’s Hill and an area on Mount Fernie located at the base of a large draw. Known as “The Slide”, after the large snow slide which occurred there each year, skiers in large numbers took advantage of the comparatively clear spot.
As in earlier endeavors, enthusiastic volunteers forged ahead unfazed by the competition and sneers from supporters of sites located in more ‘suitable’ areas. The ski club paid back the Chamber of Commerce for its earlier support, by moving the ski hill from Proctor to the proposed site of the Olympics – now known as Liverwurst Bowl in Cedar Valley. Over the next year meetings were held, studies made, letters written, all to no avail; Banff was chosen as the Canadian site, only to lose out to Sapporo in Japan.
Though Fernie had lost the 1968 Olympics, it gained something far more valuable. Again driven by local citizens, the Snow Valley Ski Hill opened for business on January 17, 1963. The rest they say is history.
That history was brought to the surface in 2012 with the establishment of the The Fernie Ski Hall of Fame as a lasting record of the individuals and organizations whose passion and dedication have put Fernie prominently on the international ski map.
The inaugural induction ceremony on Friday, March 23, 2012 was part of Fernie Ski Heritage Week, a week-long series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of lift-access skiing in Fernie.
The website, fernieskiingheritage.ca, is devoted to the employees, the ski school, the racing teams, the ski patrol/avalanche experts & mountain guides at Fernie Snow Valley, Island Lake Lodge and Fernie Wilderness Adventures.