Our grand adventure around the Powder Highway wrapped up with a day spent at Panorama Mountain Resort and another at Fernie Alpine Resort — the latter in the Lizard Range of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. From Fernie, we’d head back to Spokane and our flight home to the southernmost leg of the Rockies, our own wonderful Sangre de Cristo Range, being buried right now in its own Powda Paradise!
PANORAMA MOUNTAIN RESORT
Tucked up against some stunning peaks in the Purcell Range is this overlooked gem of southeastern British Columbia skiing. Gargantuan seems to be the rule in BC, with Panorama encompassing almost 3,000 acres and offering up a lift-served vertical drop of 3,820 feet. Two high-speed chairs and a quad are required to reach the lift summit, but that also allows flexibility in length of descents. And its relative obscurity means non-existent to short lift lines and lots of room to roam on the runs.
Beginners and intermediates have dedicated chairlifts and zones, a safe place to learn. Not surprisingly, this is a popular resort for families with children, but you’ll also run into elite skiers who hop on the helicopters buzzing about from the adjoining staging ground of RK Heliski.
There’s a respectable number of double blacks here, with some small cliff bands and drops, and the inbounds bowl under Goldie Plateau one can hike to. But the mountain is generally a cruisers paradise, particularly the bottom two-thirds of the mountain. After the crazy steeps of Revelstoke and Kicking Horse, it was nice to relax a bit while making big GS turns on the finely groomed blues at Panorama.
There’s also some delicious-looking tree skiing here, but we arrived more than a week since the last snow followed by a warm period, so we had to largely bypass the woods, except at the very top on runs like Tight Spot and Zone 2, where some lighter snow was still to be found. Large chunks of the woods are off-limits, however, so be aware of closed areas. A popular side course for experts is Tayton Bowl, but boarders beware: there’s a long catwalk back to the base lifts.
PANORAMA MOUNTAIN RESORT DETAILS
3,820 lift-served vertical and 4,265 with a hike; 2,975 acres; average snowfall 204 inches. It is on the Ikon Pass and the Mountain Collective. Details at Panorama Resort.
A fairly substantial base village is found here with everything from townhomes to hotels, many slopeside. The Approach Hotel is super-convenient and has the basics covered, though it lacks elevators and any staff on site. It has a small hot tub and exercise room, but guests here also have access to a nice collection of outdoor hot tubs and a pool with snack counter and bar. The town of Invermere is about 20 minutes downslope, and here you can find a much larger selection of accommodations.
In the base complex are a handful of options, including Fireside Café & Lounge, and Alto Kitchen & Bar with its excellent fire-baked pizza.
The Invermere area is another sports person’s paradise, with all manner of outdoor activities, including the ski area-based Panorama Nordic Centre at Greywolf, with 50 km of groomed trails and the attractions of the nearby Columbia River and huge Lake Windermere.
For hot springs aficionados, just 15 minutes north of Invermere is Radium Hot Springs, open to the general public, and less than 30 minutes south of Invermere is Fairmont Hot Springs. Its facilities, however, are only open to its lodging guests. About an hour south of Invermere is Lussier Springs, set alongside a small river in the public forestlands. We spent three or more hours enjoying the free hot-to-cold thermal cycling with other visitors.
Panorama is about 30 minutes off Highway 95, about 1.5 hours south of Golden, or 4 hours from the Calgary airport.
FERNIE ALPINE RESORT
We saved one of the best of the Powder Highway ski areas for last, Fernie Alpine Resort. FAR is a hardcore skier/boarders community and mountain, with a long and colorful history of winter sports. After all, the town is home to events like Griz Days, held annually since 1986, with music, a Dummy Downhill and other competitions, lumberjack demos, a parade, fireworks, and more, and the ski area closes with a Retro Weekend and spring fling.
The ski area, slapped up against the awesome Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies, saw its first lift installed in the 1950s, and a T-bar in 1961.
Despite its roots, the ski experience at FAR has progressive elements, including two high-speed chairs installed in recent years. But it has a throwback feel, with hard-charging locals pushing their limits on some gnarly terrain sprawling over vast acreage and big vertical drop.
Conditions weren’t at their best when we visited — a 73-inch base with no fresh snow in more than a week — hard and scratchy underfoot, but you could see the potential when it’s on. We were mostly confined to the groomed runs and moderate mogul slopes, and had a good time zipping about the mountain. Its radest terrain, off the Polar Express Chair, was off limits because of wind, and we did not even get to the far edges of the resort, Cedar Bowl and Siberia Bowl. It almost seems like two ski areas, with big bowls and glades at the top, almost all expert, and thick forests cut by intermediate and a few black diamonds at its mid-section and bottom.
The ski area also maintains 14 km of groomed and track-set Nordic trails for all classes of skiers, with lessons and rentals available. History buffs should check out the resort’s Hall of Fame, where I found a link to the New Mexico ski scene. Jennifer Delich began skiing at Fernie at age 2 and went on to ski for the University of New Mexico. In 2004 she was the national champion in giant slalom and ended up as a physiotherapist for the Canadian National Team. I could almost feel the magnetism between these stunning mountains of the Canadian Rockies and the Rockies of New Mexico, like the spine of a lizard running north and south.
FERNIE ALPINE RESORT DETAILS
3,500 feet of vertical; 2065 acres of skiable terrain; average snowfall 360 inches; 15 percent beginner, 35 percent intermediate, 30 percent advanced and 20 percent expert. Details at Fernie Alpine Resort.
Just five minutes from the slopes is the cool town of Fernie, with its elegant historic brick and stone buildings built after its initial boom in the late 1800s as a coal-mining community. There are many choices here in lodging, from motel and hotel chains to sophisticated boutique properties. For mid-budgets, try Fernie Fox Hotel, clean, quiet, and comfortable. Right on commercial Highway 3, it’s quick to the ski area, to the historic downtown, and getting out of town! For something different, try a Tiny Home; their name says it all.
There’s just one spot for lunch on the mountain, the Lost Boys Café at the top of the Timber Creek Express Quad, with hot sandwiches, soups, and such. In the base area are Legends Mountain Eatery, the resort cafeteria, Slopeside Coffee & Deli, and The Cirque Restaurant & Ice Bar with two stone fireplaces and large view windows.
In town, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Himalayan Spice Bistro, classic Indian cuisine washed down with Kingfishers, aided by an attentive staff. The Fernie Hotel and Pub is a sports bar with good food, while those seeking a more upscale ambiance should head to Nevados Tapas and Tequila. The Loaf is a good relaxed spot for pizza, meatballs, pasta, burgers, and much more. Sushi Wood Fernie serves Japanese and Korean offerings.
Après & Off Slope
One of the famed ski bars anywhere is The Griz, located just steps from the Fernie chairs. Opened in 1962, it’s full of ski memorabilia from floor to ceiling, and also serves standard bar grub, with live music on weekends. For some tasty suds after skiing, visit The Fernie Taphouse, with 20 beers on tap. The Northern Bar & Stage is perhaps the town’s most rockin’ music venue, a good place for sports, and also dishes up some worthy meals. And the Kodiak Lounge at the Raging Elk Hostel also goes late.
Ever want to try curling? Here’s your chance, or take in a hockey game, or go skating — all at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Or rent some skates and enjoy some turns at the outdoor rink at the Fernie Aquatic Centre (250-423-6817), or enjoy its hot tubs, steam room, and lap pool. A unique bladed adventure awaits at the Lions Park Skating in nearby Starwood — a maintained 400-meter outdoor loop through the woods. It’s normally operable in February. Get some kicks on a snowmobile outing, or on a guided snowshoe tour with Wild Nature Tours (250-423-3322). Or if flush, try one of the continent’s most renowned cat-skiing operations, the nearby Island Lake Lodge. There’s also a history museum, several winter film festivals, lots of one-of-a-kind shops, and other attractions in this solid town.
Often a starting point for Powder Highway pilgrims coming from the Montana, Idaho, or Washington, it’s about 4.5 hours northwest of Spokane. Calgary is about a three-hour drive.
TOP IMAGE: A lone skier stands beneath one of the towering peaks surrounding Panorama Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy PMR.
Editor’s Note: This is the last of four articles focused on the Powder Highway of British Columbia. Part 1 explored RED Mountain Resort and Whitewater Ski Resort; Part 2 covers Revelstoke Mountain Resort; Part 3 zeros in on Kicking Horse Mountain Resort; and Part 4 profiles Panorama and Fernie Alpine Resort.
Daniel Gibson was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame in October 2022 for his snowsports writing. He is the co-author of Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico (Arcadia Publishing, 2021), with 183 historic photos; and author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, websites, and magazines, including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. He can be reached at [email protected] or via DanielBGibson.com.