Xmas Day finally saw the abatement of fire hose of snow that had been pointed at the Pacific Northwest for a week. With just cold temperatures and flurries in the forecast, it seemed a good time for a quick road trip.
First stop, Fernie, BC, A three hour-ish drive from Schweitzer. An impressive 91 inch base, cold weather and prospects of avoiding the holiday crowds promised two good days. First impressions were a bit surprising though. Despite the base, rocks and shrubbery were much more prevalent than Schweitzer. Not terrible or unskiable, but noticeable. It was soon pretty apparent that the mountain was pretty much skied out, with patches of hardpack lurking like incompetent snowboarders on a bump run. I guess this is the downside of being in striking distance of Calgary on a weekend.
Still, Fernie is a great mountain. It’s complex, bowl-strewn layout makes navigation for occasional visitors like us a little tricky, but quality goods were there if you looked hard enough. Highlights included being perfectly placed to take advantage of a clearing in the weather for 3 laps on the Polar Peak Express. One crazy steep, narrow groomer and a collection of precipitous chutes beckoned, with chalky, grippy snow making for some scintillating descents.
On Day 2, we focused around the Boomerang triple and Great Bear chairs, dropping laps into Cedar Bowl and exploring some of the superb tree skiing in this area. Like bipartisanship in the US Congress, patches of pow emerged infrequently, but were always very welcome. Slow lifts and steep terrain are sometimes just what the doctor orders for good snow conditions.
Two hours from Fernie lies Whitefish in Montana. It’s known for extensive, deserted terrain, no lift lines, fog and high quality snow. But with a lower reported base, in the 70 (top) to 20 (village) range, we were a little afraid of early season conditions. These fears were unfounded though, as the cover was great all over the mountain. Drops into Hellroaring Basin started with crazy tight trees, leading into chutes and open bowls, followed by a Mach 7 roller-coaster run out to the chair. The trees from Chair 4 held powdery, soft bumps that seemed rarely skied. The groomers were as fast as the US deficit is growing.
It was a little foggy, but never enough to cause vertigo carnage. East coast and Canuck visitors caused some lines at the base, but nothing a singles line could cope with. Even when Chair 7 broke, the lines weren’t too insane and everyone dispersed rapidly over the expansive ski area. There’s so much tree skiing here that we have to return sometime soon. Midweek. Midwinter.
And finally we scammed a day at Schweitzer on the way home. Not much had changed in 5 days. The forecast was sunshine. It snowed light snow-globe flakes all day. The locals called it crowded. We had 2 or 3 five-minute lift lines all day. And the whole mountain remained blanketed in soft, packed powder that rode like a dream. It’s been an epic season at Schweitzer so far.
Fernie: 10,200m, 10,400m vert
Whitefish: 10,500m, 8600m vert
Schweitzer 9500m vert
Season Totals: 21 days, 11 powder days, 191,500m vert