Driving to the picturesque mountain town of Fernie we saw dramatic Mt Hosmer which rises to 8200 feet (2500 meters). We later found out that the face of this mountain is the home of the Ghostrider shadow, not to be confused with the song Ghost Riders in the Sky written in the late 1940’s or with Ghost Rider, the movie based on the Marvel Comic.
During the summers and early fall, the rock face of Hosmer, which towers over the north-east part of town, has a distinct shadow of a horse, rider and a person walking alongside. According to local legend, the rider is the chief of the Kootenay tribe, which lived in the valley prior to the late 1800’s. Enter prospector William Fernie, who was looking for coal. The chief promised to show him where to find it in exchange for his promise to marry the chief’s daughter. Once he had the location, however, Mr. Fernie refused the marriage. The Chief’s revenge was to curse the valley, take his daughter and his tribe and relocate elsewhere. So – do you believe in curses? After the town-destroying fires of 1904 and 1908, and the town-destroying flood of 1916, and the mine disasters of 1902, 1915 & 1917 (with a total loss of over 500 minors) the good people of Fernie were certainly feeling cursed. Finally, in 1964, the mayor of Fernie invited Chief Red Eagle of the near-by Kootenay tribe to a public curse lifting, peace-pipe smoking ceremony.
Did it help? Judging from the bustling downtown, and reviews on how great the skiing is and reports of the best fly fishing in North American - I would say yes! This, and more of the fascinating history of Fernie is all depicted in the Fernie Museum.
After soaking up the history at the museum, we took a stroll through the historic downtown. Having worked up an appetite, we were enthralled by the many choices in town. We finally settled on Big Bang Bagels – having been told that they were the best bagels west of New York. With over 18 varieties of bagels, and a long list of sandwiches, we both chose the Mt. Fernie, with fried egg, white cheddar, avocado, tomato and grilled onion. Really hit the spot!
After this we walked across the street to check out the Beanpod Artisan Chocolate, Gelato, and Coffee, which was across the street. We were initially overwhelmed trying to figure out what we wanted so owner James Heavey gave us a hand. James and his wife and partner in the business, Mary, came here from Ireland in 2011. James became a certified barista and his wife Mary made chocolates as a hobby for over 20 years. He suggested that I try the almond dark chocolate, which was certainly the right choice. Elizabeth went with her favorite – salted caramel dark chocolate, which she deemed exquisite. James and Mary have gone through a long process to find the perfect cacao beans, sourced from a single farm where they have had a long-standing business arrangement. James insisted we sample some of the gelato. Another hard choice but the orange gelato was very refreshing.
With a cup of cappuccino we bid James farewell and took the short drive to Lizard Lodge at Fernie Alpine Resort.
Although we were here during the summer, this area is a classic powder ski area, with some seasons getting up to 37 feet (444 inches-1128 cm) of snow. Other locations can get more snow, such as Mt. Baker in Washington state which holds the world record of yearly snowfall of, 95 feet (1140 inches-2896 cm), but it is a matter of quality over quantity. The Mt. Baker snow is often referred to as Cascade Concrete.
Fernie Alpine Resort is located on what locals call the “Powder Highway” in British Columbia. Ideally located, far enough north that daytime temperatures remain below freezing and far enough away from the coast they don’t get the heavy wet snow that the Pacific Northwest and western B.C. can get. Just Powder!
Nestled in the Kootenay Range (part of the Canadian Rockies) the resort has the Lizard Range (7740 feet-2346 meters) as its playground. There are just a few isolated snow patches left in the summer, but the mountain bikers didn’t mind. From our room we could see the chair lift taking the mountain bikers to the top to enjoy the trip back down. Mountain bikers have easy access to the extensive trail system from the lift.
We considered taking the quad up to check out the hiking trails but instead used the time to relax in our room at the Lizard Creek Lodge. We planned our next two days in the sun. Our first adventure was a 30 minute drive to Island Lake Lodge. There are 14 well marked hiking trails that cover close to 60 miles (100 km). Mike McPhee, Director of Sales and Marketing, chose the short hike to Tamarack Viewpoint which provided a stunning view of the Three Bears mountains, which are in the Lizard Range. Mike said that in the winter, this is the where their Snow Cat takes skiers and riders. Looks like an epic area.
Hard to leave this vista but Mike said lunch is waiting for us. So we hiked down to Island Lake and enjoyed the tranquility here.
We then took the short walk to the Bear Lodge and sat outside enjoying the beautiful day and a refreshing Lazy Lizard drink. The drink is a mixture of apricot preserves, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and don’t forget the Vagabond Vodka from Bohemian Spirts in Kimberley British Columbia. Paired with the great views of course!
Then came the soup and sandwich. We enjoyed the Yam/Coconut soup – refreshing and light, but with some very distinct flavor levels. The sandwhich was The Bolter Burger, local beef and pulled pork with cheddar, aioli, and house made ketchup. Mike also suggested that I try some of their gourmet dinners sometime soon. Keith Farkas has been Executive Chef for eight years and during the summer Keith and his assistants can be found foraging for greens on the hiking trails. I thumbed through the Island Lake Lodge Cookbook, with almost 200 pages of recipes and photos of their mouthwatering delights from their famous dining room. Yes, we will be back for dinner!
Before leaving we had a chat about the microclimate here that produces their epic snow (watch the stunning video below). Mike pointed on that the Lizard Range enhances the snowfall of the area and after some metorlogical research, I indeed agree with him. The winter storms that move into the Pacific Northwest and western B.C. first slam into the Coastal Mountains, then into the Cascades and slow down just west of Fernie. Then they gather momentum again and the winds force the moisture up the Lizard Range. The orientation of the winds relative to the mountains is the perfect combination. As they say in meteorological terms this is “orographic lift”.
How good is the snow? Fernie submitted a bid (Island Lake area) for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Which would have set a record for the smallest town to host the Olympics, ever? Because of the quality of the snow, they actually came close to winning the bid. However, Grenoble France won, and Jean-Claude-Killy won three gold medals. Wonder how Fernie would have developed if they hosted the Olympics?
Hiking, lunch and weather discussion was covered and it was time to move the discussion to beer. So we took the short ride back to the Fernie Brewing Company. The brewery opened in 2003 and we are sure the locals enjoyed supporting the only local brewery, as did the active outdoors visitors.
My favorite was the Project 9 which is a Bavarian Pilsner and rightfully received a silver award and is a year around favorite. Kickstand Honey Kolsch was the next one tasted; this is a seasonal beer with just a light honey taste. Elizabeth, who is an IPA aficionado gave their Lone Wolf IPA high marks.
While sipping more of their fine brews we learned about their local charity of “Cheers to Charity.” If you purchase a flight of beers all the profits go to a local charity chosen by the owners on a rotating schedule. Nice program! Another more challenging program offered is The “Trail to Ale.” Hike, bike or run three peaks, which is ONLY 28 miles (45 km) with an elevation gain of 3960 feet (1200 meters) in 24 hours. Successful contestants win a free beer, bragging rights and a hand made medal. I said no thanks to this, but would love a suvenier medal. They also said no thanks, medals have to be earned.
Well, all this talk of hiking reminded us that dinner time was coming, so we went outside in the warm summer sun (90F/32 C) looking forward to cooling off at the Cirque Restaurant. This restaurant has the unique experience of the Ice Bar. Located just off the main dinning room, we entered the ice-cave like room wearing a heavy parka, provided by the establishment. Which was good – as the tempurature inside the bar is -10 C or 14 F). Everything in the room is made of ice, the walls are covered with ice, and the bar itself is a thick shelf of ice. Giving us each a shot glass (made of ice) we were instructed to choose three of the vodkas lined up on the bar. Along with traditional unflavored vodka, our favorites were the refreshing Stoli Peachnik and the smooth Van Gogh Expresso. If you are looking for sipping vodka, either of those would be wonderful. At the end of the experience, we were encouraged to dramatically dash our glasses against the wall. Very satisfying.
We left the Ice Bar to return to the dining room to enjoy the view of the cirque which is a half opened, steep walled hollow on the side of the mountain. The skiers love this. While gazing at this view the steamed mussels arrived which paired well with the vodka that still lingered nicely on our taste buds. Most of mussels served in Canada are from the fresh waters found in the Maritime Province of Canada, Prince Edward Island. These are always guaranteed to be fresh and very tasty.
Then came the main prize, the New York Striploin. I’m reluctant to use the clichés of tender and succulent, but frankly this steak was that and more. Elizabeth enjoyed her perfectly made pasta but that streak was too good to share with her. Finally, we had to turn down the dessert offer and wandered to our room, very happy after a fun day.
Our last day in Fernie started with a float down the Elk River with Canyon Raft Company We were greeted by our guide Heather for the mellow end-of-summer float. We were told to come in July if you are looking for a wild ride.
We might return for the wild run of the Elk River Canyon but were very happy taking this mellow float. The Elk River flows to the Montana border, total of 125 miles (200 km) through breath taking mountain scenery. It was hard to know which direction to look in – we were surrounded by so much majestic beauty. And while the river was definitely mellow, when we did hit the tiny little rapids of September, Heather knew just how to flick her paddle so we could all get lightly sprayed with the icy water.
During our float we stopped briefly for a snack (homemade brownies and lemonade – thanks Heather!) and then continued our float, landing at the boat launch at Dogwood Park. The park is named for the Red Osier Dogwood, which is a very common shrub that grows here. You can walk by trail into town, but we were getting hungry so we headed back to our car to go to lunch.
Tandoor Grill had been on our radar for a long time given their specialty of Indian cuisine. The restaurant features an east-meets-west theme, but we thought we would focus East and chat with Head Chef Keshab Sapka. He was born in Nepal and learned the art of cooking from his mom. He has spent 18 years taking his culinary delights to India, Dubai, Qatar and for the last 9 years in Fernie. Why Fernie? He grew up in the mountains of Nepal and Fernie seemed just like home.
We first tried one of Keshab’s traditional style of Pakora Prawns, tiger prawns marinated in spices with battered chickpea flour and lightly fried. Pakora is a staple in India and it would be for me as well.
Although the western options of Rack of Lamb or Beef Tenderloin looked appealing, we wanted to continue with Keshab’s specialties. He rolled out all of these favorites: Mango Chicken wonderful and zesty mango sauce, and Rogan Josh Chicken and Rogan Josh Lamb. Rogan Josh is a traditional lamb or mutton dish, originally from Kashmir (India Continent -north parts) with roots that go back to the Mughal Empire (1526 C.E.) It features braised lamb (or chicken) chunks seasoned with cardamom, cumin, coriander and served with a curried yogurt sauce. And Kashmiri chilies to give it a kick.
Next was Korma Chicken. Korma is also a traditional style of recipe that dates back the 1500’s. Chicken, lamb or shrimp is cooked in a mildly spicy saffron sauce and is finished with almond flakes. Delicious!
Dessert was offered, but as you noted we certainly had a generous sample of Indian food. Thus, we declined the Gulab Jamin which is basically a tasty donut in honey syrup. When we departed we took a little time to watch the kids at the Waterslide. The restaurant and the Waterslide are part of Stanford Resort located along the Elk River which has suites and condos. We noticed some fly fishermen staying here and it looked as if they could cast into the river from their room. However, they said they can easily catch their limit using the boat launch and floating down the river. This area boasts the best fly-fishing of the western hemisphere.
Saying goodbye to the locals we were ready for our next city. It’s always hard to leave, but we figured we can come back in the winter, rent some skis and explore many of the groomed Nordic trails in the city. Our next stop was the town of Kimberley, an hour and half drive drove through the scenic mountains.
Kimberley is where people flock to for the prospects of powder snow in the winter and the sun and outdoor fun in the summer. Prospectors came in 1891 to find rich minerals. In fact the town received its name from Kimberley South Africa, location of one of the largest open diamond mines in the world. Although no diamonds were found in Canada, the miners did find the lead and zinc.
During the winter weekends the miners built a ski jump at the mine on North Star Hill and during the 1930’s this became a popular place for spectators to enjoy the weekends, and was finally developed into a full-fledged ski area in the 1970’s.
This area is now part of the Kimberley Alpine Resort and is said to claim the title of the best snow in the world. The best snow? We had a great debate about the virtues of Kimberley snow verses Fernie snow with Jesse, from Tourism Kimberley.
Of course, as most great debates go – we started it at a great brewery – The Overtime Beer Works. We fortified ourselves with the Right About Now IPA and the Cooper, which is a nice Red Wheat Ale and the discussion started.
Kimberley vs. Fernie where is the best snow? How about sun? It was easy to agree that Fernie and Kimberley has significantly more sun than the Washington Cascades or Whistler. In fact I had to agree with Jesse when he said Kimberley is one of the sunniest cities in British Columbia (315 days a year) . We also agreed that Kimberley gets more sun than Fernie. (Yes, I looked at some historical archives.)
However one thing we could not agree on was who has better snow. We agreed that Kimberley gets about 200 inches (508 cm) a year to Fernie’s 360 inches (914 cm). However, Jesse said with Kimberley being close to 600 feet (182 meters) higher than Fernie, there are times Kimberley gets snow while Fernie could get rain. I questioned this so Jesse suggested I check it out this winter. I might!
After the beer and snow discussion we worked up an appetite and checked into the very popular Pedal & Tap. Jesse said “You gotta eat here!” He was right and the Food Network also thinks so, as they recorded a show there several years ago. Elizabeth enjoyed the Fender Bender, a locally sourced, grilled, ranch steak sandwich that was juicy and tender, and served with roasted peppers and mushrooms. My dinner was the Wild Boar Meatloaf Medallions. What really distinguished this was their secret formula Cherry BBQ Sauce. There was a hush over our table while we enjoyed dinner. We tried to get the formula of the BBQ sauce, but found to our delight that the sauce is available for purchase. Which is just what we did! I have to say this BBQ sauce was used to make the best batch of grilled chicken when we returned home.
The three owners, Cam, his wife Nicole, and Pierre have created a popular restaurant. Pierre donated his numerous old bicycles for the artistically designed décor. And is also the source of the restaurant's name. With all of the bikes around, we were reminded that we would be doing a bit of peddling ourselves the next day.
With the BBQ sauce safely secured we picked up our bikes and spent part of the day doing the NorthStar Rails to Trails bike path. This paved trail goes 17 miles (28 km) from Kimberley to Cranbrook, which was more than we wanted to. A better option is going just over 5.5 miles (8.9 km) to the small community of Marysville. Taking a short detour off the trail to see Marysville Falls is a must.
The return trip is a big-time workout. You will gradually gain 561 feet (171 meters) and if you’re lucky the wind will be to your back. We weren't so lucky and had a head wind so I had to promised pizza and some drinks as a reward to my riding partner.
We made it back to the city center of Kimberley. The Platzl,which is a pedestrian-only brick paved street, hosts festivals year-round and, most importantly, some excellent restaurants. The name is from a theater located in Munich, Germany in the state of Bavaria. To reload carbs we went to Stonefire Pizzeria. On the warm summer day the pitcher of sangria hit the spot! The pizza decision was more difficult and we narrowed it down between our usual margarita and The Harvest pizza. We decided to branch out with the Harvest Pizza – mushrooms, red onions, red peppers, marinated artichokes, and olives. The wood fired crust was excellent. Light and crispy – just the way we like it. Our date night back home is every Thursday usually involves pizza and if we lived closer this would be our new location.
While enjoying the pizza and sangria, we were entertained by Canada’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock. “Happy Hans” greeted everyone with his yodeling. We then ordered a coffee and discussed afternoon options.
We first visited Kimberley Nature Park. Along with the adjacent Horse Barn Valley Interpretive Forest there are close to 31 miles (50 km) of non-motorized trails. Lots of choices. Some of the hikes can be accessed from town and can be as short as Romantic Ridge which is only 2.1 miles (3.5 km). If one is really ambitious there is Round the Mountain Trail, 12.4 miles (20 km). We did part of it, by way of accessing it from Kimberley Alpine Resort and the Kimberley Nordic Club. There are also plenty of trails for the mountain bikers. We enjoyed the alpine views but thought the shorter distance was best since dinner reservations awaited. This area is a playground for cross-country skiers, with 19 miles (39 km) of groomed trails. Adjacent to this is the Kimberly Alpine Resort, which provides ski lifts for skiers in the winter. There are 68 runs with a vertical total of 2465 feet (747 meters).
Pizza for lunch was long ago so we were ready for our last dinner in Kimberley. On everybody's recommendation, we went to the iconic Old Bauernhaus Restaurant.
The building actually predates the country! It was originally built over 350 years ago in the Alps of Germany (Bavaria). In 1989, the then current owners decided to move this historic building into the mountain town of Kimberley 1989.
The German connection is still present with the current owner Nils, who was born in Berlin. Nils met his wife Michelle, who is from the nearby town of from Creston. They met in Switzerland while working and honing their culinary trade and decided to carry the German tradition to Kimberley. Which was quite a gift to the area.
Goulash was a great starter, made with stewed beef, peppers, onion and seasoned with sweet paprika and garlic. After this we were tempted to try one of the delicious traditional dinners like schnitzel, but decided to have some smaller samples of some of their greats. The menu includes a list of individually priced housemade sausages and small bowls of red cabbage, sauerkraut, and potatoes, so you can easily design your own meal. Ours included Spicy Alberta Pork Sausage, Alberta Pork Bratwurst, and Veal Sausage. To enhance the meats my wife doubled down on the order of Housemade Grainy Mustard while I could not get enough of the House Cured Sauerkraut. The red cabbage paired nicely with the spicy pork sausage, which was my favorite. Those fried potatoes were also very tasty.
We noticed the tempting chocolate cake on the dessert menu but decided to take the five-minute drive to the Trickle Creek Lodge. We relaxed and enjoyed the views of the Rocky Mountains from our room. My biggest regret was that we did not spend enough time relaxing here. However, we made up for it that evening and the next morning when we enjoyed the stunning sunrise. We certainly took advantage of the hiking trails around here (and for golfers there is the Trickle Creek Golf Resort, just a cart ride away.) So, a summer visit is totally worthwhile. However, we know we will come back during ski season to have access to the high-speed quad lift which you can ski to from your room. There is that old saying: “Think Snow.”