Fernie is one of Canada’s biggest resorts in terms of skiable terrain and is generally considered to be among the best in terms of powder. Being quite far from the major cities means that Fernie is also fairly quiet given its size, at least during the week, with a focus on holiday-makers rather than day-trippers, which is good news for seasonal workers.
Photo: Downtown Fernie - Henri Georgi
Fernie is found in the Elk Valley area, which is part of the East Kootenay range in the south eastern corner of British Columbia. It is around three and a half hours drive south west from Calgary in Alberta which is the closest major town and airport.
Fernie is around 45 minutes’ drive from the U.S. border and the state of Montana. From Vancouver, the drive is around 11 hours.
The Greyhound bus is the best way to get to Fernie if you don’t have a car but takes a little longer than driving because of the stops. You can take this bus from most major towns in Canada. From Calgary, the trip is around six and a half hours and costs roughly $40 if you buy in advance.
Once in town, there is a free staff shuttle to get you to and from the resort as the town of Fernie is around 5km from the resort base. However, this bus only runs in the morning until around 8.30am which means taking one of the public shuttles that stops at hotels around town to get up to the mountain and for which you can buy a season pass, or the taxi service, Kootenay Taxi.
Otherwise, hitching is fairly popular from the West Fernie Bridge. You have to be a bit flexible with hitching obviously as you might not get picked up instantly.
There is no public transit around the town, but everything in Fernie is within walking distance. You just might need to carry your groceries home through town if you don’t have a car.
Photo: Bowls at Fernie - Abbydell Photography
Being so far from major towns, Fernie aims to attract holiday-makers. This gives the resort a more touristy vibe and means there are a sizeable number of shops and hotels aimed at tourists around town.
There are a number of activities outside skiing for tourists such as snowmobiling, ice-skating, curling and cross-country skiing.
In addition to the tourists, Fernie has a permanent population of around 7,000 of super friendly locals and there is a charming laid-back vibe in town.
The resort is not particularly crowded during the week which is great for seasonal workers looking for space to carve. It does also mean that there is not as much in the way of nightlife as Whistler or Banff and the nightlife is generally finished by midnight.
However, on weekends, Calgarians arrive in Fernie which fills out the resort quite a lot more and gives Fernie a busier and yuppier vibe, and you probably will need to hike a little further to find fresh tracks.
Fernie is a very international resort in terms of staff, with lots of Australians, New Zealanders and Europeans in addition to Canadians.
Fernie is founded on the Elk River which is particularly beautiful once the snow melts in summer. Fernie was originally founded as a coal mining town and you can still see this heritage in the buildings around town.
The terrain at Fernie is based around five bowls which are above the tree-line: Siberia, Timber, Currie, Lizard and Cedar. There is enough terrain to last a season exploring the open-bowls, tree-skiing and groomed cruisers around Fernie, although most seasonal workers will want to check out other mountains in B.C. at some point during the season.
The old side of the mountain is the Boomerang and Bear areas, while the new side is the Timber area. Timber is a little higher and tends to receive better snow as a result.
At the base of the hill you will find a dedicated beginners area, however there is not much else in terms of longer beginner runs as the other ones on the hill are cat tracks.
While the intermediate terrain is decent, there are better mountains for on-piste cruisers. On the other hand, it is quite easy to duck off the run at Fernie to explore the ‘slackcountry’ areas and powder stashes in the trees and bowls. Timber and Currie bowls are good for this.
For advanced riders, the best riding is up the top of the mountain where you will also find the best stashes of powder. The five bowls all offer very nice advanced riding and very nice trees to explore.
Experts will need to hike a little to find the double diamond pitches which can often be a little short, but still fun. Generally, the further you hike the better the snow and run at the end.
Unfortunately, the lift infrastructure isn’t awesome at Fernie given how wide the resort is, and there is a quite a lot of traversing required to get to the good runs. This is particularly so for the expert terrain in the middle at Currie and Lizard bowls.
Watch out also at Timber as below the White Pass Quad there is a long trail down to the bottom including a few uphill parts, particularly bad for snowboarders.
You can find some backcountry options at Fish Bowl, accessed from the top of Snake Ridge. If you take the lines at Fish Bowl, there is just a short hike back to the resort and the Haul Back T-bar.
Further afield is the 2000 Foot Ridge which is across from Fish Bowl, requiring a hike to get there. There are a lot of chutes up here known as the Cement Chutes which are pretty challenging.
At the other end of the resort, you can find Mongolia Ridge, accessed by a traverse through the Falling Star trail.
If you go out of bounds, take all avalanche precautions as there are avalanches through these areas each year.
Fernie gets excellent snowfall and claims up to 11 metres (37ft) each season, although around 8 metres (26 ft) is more usual. The temperature is also quite good, and usually hovers around -5c for most of the season.
The season lasts around four months from early December to late April. This is a little shorter than a Banff season.
The snow quality differs across Fernie and tends to be better at Timber than across at the old part.
There is snow-making on the lower parts of the hill as, due to the low base, the snow can sometimes be patchy near the bottom, including due to rain during the season.
As the majority of the resort is below tree-line, there are plenty of options among the greenery should the weather close in, which can also close the bowls. This can also be the case after a large dump due to avalanche risk.
Park is not Fernie’s strong point. There is a single park which is quite basic and has just a few smaller features of boxes and rails. You also need to get a special pass for the park and sign a waiver to enter. Expert riders will likely be left unsatisfied by the park.
The season runs from early December to mid-April. Jobs are usually advertised after July each year. Fernie is part of the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies company which includes Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Nakiska.
The best way to get a job is at the job fair which is run in October each year.
Also, as people get injured and leave during the season, there are often spots opening up in January and February.
Fernie conducts a job fair each year to look for staff. The job fair is held at the resort, generally at Fernie Alpine Resort Daylodge in mid-October.
There are very limited drop-ins on the day, but it is still worth doing if you haven’t managed to book an interview in advance.
At the job fair, there will be group interviews and you will then be made a job offer on the day if successful. This will be done until the rosters are full. Be presentable and courteous at the interview and you will generally find yourself with a job.
Early hire/non-job fair
You also need to upload a 2-3 video to YouTube or Vimeo telling Fernie about yourself, and include a link in your cover letter. This should show you are personable and able to work well with others and that you are energetic.
You can also hand in your resume and cover letter in person at the resort centre (next to the Mountain Pantry), which is open Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm.
If you are really old-school, you can fax it in at: 250-423-6644.
To work at Fernie, you will also need:
You will get a free season pass, food and beverage discounts on-mountain, rental repair and retail discounts, free ski lessons where space is available, and discounts on lift tickets for friends and family.
You get free riding at other RCR resorts (Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Nakiska) as well as Sunshine at Banff. They are all quite far away, however, so you are best to find someone with a car to do a trip together.
There are a number of ways to find a job in town if not with the resort. The resources below often have job listings for local businesses:
Photo: Siberia Bowl at Dusk - Robin Siggers
There is no staff housing at Fernie so you will need to look for seasonal accommodation in Fernie. Preferably look in advance of arrival as it can be hard to find decent housing.
You could expect to pay $600 - $900 per month per room in a share house in Fernie.
Resources for finding housing include:
You could also post an ad on the bulletin board which is across the road from 3rd Avenue. This is used for general community advertising and people looking to rent out their houses often check it to get in touch with prospective tenants Community Bulletin Board:
While you are looking for housing, you could stay at the hostel in town – the Raging Elk – which has dorm rooms for around $30 a night or single rooms for around $100 a night.
Fernie is not super expensive compared to say Whistler, but is probably more expensive than a non-resort town. Your salary will cover expenses but generally not much more.
There are four banks in town: CIBC, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust and East Kootenay Credit Union. For those from overseas, it is probably easiest to set up with CIBC or Scotiabank.
There are two supermarkets in town – Save-on-Foods and Ann’s Your Independent Grocer.
www.ferniechamber.com has information on living and working in Fernie which is useful.
The Facebook page Elk Valley Garage Sale is a useful community page to buy and sell items, including furniture and cars.
fernie.com/community is another forum for buying and selling at Fernie.
Remember that in B.C., if moving from another province, you have 90 days to change over your driver’s license to a B.C. license.
Fernie doesn’t have the biggest nightlife out there and most entertainment after dinner is at pubs and bars.
For après-ski, the Grizzly bar in the day lodge serves up drinks and live music but it’s nothing crazy. Next door is Kelsey’s, which also draws a crowd occasionally but again nothing crazy. Lizard Creek Lodge has a more chic vibe for après drinks and has a nice view of the mountain as the sun sets.
Back in Fernie, the Boston Pizza Sports Bar is the best place to catch the latest hockey games. The Brickhouse is a beautiful little pub serving pub fare with live music. The Pub Bar and Grill is another nice pub to relax after a day on the hill. The Kodiak Lounge has live music and cheap craft beer, although it closes by 11pm.
Fernie also has a number of cheap eats like pizza, Thai and Chinese with just a couple of upmarket restaurants such as the Lizard Creek Lodge.