The Fernie Factor

The Valley of Snow’s unpredictable yet frequent storms might just make or break you.


WORDS & PHOTOS • STEVE OGLE


Navigating the world as a young ski bum can be wrought with chaos, pitfalls and trade-offs. It’s much like the famed exploits of the naïve and clumsy island iguana that survives the onslaught of deadly snakes in its quest to reach the sea. In the competitive environment of a ski town, you must find an affordable place to live, secure a job that comes with a season’s pass and, if you’re lucky, score a relationship with one of the few single women who live there year-round.

Your true imperative, however, remains skiing as much waist-deep powder as possible. Only those skiers with enough skill and cunning will be ready when the time comes, making this so-called potholed road to maturity all worthwhile. And in the aptly named Lizard Range mountain chain surrounding the iconic ski town of Fernie, British Columbia, there is one more hazardous factor ski bums must endure: The Fernie Factor.

Fernie Alpine Resort

A case study: You meet a prospective dream date on the Boomerang chair. She obviously skis, so things are looking good. She suggests you ski together tomorrow. This is where your survival, er, ski-bum instincts take over.

“That… could… be… fun,” you say, buying time, while glancing down at your phone to check the forecast.

It hasn’t snowed in a week, which is a long time for this place. You could see things with this girl going somewhere—perhaps one day shacking up and having kids. Maybe a Volvo. Before committing, however, you succumb to your primal urge to first ensure it’s not going to be a powder day tomorrow.

Fernie Alpine Resort

You need this, the solo hedonism of a powder day, more than the babies. More specifically, you crave a continuous blast of blower pow in your face from the top of Currie Bowl all the way to the base, over and over again—the stuff that Fernie dreams are made of. It’s the reason, after all, you moved to one of the best ski towns in B.C. in the first place. They call it the Valley of Snow.

The Fernie Factor, like an insidious snake, may strike when you least expect it—often in the dark days of a drought when you figure it’s okay to bank some shifts at work, or, in this case, commit to a first date. But your weather app’s advanced algorithms indicate a meager two inches forecast overnight—basically a skiff.

“Meet you at first chair,” you say.

“Okay, meet you at first chair,” she replies.

Fernie Alpine Resort

The Fernie Factor, according to Fernie Alpine Resort lead patroller Robin Siggers, is a unique scientific phenomenon, recently confirmed by government meteorologists.

“Simply put, when cold Arctic air and Pacific moisture combine with the detailed geology of the Lizard Range, it can produce much, much greater than forecasted amounts of low-density, high-quality snow,” states Siggers, who’s aligned his life so that he’s never caught off guard. On closing day last season, a surprise 12 inches fell overnight, despite a one-inch forecast. He was, of course, on duty.

Fernie Alpine Resort

For the strong, just as Darwin predicted, The Fernie Factor can ensure the survival of the ski-bum species itself: When that weather wave swirls over the Lizard’s spines and the predicted skiff morphs into 30 inches overnight, as it so often does, you and your equally stunned ski date (who, it turns out, rips) share a day like no other—creating a lasting memory that will carry over into your middle age when, still happily married and raising two future ski bums, you’ll divulge that you were both secretly hedging your bets on that unforeseen powder day, long ago.

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