A powder day on Snake Ridge at Fernie. Nick Nault photo.
Story by Steve Ogle
Strategy is everything on a powder day. Like a game of chess, winning usually requires a complex set of tactics. I’m learning a few of these at Fernie Alpine Resort today. It snowed 28 inches in the last 48 hours and skiers and boarders are everywhere, shredding everything in sight.
I’m new here, but I’ve done one thing right: Through a connection, I’ve latched onto mountain operations manager Robin Siggers for the day. Having worked and skied here since 1977 when Fernie was a small-time hill, Siggers is a master of navigating these slopes, knowing (and sometimes dictating) the sequence of run openings after a big snowfall. Today demands a large-scale avalanche control program, meaning some of the best runs don’t open for days after a dump—a blessing for those who play the long game.
Tucked beneath the picturesque headwall of the Lizard Range, the resort is a sequence of huge bowls and spur ridges. One of the latter stands out more than the others. Thanks to the ski patrol’s hard work, things are finally getting close for the opening of Snake Ridge.
A view of Fernie and the Lizzard Range. Fernie Mountain Resort photo.
“It’s absolutely one of the best runs on the mountain, for sure,” says Siggers, as we load the Bear Chair, a quad that takes us to within striking distance of this legendary pitch at the resort’s northern boundary. My anticipation grows, but I’m not the only one. Like pawns in a premature attack, skiers are lined up across the Cedar Bowl traverse and, according to the veteran, making all the wrong moves: “I always say, ‘Don’t wait for something that’s not open. Go ski something,’” he asserts.
This seems like proper wisdom considering it’s still waist-deep in some hidden pockets. I grab a snack on the chair, while my guide simultaneously works a cell phone and VHF radio. He starts firing off a text.
Somewhere on the mountain his son Dylan Siggers works his own game—hitting waist-deep pow in the trees to be specific. On days like this, messages from his dad are not ignored. Home for a brief stint between ski trips south of the border, he missed yesterday’s Curry Bowl opening but is poised for Cedar today. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be getting an up-to-the-minute text: Snake is opening…
If anything can get a 25-year-old self-described ski bum motivated, it’s this.
“Pulling up to the top is like the feeling you get at the top of a rollercoaster,” claims the Fernie-born-and-raised pro. “It’s about 1500 feet of straight fall line when you do it right. You can spend your whole day lapping and still be able to find good turns,” he adds.
When asked about where to bide your time before Snake opens, the young Siggers will tell you that Curry Bowl is the place to be. “My favorite is going up Timber, do a jump lap to Whitepass [chair], and then do either a Curry top to bottom or a Saddles lap,” he offers, hinting that not everyone needs the inside scoop on opening times. “If you’re a longtime skier of Fernie, you kinda have an idea of how it plays out.”
Back over at Cedar, his dad and I unload from the chair. I prepare myself for yet another Bear lap, but this time my mentor stops in apparent contemplation. He’s difficult to read. He points across the bowl.
“You can drop into Snake Main, the southeast aspect, in the sunshine—that’s where you get a lot of excellent light,” he says. He motions further down the ridge. “Skier’s left you get into Gorbi Bowl, which rolls into steeper terrain, then further left it’s Steep and Deep: super long, rolling over, steepening...”
Snake Ride in all of it's glory. Henry Georgi photo.
Clandestine texting and gut feelings aside, there is one simple solution to visitors who would like first tracks on an opening. This is Canada, after all, and, according to Siggers, visitors should simply ask a friendly patroller what’s happening. Finally done stalling, my chaperone nods to a red-and-white comrade whose job evidently is to be nice and direct people. “They can generally give you an estimate,” Siggers calmly notes, while I see the patroller reveal the faintest hint of a smile to his boss.
“Check…” Siggers texts to his son.
After poling across the Cedar traverse we forego Snake Main and the other drop-in points past the now-open gate. There’s something more to this. While staying as high as possible, Siggers launches into the ridge’s terminus known as Red Tree, and disappears in a cloud of dust. Poised on the brink, I finally discover the end game here, and shout triumphantly as I descend through my steepest and deepest turns of the season. Bobby Fischer couldn’t have done it better.