Once Upon a Week in the Kootenays, BC: A Travelogue, Kimberley & Fernie Alpine Resorts

Jacqui Davis |

Canadians are born travellers. This beautiful country is also massive, and going long distances is in our DNA. I’ve had the very good fortune of travelling back and forth across this expansive country many times and every stop holds a special moment in my memory, but nothing compares to the first time you see the mountains in British Columbia. The southeast region of the province, the Kootenays – taking its name from the Kootenay River, in turn named for the Kutenai First Nations – beginning at the border with Alberta, and extending west to the Monashee range of the Columbia mountans, is characterized by snowy peaks, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife. If you’re not from here or haven’t travelled here, yet, there is a good chance you’ve  at least read about the Kootenays as a recent stop on Travis Rice’s Yeti Natural Selection Tour. I’ve been here three times so far in my lifetime, but only very recently to ride.

I have a confession to make. I started snowboarding in 2001, and all these years I’ve been sliding on snow on the East (Ice) Coast. I have my reasons. I started snowboarding a few years before I had kids and bought my first home. Life has a way of reminding us what our priorities are and for many years I would go in the pockets of time between my responsibilities to my family and my work. As my daughters have gotten older there’s more freedom to devote to my passions, and my youngest daughter Dylan who is thirteen often goes snowboarding with me. Where we currently live, on Montreal’s south shore is within driving distance to Quebec ski resorts to the north, to the south, and resorts in Vermont, northern Maine, New Hampshire, and upstate New York. There are a lot of options, I’ve snowboarded at many of them, and I have my favorite local places.

But in early 2023 I turned fifty (I know, it’s hard for me to believe as well), and it is around this time in life that the clock speeds up and the soul slows down, maybe. It’s a bittersweet eventuality, getting older, as it gives time for pause, but also reminds us of the goals that we have yet to accomplish. I knew that if I was worth my salt as a traveler, a writer, and a snowboarder, this is the year that I had to go west. All I had in mind was a loose plan about where, and when I wanted to go — the Kootenays, in March, after training in the cold months of December through February, digging my edges into the icy hard pack of an East Coast winter.

I reached out to a family friend, Jayme Weir, from where I grew up in the north-end suburbs of Toronto, who I knew had been a snowboarder since the early 1990s, and had been based in Kimberley, BC, on and off since 2006. I asked for some guidance. What I got was a detailed itinerary for my brief five-day trip, and the offer of his family’s condo at the Mountain Spirit Resort for the duration of my stay, 5 meters from the resort’s North Star Express high-speed quad lift. The condo was immaculate, well-stocked with food and drinks. Us northside Toronto kids have a thing about looking out for one another. La Familia.

Deep gratitude goes to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies who own and operate Kimberley and Fernie Alpine Resorts, as well as Kicking Horse in British Columbia, Nakiska in Alberta, and Mount Saint Anne and Stoneham Resorts in Quebec — and their social media manager Cali Burke, who hooked me up with lift tickets for a day of snowboarding at Kimberley, and a day at Fernie.

Day 1 Tuesday, February 28th – Kimberley

Kimberley chair lift
Kimberley Alpine Resort 28 February 2023

I arrived at the tiny airport in Cranbrook, servicing Air Canada and West Jet flights, late Monday night and Jayme picked me up and drove me to the condo that would be my home for the next four nights and five days. I woke up on Tuesday morning to blue skies, and that soft BC powder snow that where I come from is the stuff of legends. You have to see it to believe it. I made my way to customer service, introduced myself as Jacqui from Snowbrains, bought myself a lift ticket for the day, and set out for my first solo adventure.

East coast terrain is rocky, the runs can be very technical, the snowfall unpredictable, and at many east coast resorts, not all, once you’ve reached a certain level in the sport, you’re back to the lift line in the space of a minute. It’s a reality that we live with because we live to ski and ride. Two decades snowboarding out east didn’t really prepare me for this completely different experience. For one thing, I was afraid – a fear that proves helpful and quickly subsides. I couldn’t look behind me on the chairlift to the sheer magnitude of the ranges that hug Kimberley Mountain Resort, which is set between the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains. For my first ride up I kept my eyes firmly peeled on the soft, fluffy snow below. Riding solo in unfamiliar terrain is in itself a head trip, and unless I am with a crew of friends I look out for a blue run to get my legs, and either stay there all day if I love it or look for a higher, steeper challenge.

Kimberley Alpine Resort
Kimberley Alpine Resort, 28 February 2023

I headed skier’s right off the North Star Express chair towards a trail marked blue and very quickly lost track of where I was. I took my snowboard off and walked up towards what I can only guess was the ski patrol lodge until I saw a black ski patrol jacket, and asked Rodolfo ‘Rod’ from France for directions. He asked me if I was a beginner … nope, and pointed me towards some blue trails, skiers left. Apart from one misstep that took me too far towards some steeps that I wasn’t prepared for, (but took on anyways, as you do), I stayed here for the rest of the afternoon, one packed powder lap after another, soaking up the breathtaking views, and the BC sunshine. I ended my day with a soak in the pools at the Mountain Spirit Resort, and some great chats with locals, including a relative of Thomas Edmonds Wilson, the first non-indigenous person to see Lake Louise. It was the best day I’ve had in recent experience riding solo, and I could not wait to wake up the next day for round two.

Day 2, Wed, March 1st – Kimberley

Kimberley Alpine Resort 1 March 2023

It doesn’t take long to get used to a place like this. One deep breath of BC oxygen, and you feel at home. This is an elite resort, with a small-town vibe. Everywhere you look are majestic mountains, and wildlife. Elk at every turn. I woke up to fresh snow, and while the goal was first chair, I took my time getting to the lift. I cued two hours of music on my Cardo packtalk outdoor, and lapped snaky runs on skier’s left all morning, another bluebird day, riding packed powder, and expertly-groomed trails.

Cali at RCR arranged for me to meet with Rob Duncan, Winter Sports School Director & Business Development Manager for Kimberley Mountain Resort. Rob has worked in the ski industry in a variety of capacities for four decades and is a CSIA Level 4 ski instructor. A longtime resident of Kimberley, he was the perfect person to speak to to get a sense of the resort, and the surrounding community. I came off a run and went and chatted with Rob for about an hour. I asked him what he would want to see if he was reading an article about his home mountain and some of the key points that I took away from our chat is that Kimberley is a hidden gem, a ‘sleeper’ resort if you will, never crowded. Everything is five minutes away, and it’s – perhaps – one of the last affordable ski towns in British Columbia to own property, and raise a family. Accessible via the airport in Cranbrook, Kimberley offers a high quality of life, twelve months of the year, at a relatively low cost. In addition to the ski resort, there are hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails, world-renowned fly fishing, and the most sunny days anywhere in British Columbia. This is a major resort within the heart of a small mining town. Everyone knows each other and supports and gives back to the community.

Groomers at Kimberley Alpine Resort 1 March 2023

After my chat with Rob, I had the choice of taking one of many free tours offered throughout the day to explore the full mountain, but I decided to continue riding solo for the afternoon. After all, I was in the zone, and while I came to BC to work, write, and learn, I mainly came out here to ride.

Day 3, Thursday, March 2nd – Fernie Alpine Resort

The drive between Kimberley & Fernie, along the border with Montana

Jayme and I left Kimberley at about 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning for the 120 or so kilometer drive along the Montana border to Fernie Alpine Resort, arriving just before 9 a.m. It snowed our whole drive so I had some idea of what to expect when we arrived at our destination. Powder. The drive itself was like a dream, with many breaks in conversation because there is wildlife everywhere, and you have to take several pauses, just to take it all in. When we arrived at Fernie Alpine Resort I got my lift ticket at sat down to have a coffee with Karen Pepper, Manager of Marketing & Communications at Fernie Alpine Resort for over two decades.

One of the first things Karen showed me was RCR’s ski app, which is available as a free download on all Apple devices and offers trail maps to all RCR resorts, and real-time information on snow conditions, including avalanche risks. Tragically, this was a topic on everyone’s minds as three souls were lost to an avalanche on a heli-skiing trip near Invermere, BC, the same week that I was out there. There are people who devote their lives to studying snow and mitigating the risks of being caught in an avalanche, and the team at Fernie Alpine Resort is one of the best in the world. Speaking the praises of Fernie Karen talked about the proximity of the resort to historical downtown Fernie, the sense of community at the resort, and above all else, the unique terrain of five Alpine bowls, and the powder. Fernie Alpine Resort is celebrated the world over for its record-breaking snowfall.

Powder at Fernie Alpine Resort 2 March 2023

We had a great talk, two women love the alpine, and Karen was familiar with a lot of the places where I snowboard out east. I asked her for advice on what I should do to maximize my scheduled three hours of on-mountain time. She suggested that I make my way to the Great Bear Express Quad to ride the Lizard bowl, which is what I did. This was a first-time experience for me, and one that I wish I’d had company for so I could be a bit more adventurous. The powder was deep, but the visibility was poor, so I made my way back to the village and took countless surfy runs off the Elk Quad chair in knee-deep powder. There are no words to do justice to my first experience snowboarding at Fernie. The universe was smiling on me that day. At one point I zoned out on the falling snow. It seemed to fall in slow motion, nearly suspended in time and place. On the resort website it says, “a powder day at Fernie will be the best day of your life.” Believe the hype. When Jayme picked me up a little after 2:00 pm that afternoon I was brushing snow from my helmet, smile huge, eyes wide.

… & more Powder! 2 March 2023

The snowboarding part of my week could not have been more ideal. I was promised sun at Kimberley, and powder at Fernie, and the universe gifted me with both. Add to that the hospitality of a close family friend from way way back, the charm of a small BC mining town, and wildlife at every turn. My trip was magical, and I am already dreaming and scheming about next year.

Homeward Bound 

Vancouver, between Granville Island & Kitsilano

I can’t finish this story without mentioning my unexpected stay in Vancouver. A storm in the east grounded flights coming into Montreal and Toronto, and when my flight from Cranbrook landed in Vancouver, I had ’til Sunday near midnight before I could get a standby flight home. So, what to do? Get a hotel, walk, eat sushi, and walk some more. I woke up in my quaint little hotel in the Marpole district to rare blue skies, and walked the length of Granville Blvd, to Granville Island, and along False Creek to Kitsilano. On a sunny day, the backdrop to downtown Vancouver is mountains, for miles and miles, a reminder that this mini trip was only an introduction for me to all that the BC mountains have to offer.

Thank you, universe. Thank you, Kootenays. Thank you, Jayme. Thank you, RCR. See you next year… 

Kimberley Alpine Resort – The Goods

Set between the Selkirk and Rocky mountains in southeastern British Columbia, Kimberley Alpine Resort receives more bluebird days than any other resort in the province, The Easter bowl on the mountain’s backside promises seemingly non-stop fall lines and steeps, while the front face offers powder-packed long, snaky runs, and expansive views. 

Number of lifts: 5

Summit Elevation: 6,500 ft / 1,982 m

Base Elevation: 4,035 ft / 1,230 m

Vertical Rise: 2,465 ft / 751 m

Skiable Acres: 1,800 acres

Longest Run: Ridgeway – 3.97 miles / 6.4 kilometres

68 runs: 20 percent beginner, 42 percent intermediate, 38 percent advanced

Ski season: early December to mid-April 

Average snowfall: 150’ – 400 cm

Average temperature: -5ºC/23ºF

Fernie Alpine Resort – The Goods

With over 2,500 acres of skiable terrain, up to 37 feet of snow in a season, 142 named runs, 5 alpine bowls, state of the art snowmaking and grooming equipment, Fernie is a winter playground for skiers and riders of all levels, featuring the most snow, most ski runs, and biggest vertical in the Canadian Rockies. Over 37 feet of snow falls in Fernie each season. That is enough snow to cover a three-story building. 

Number of lifts: 10

Summit  Elevation: 2,134 m / 7,000 ft

Base Elevation: 1,052 m / 3,450 ft

Vertical Rise: 1,082 m / 3,550 ft

Skiable Acres: 2,500+ acres

Longest Run: Falling Star – 5 km / 3 miles

142 named runs plus 5 alpine bowls and tree skiing: 0 percent novice / 40 percent intermediate / 30 percent advanced  * More expert terrain than the size of most ski areas *

Season: early December to mid-April 

Average snowfall: Up to 9 m / 30 ft

Average temperature: -5ºC/23ºF

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