On a ridge between two of Fernie’s bowls is the White Pass chair, which deposits you among magnificent forest stashes, where clever traversing equals steep, deep and deserted terrain
The Canadian resort of Fernie is known for steeps and glades, spread across five bowls – and for its (deliberately?) vague trail map and signage. A glance at said map could leave a first-timer to the BC resort thinking the White Pass quad, at the top of Timber Bowl, was merely a means of reaching the double-blacks of Currie Bowl over the ridge, or a place for those who stick to blues. Not at all. Locals know the Pass is a ripper in its own right, giving access to scores of ungroomed lines the map barely hints at. Lines you’d be stoked to sniff out in a European resort in a week, let alone from one lift in a day.
To find them, ski with someone who knows which traverses lead where and how to avoid terrain traps that’ll leave you hiking out. When I spent three weeks in Fernie leading for the Ski Club of GB I got to know the place well. But on a visit last season that knowledge was bumped up tenfold by the owner of Canadian Powder Tours Chalet Holidays, Susan Mould, who has led her guests round Fernie since 1997 and knows the mountain as intimately as the patrollers do. Susan offers two things that are dying out in certain bits of Europe: ski hosting for experts (off-piste, inbounds) and catered chalet board (high class, low cost). Most crucially for us at Fall-Line, she’s as mad about adventure as anyone I’ve skied with. So, where to start on White Pass? The trick is to look beyond what you see from the lift. Sure, the obvious routes – Heartland (7), Pillow Talk (12), Highline (14) – offer fanciable features plus the odd pillow line. But the real action is out wide, in the Surprize trees (98) to skier’s left; or towards Siberia Ridge to skier’s right. After a warm-up run or two, Susan and I picked off Knot Chutes (107), three parallel double-black gullies accessed by a traverse back under the lift. Entry can be rocky, and they’re short, but they harbour deep powder and make for a show-off run. Juicier still, if you traverse across all three Knots you can take on three unmarked, little-skied chutes known as Slim, Thin and Jim – or huck yourself directly off the gnarly Cheese Grater… All the above spit you onto a traverse which you can cross, to dip in and out of mellow trees to the bottom, or you can follow that traverse to skier’s left. Follow it, initially, as far as Surprize, glades where a little imagination will find you fresh lines well after snowfall. The key to getting back to White Pass is picking up the skatable Trespass Trail (20).
By the time we’d nailed the Knots and parts of Surprize, it was time to check if Gotta Go (25), a double-black off the ridge into Currie Bowl and accessed from the same traverse, had opened. Almost as steep, yet more closely forested, is nearby Anaconda Glades (24). From both, we regained White Pass by poling back along Trespass. To go further into Currie without skiing to the village afterwards, take the reliably deep 123s (92) off the top of White Pass, or any nearer facing runs (try Currie Glades, 21) and rejoin Trespass.
We mixed up these laps with runs to skier’s right, dipping in and out of trees to the left of Falling Star (1), close to the area boundary, then passing the Lost Boys Cafe at the top of the Timber Bowl quad. There’s a quick boot up a hump beyond the cafe to access Big Bang (4), a wide slope easily seen from the Timber chair – or you can traverse below the cafe for a lower entry. Steeper and beyond Big Bang, Mitchy Chutes (8) has perfectly spaced pines. Schuss out to the left as Mitchy flattens to get back to White Pass without hiking.
A final word: get wise to the Idiot Traverse. A few pylons from the Pass’s top station, you’ll see ‘idiots’ wasting freshies galore by slipping diagonally down a wide ungroomed expanse. They make a choppy mess towards a spot where the slope flattens and funnels, near the start of the traverse to Surprize. To avoid joining the idiots, scope a line from the chair, ski off the lift in a U-turn, pop down your route almost to the bottom of the bowl and traverse coolly out to the left, sideslip-free, to arrive at the same point as the idiots, but with decent turns under your belt. That’s satisfaction!