By Gordie Bowles
Home is where the heart is. Or in my situation, home is where the sweet snow is.
Thousands of ski visitors, legends and everyday skiers flocked to Fernie for the weeklong celebration last week, celebrating 50 years of ski culture and sublime terrain that could share no rival … at least in this scribe’s slightly biased opinion.
We arrived in Fernie for an S-Mag photo shoot and feature story (watch for the cover story in the October issue) to our favourite arrival gift: fresh snow, wicked terrain and the occasional knock-your-socks-off bluebird moments.
Like the city itself, the celebrations were not over the top but tasteful, giving an insight into the resort’s rich history set among a padded-sweater-wearing crowd and a plethora of powder-inspired events.
In the heart of the city, the Fernie Museum hosted the special exhibit “The Power of Powder — Tracing Fernie’s Ski Heritage,” which features vintage photos, equipment and memorabilia that helps weave the story of Fernie’s ski heritage. And many of the shops on main street (2nd Avenue), like the Ski Base and Edge of the World, got into the vintage spirit, showcasing equipment from the pioneers (Nancy Greene’s Rossignol Strato … sweet ski!).
The Legends Luncheon paid homage to pioneers, builders and sports personalities who helped shape the former Snow Valley mountain into one of the world’s most recognized ski towns. Like Heiko Socher, who built the ski hill from a T-bar operation in the late 1960s to a thriving resort that is the envy of many resorts worldwide. And before him, Louie Schillpa, the ski hill’s first manager and ski patroller. There’s local legend Dave Rogers, who established the ski school in 1975 and taught a gazillion students and ski racers (including yours truly) over the years; 85-year-old Tom Stokie, who built the original ski school with his own hands and continues to be a staple of how to teach skiing; Mike Delich, the mastermind behind resort development in Fernie and former ski coach, FIS TD, president of B.C. Alpine and many other volunteer capacities.
Former Fernie athletes were also recognized, such as three-time Olympian Emily Brydon, former downhill great Ralf Socher, former NCAA champion Jennifer Delich and former world freeski champion Ryan Oakden.
Fernie being a coal mining community, the mining industry has been a key player in skiing in the region, and the event organizers smartly recognized the support from Teck Coal (formerly Kaiser Resources, B.C. Coal and Westar Mining).
Having lived through nearly all of this development — my family moved here from Manitoba in 1973 — I was caught up in all the moments of this celebration. I haven’t actually lived in Elk Valley for many years, but Fernie, especially on this week, was again my home.
Among many flashbacks to my youth I had during our too-short stay was the hike up to Polar Peak in the 1980s from the Lizard Bowl. I remember like it was yesterday the three-hour-plus grind up the Saddle and Currie Ridge, which is now accessed from the Currie Bowl in a few mere minutes up the new Polar Peak chair. It really is the top of the world up there at 7,000 feet, and the ski down the Papa Bear run was nearly as glorious as the view and as my memory.
Photos by: Gordie Bowles & Paul Morrison