Exploring Fernie’s history, culture and trails

Fernie wasn’t always a mecca for outdoor sports and adventure.

We owe the beginnings of our town to nineteenth-century prospector William Fernie. Acting on pioneer Michael Phillips’ discoveries of coal and the Crowsnest Pass a few years earlier, William Fernie founded the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company in 1897. The underground coal mine was created in 1960, 10kms away from Fernie in the Coal Creek valley with a small community known as Coal Creek resting next to it. Although the town no longer exists, visitors and residents can drive down Coal Creek to view the area. In the next two decades, a variety of other mines appeared around Fernie. The mines at Coal Creek closed permanently in 1960 and the focus of mining activity shifted to Michel and Natal about twenty-five kms up river. In the 1970’s Kaiser Resources received a new thermal coal contract for the Asian industrial market and quickly large open-put mines began to appear. Although no mining was ever done in Fernie, the coking of Coal Creek coal was carried out in town. Fernie remains the home base to many working miners, along with the new communities of Sparwood and Elkford that sprung up much closer to these new mines. Today, Teck Resources owns and operates all of the five open-pit mines near Fernie.

During the two decades when other mines were appearing around Fernie, the town experienced a disastrous fire that leveled much of the downtown core in 1904. An ordinance was passed requiring all buildings in the area to be built of ‘fireproof’ materials like brick and stone. The beautiful new brick buildings throughout town would remain until 1908 when a second, larger inferno swept through the city on August 1, 1908. After the second fire, Fernie rebuilt itself again with brick. Many of those buildings still stand today, including City Hall and the Fernie Courthouse as well as the bank, now The Brickhouse.

Even through all of these disasters, Fernie would begin to make a niche for itself with the opening of the Fernie Snow Valley ski resort in 1967. A forester by trade, Heiko ran the ski school at the weekend-only local ski area since it’s opening. Heiko took over as manager of Fernie Snow Valley in 1973 and soon the resort was open for business seven days a week with it’s main feature the Lizard Bowl. Fernie, being known for it’s abundance of snowfall, helped in the naming of the resort. Fernie’s annual eight to nine metres of snow consistently provides some of the best powder skiing in the Rockies. In 1998 Snow Valley was purchased by Calgary-based Charlie Locke. Locke’s collection of ski hills known as The Resorts of the Canadian Rockies includes Lake Louise, Kimberley and Nakiska. After the purchase the resort was changed to Fernie Alpine Resort and with it brought a surge in visitors, which helped accelerate the expansion plans. In 1999 two new lifts were added providing access to Currie, Timber and Siberia bowl. With the addition of the new bowls, the size of the ski area grew to an impressive 2,500+ acres. Even with the impressive ski area, 5 bowls and and consistent powder, Fernie still remains under the radar.

When summer arrives in Fernie, a new sport is seen throughout town – biking! Whether you’re just cruising the trails by the river or challenging yourself on Fernie Alpine Resort’s trails, or the many trails throughout town, there’s something for every skill level.

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