Video: Sledding in Fernie, BC
Colin Wallace | On 18, Jan 2017
Living in the Columbia Valley allows me easy access to some incredible places, not the least of which is Fernie, BC.
Heading south down Highway 95 takes me through the desert-like sandy hills of Radium and Invermere to the wide floodplains near Wasa and Kimberley. After navigating through the twisted snakepit of asphalt that is the junction of Highways 3, 93 and 95 just outside of Cranbrook, I continue along towards the far East Kootenays. Jaffray is the start of the Lizard Range and biblical snowfalls; to give you an idea of how much snow the area gets, Avalanche Canada used to do a separate avalanche forecast just for that area.The little sliver in the Rockies named after a reptile is a sanctuary for sledders, ski resorts, heli and cat-ski operations, and backcountry skiers.
Nestled into the Lizard Range between Jaffray and Sparwood is a town that has it all. Resorts, lakes, rivers, mountains, hunting, jobs, affordable real estate and big snowfall can all be found in Fernie.
Fernie has a blue collar background with several coal mines close to town; the mines themselves play a large role in the local economy, but so does the industry that services the mines. From the tire shops that supply rubber for all the haul trucks, to the welders that repair the buckets on the excavators, to mechanics, electricians and other trades, the hard working mentality of the people of Fernie keeps the town thriving.
Michael Phillips first put Crowsnest Pass on the map back in 1873 when he started the black gold rush after spotting massive outcroppings of coal during exploratory expeditions. But things really kicked into high gear in 1897 when prospector William Fernie (with the help of Colonel James Baker) established the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company and set up a temporary encampment near Coal Creek.The next year, The Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in the valley and a townsite—known as Old Town—emerged slightly north of the original encampment, parallel to the railway.
Fernie’s history is fairly short but is not without tragedy; along with numerous mining accidents, widespread devastation occurred when the town’s early buildings—constructed mostly of wood—were exposed to fire. A fire raged in 1904, wiping out most of the commercial district in downtown Fernie, and then again in 1908, a second fire reduced the entire town to ashes, leaving the residents only 90 minutes to grab what they could and evacuate. By 1910 the town had been rebuilt, this time with brick and stone and it hasn’t changed much since; a lot of those same old buildings stand today.
The town’s misfortunes carried on into the 1930s when the local economy was crippled by the depression. Government subsidies propped up the coal industry until the world markets recovered in the 1960s.
The Ghost on Mount Hosmer
The town’s misfortune has been jokingly attributed to a curse hanging over the valley. The darkened shadow of a distinctive horse and rider on Mount Hosmer is said to be the ghost of an angry Indian Chief and his daughter, chasing after William Fernie. Legend says that Fernie courted the Chief’s daughter to gain information about where the coal on her necklace came from. Once given the location of the Morrisey Coal Seams, William cut ties with her, angering the Chief who instructed the tribe’s medicine woman to place a curse on the valley. In 1964, members of the Kootenay Tribes assembled in Fernie and performed a curse lifting ceremony, smoking a pipe of peace with local politicians. However, the legend lives on in the shadow on the mountain and in the stories of the townspeople.
Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well today in downtown Fernie with enough boutique shops, restaurants, and nightlife to maintain a quaint resort town feel. Yet in contrast, the town is big enough to support the convenience of recognizable big city franchises like Boston Pizza and Canadian Tire. And modern times have brought a new economy to town; snow-loving sledders now chase their deep powder dreams in the mountains surrounding the town all winter long.
Sledding in Fernie
The Rolling Hills area is Fernie’s most popular riding zone. It offers everything from family trail rides and warming cabins to classic East Kootenay technical tree riding. Following the 16km groomed trail from the Coal Creek staging area takes you right to the front door of the cabin. Keep going past the hut and there are open cut-blocks to ride in. Continue winding south through the forest on the Doug Dean Trail to access more technical glade and meadow riding, or stay on the trail to link up with the Wranglers/Morrissey network.
Directions: From the highway, turn east towards downtown on 4th street. Cross the tracks, turn right on Pine Ave, then follow the road as it transitions through residential neighborhood. After it turns into Cokato Road, turn left on Coal Creek Road. Follow this road for approximately 3.5km to the staging area, located beside the Rod and Gun Club.
The Notch is accessed via the groomed Morrissey trail, and is Fernie’s most technical riding area. From the trail, continue east through the open meadow beside the Wranglers Cabin and head up the pipeline to reach sub-alpine bowls and endless glades. A portion of the trail is on Fernie Wilderness Adventures land; Watch for snowcats and stay out of the private lodge and cat-ski areas.
Directions: Head South of Fernie on Highway 3, then turn left on Morrissey Road. Cross the river and tracks, then turn right on Cokato Road and follow the road as it veers left into Morrissey FSR. Follow Morrissey FSR for approximately 2km to the staging area.
The Hartley Lake trail is the access point for true alpine riding amongst the towering limestone peaks of the Rockies. The groomed trail meanders past an old lake bed, through meadows and into some of Fernie’s most remote backcountry. Good route finding and backcountry experience is a must when heading out to this area. It is recommended for trucks/SUV’s pulling trailers to carry chains for accessing the staging area. There are multiple Non-Motorized zones and it is up to you to inform yourself of these closures. Refer to the Fernie Snowmobile Association Trail map for closed areas.
Directions: Head East of town on Highway 3, drive past Industrial Area and turn left on second access to Dicken Road (first will be before industrial area). Take the first right on Hartley Lake FSR, and follow it for approx 3.5 kilometers to the staging area.
There are plenty of gas stations right along the highway close to restaurants and hotels that will accommodate large enclosed trailers. VP Racing Fuels is available in all octanes at Ghostrider Motorsports.
Ghostrider Motorsports is an authorized Arctic Cat and Yamaha dealer and can provide parts and service for all makes and models.
More information about Sledding in Fernie can be found on the Fernie Snowmobile Association website.