Bruce has just got back from our 3 week ski instructor course in Fernie, and had an amazing time. Here’s his diary…
Each March for the past few years I’ve hauled myself off to the mountains for a couple of weeks skiing for what I like to call ‘The Best Bit of the Year’.
But this season I found myself short of my usual companions due to their work commitments, their lack of work commitments (and the pay cheque that goes with them), or their family duties (people, please stop having babies – you’ve got enough already and it messes with the skiing!)
So, off the leash and seeking something special I settled upon Nonstop’s three-week CSAI Level 1 ski instructor course in Fernie.
The late-season dates fitted the time I could get off work, the course promised some really top-notch instruction, the mountain promised spring powder and testing terrain, and I’d also end up with a qualification that could give me options for my impending mid-life crisis.
The long-haul to Canada is a bit of a slog and Calgary is not a pretty sight as you descend out of the clouds, but things brightened after clearing customs as we were greeted by the unfailingly upbeat Jenny (who is sadly leaving Nonstop after this season – boo!).
Also there to help whisk us to the mountains was Casey – our coach driver, handyman, and dispenser of worldly wisdom and advice throughout our stay.
Most people opt to stay in the Red Tree Lodge, Nonstop’s own accommodation, where you’ll take your meals and catch the free bus to the slopes, while a fair few of us were in private houses spread around town.
Saturday evening was a quick exploration of the town in search of food and refreshment, which Fernie has plenty of despite its compact size. It’s all pretty good and if you go – and you should – it’ll be more fun finding out for yourself than me offering any recommendations (*cough* “KODIAK BAR!” *cough*).
Oh, and the Canadians brew really good beer… and the ribs are great… steaks too… get some.
Sunday was explore the mountain time: five “legendary” bowls, 2500 acres of pretty much every type of terrain you could want, a four-metre snow base, and a startling lack of people. Sweet.
We were assured that it did get busy “sometimes” during the season and that it would be “much busier” next Saturday. As it happened it did, there was one point the following weekend we had to wait a whole minute to get on a lift. Really, we timed it.
Class began on Monday (instruction is Monday to Thursday) where the baker’s dozen of us doing the Level 1 assembled in front of Wendy and Dwight, who would be our instructors, guides and friends over the next three weeks. Colleen and Michelle also rock.
A few of the group had already been in Fernie for two weeks, choosing an extra two weeks of instruction before starting the course – which is essentially two weeks of improvement and a week of getting you set to teach beginners the fast track to parallel.
The age of our little clan ranged from 17 up to 46, from a lot of different backgrounds. We did seem to have a lot of engineers though…
We were streamed into two groups after the first day, with Dwight and Wendy taking a group each and then swapping the following week.
What followed was the best instruction I’ve ever had, knocking out a lot of the bad habits I’d developed and taking me beyond the plateau I’d found myself stuck on for a few seasons.
A big part of that was a lack of confidence in powder off-piste, having had some good days but also some truly bad days when my European holidays were lucky enough to coincide with a heavy snowfall.
As far as I can tell you don’t need luck in Fernie to get fresh pow (all hail the Grizz!), you just need to get there. Warning – if you favour bluebird days over puking snowfall then this may not be the resort for you.
Tuesday duly delivered the lightest pow I’ve ever skied, shin high even on piste and impossible to make snowballs out of as it trickled through your fingers. I proudly managed to deliver a perfect powder-slash that covered one of my new friends from head to toe in the white stuff. He got me back. Twice. Great day.
Thursday saw another huge dump of snow, heavier in moisture this time, while there were regular top-ups until the end of our stay.
We learned to handle the changing conditions as we skied, hiked, traversed – and sometimes fell – over, around and down the mountain.
In between there were avalanche courses (fascinating, informative and slightly scary), cat skiing expeditions (awesome), a few beers, a couple of barbecues and a lot of laughs.
Highlights included having to climb down a rope to ski Corner Pocket, the chilli served at The Corner Pocket Restaurant afterwards, any time we skied Big Bang, any time we ate Big Bang Bagels, skiing in dodgy ‘80s gear on Hotdog Day, skiing Easter on Good Friday, seeing the aftermath of a huge avalanche in Cedar Bowl, beers in the Grizz Bar, the view from Polar Peak, and ‘Official Photographer’ catching an edge off Papa Bear and executing a perfect tomahawk downhill – and being caught on camera!
The final Thursday was results day, but nerves were settled with some early powder.
When we’d arrived the prospect of doing a warm-up run down a steep, gladed, powder-filled black diamond would have been daunting for most of us.
But by the end, when Dwight suggested it as our morning starter there was the briefest of pauses before a stampede up the hill to get into position. Like I said, great instruction.
The whoops of joy from that run were echoed later that day when we got our results, with everyone passing – as did our snowboarding cousins doing their CASI Level 1.
Leaving was hard to do and as the mountains fell into the distance to be replaced by rolling grasslands, the mood on the transfer coach went a little flat as well.
Fernie ticks so many boxes that it might ruin a lot of other ski resorts for you, so be warned. It gets under your skin and calls you back. Roll on next season.
Find out more about Nonstop’s programs in Fernie: