We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own.
If a person’s measure lies in what they leave a community, Heiko Socher left an overflowing legacy not to be matched in time.
Take three of the iconic completed projects within the Fernie community.
Fernie Snow Valley
A hidden gem of a ski hill. We never got the imagined Olympics but gathered a couple of World Cup events. Built under towering faces of the Lizard Range head walls, Heiko recognized the microclimate that drops 11 meters plus on the slopes. Pushing through, often in spite of local permitting hassles, Heiko built a collection of lifts the envy of any ski mountain owner on the continent. A mountain catering to serious skiers (and I include snowboarders in this). Still lacking in the standard expected ski area modern amenities (flush toilets on the mountain, for example) Fernie Snow Valley (Calgary owners renamed Fernie Alpine Resort) is a testament to Heiko’s idea of a ski hill. Skiing. Just great pure skiing.
As side note. I first heard of Fernie in my ski traveling days. I’d make the Jackson/Big Sky/Big Mountain loop a couple times a season covering a race in either Jackson or Whitefish as an excuse for the trip. On one trip, I dropped into Steve Roade’s office at Big Mountain to say Hi. “He’s not here. It’s his day off. He’s skiing up at Fernie. Always goes up on his days off.” So the Marketing Director of Big Mountain goes to an unheard of ski area in BC on his days off? Hmmm.
Five years later, skiing my way home after a week in Banff, I discovered why and Fernie became my go-to ski destination. And then, tired of commuting, I moved.
My story is not dissimilar to many. And it’s all Heiko’s fault.
Heiko picked up the old school building with the idea of turning it into high-end condos. Working alone he accomplished a massive amount of pre-construction demo. Along came Simon Howse who buys into the vision (figuratively and literally) and adds an itinerant colony of Australian carpenters to the mix to finish the project. Today, 901 Fernie remains the premier residential address in Fernie. Without equal. (Where have we heard that before?) In this case, he dragged Simon along.
Heiko’s Trail (Officially the Mountain Lakes Trail, but no one uses that appellation.)
Running 22 km from the top of Hartley Lake Road to Island Lake Lodge, Heiko’s Trail is a classic alpine traverse. Leaving the forested sub-alpine, the trail runs through meadows, over passes and then back into the dense cedar/fir forests typical of our eco-zone. In a single day you learn both the structure of the geology and the ecology of our small corner of BC. A lesson no one should pass on taking.
But 22km of mountain trails? I worked on the Grand Teton National Park trail crew that built the trail from Phelps Lake up Granite Canyon to the top of the Jackson Hole Tram. That trail took eight guys two full summers. And it is two-thirds the length through similar terrain. No wonder we call it Heiko’s Trail.
I don’t know how to imagine that initial dinner conversation between Heiko and Linda.
“I think I’ll build a trail from Hartley Lake Road to Island Lake Lodge.
What does Linda say?
“Oh that’s a great idea Heiko.”
“Have some more pork roast” Thinking, here we go again, as she passes Heiko a platter of sliced pork roast.
Or does she (most likely) say, “Where will it run?” and listens as Heiko details the route of the trail and the few seeming obstacles.
Heiko left a couple unfinished projects. Heaven’s Gate, a new ski mountain and conference development rising directly out of Fernie and the hut to hut tour to Banff being the most notable. The question remains, who will fill the boots? Or will the projects languish, waiting for another Heiko?
Saturday December 10, 2016
Saturday was a classic Fernie day. Cold at sunrise warming to –10. A few cm overnight. Clear in town. A lenticular cloud hung over the Lizard Ridge all day, continually dusting the upper mountain with snow.
Dark arrives early in December. A little before six in the evening, orange lights gathered on the knoll of the Bear. Patrol launched a bomb into the headwall and, with that sharp report, the first torch bearing skier started down. The rest of the lights followed, snaking down Bear, onto Elk and finally gathering in the middle of the Moose. As they entered into the upper part of the Moose, the original Snow Valley logo burst into flame outlined in torches on the upper part of the run. A crowd of hundreds waited around a roaring fie. Spontaneously a cheer and clapping started as the skiers came to a stop.
The crowd left the fire, migrating to the deck of Slopeside to hear a few words from people about Heiko and to celebrate the change he wrought on our town stuck in the far corner of BC. We stomped our feet in the cold and listened. We learned. We remembered. And we shared.
In the end, when you think about the night, yes, it was about Heiko. But only half about Heiko. Because the night was really about how Heiko and Linda, together, built community institutions. If you looked at the slides in the Day Lodge, the slides were of Heiko and Linda over the years. When people talk about the first years of Snow Valley, it was Heiko on the hill and Linda in the A-frame selling tickets, renting skis and giving ski lessons.
In truth, the evening was homage to a couple, one of whom recently died, and one of whom lives.
Today, both live on in our little mountain town as alive today as five years ago, as ten years ago and as twenty years ago.