Life

British Columbia

Fernie is yours to explore

By Rod Kelly, Calgary Sun

Ever test your climbing skills? People of all ages, such as 10-year-old Paige Kelly, are doing so at the aerial playground in Fernie. ROD KELLY/QMI Agency

Ever test your climbing skills? People of all ages, such as 10-year-old Paige Kelly, are doing so at the aerial playground in Fernie. ROD KELLY/QMI Agency

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Golfing? Fishing? Zipping? Rafting? Climbing? Shopping?

So many choices. So much fun to be had!

Spend some quality time in beautiful Fernie, B.C. this summer and you'll soon realize how difficult it is to pinpoint one activity that fully encompasses the B.C. community.

But among the collection of great adventures to be discovered, there are a few standouts.

Like mountain biking, for instance.

Ardent riders continue to flock to Fernie to hit the abundant trails in and around the city.

"The trails here are fantastic," says Andy Cohen, GM at Fernie Alpine Resort.

"There are great trails here at (Fernie Alpine Resort) and at several other locations around Fernie, too," explains Cohen, who says drawing on the passion mountain bikers share for their sport is one of the keys to the resort's future.

While the number of mountain bikers will likely never rival skiing's more massive popularity, there's a vibrancy among riders in the mountain biking community that sets them apart from many sports.

"People who are into mountain biking are really into it," Cohen says.

"They're very passionate about it. It's like that with all them. It's a culture."

Mountain biking was what helped to play a part in local businessman Mark Gallup making the decision to make Fernie his full-time home.

"You could say I came here for the winter, and stayed for the summer," Gallup says.

Like a lot of Fernie residents, Gallup shares a passion for what his home offers all year round.

A longtime Calgarian, Gallup says he remembers driving through Fernie during his school years while on ski trips that often took him and friends further west.

"It was always snowing here," Gallup recalls.

"I think, finally, someone in our group said, 'Hey, why don't we ski here? I've just kept coming back, and for many reasons. Everything, really," Gallup says.

"The summers are nice. It's a nice place in a great setting."

You could say the community has been good to him.

Before making the move west, he and wife Beth had commuted from Calgary with business interests in both places.

Today, they own and operate a mountain equipment specialty store, The Guide's Hut, in Fernie.

It is a place where you'll find everything to get ready for skiing, camping, hiking, climbing -- you name it.

And they've added a new enterprise, too, -- a bike guide company offering guided trips along some of the best trails anywhere.

Future up in aerial

Fernie Alpine Resort has taken outdoor summer adventure in southeastern B.C. and given it one gigantic twist.

The big change to the resort's offerings comes in the way of its new Aerial Playground and Rippin' Zipline.

Known for ample downhill powder in the winter months and superb mountain biking trails throughout summer, this year the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies park added ziplining and aerial fun to its outdoor adventure list.

You could say response has been fantastic at the getaway located just minutes from Fernie along Hwy. 3.

"It's been booked solid," Andy Cohen, the resort's GM, says of the zipline and aerial playground.

"The zipline and aerial park are here to complement what we already offer," Cohen said.

"People are enjoying both." Go on the zipline (I did, so you'll be able to -- no problem) and you're guaranteed an exhilirating ride downhill with speeds that can reach close to 70 km/h for some riders.

Adjacent to the zip-pin' fun is the 16-element aerial playground.

The climbing park only adds to the fun and it also proved to be an absolute adventure.

Our group arrived early and, honestly, I can say we weren't entirely sure what to make of the climbing component.

But within minutes of starting, the climbing experience turned to intense, challenging and satisfying all at the same time.

Helpful guides are there to instruct newbie climbers like us, and the tours are well structured. There's no obligation to climb any height or any apparatus that visitors may not be comfortable with or ready for.

Guides will go over the proper use of the aerial park's safety equipment and before long, you'll be confidently traversing through the course, taking on more each time -- sometimes from as high as 60 feet in the air!

Now, how's that for a thrill?

Shops shape modern image

The city of Fernie isn't entirely about outdoor fun.

Indeed, that's a big part of what makes the community unique.

However, for locals, there's more to their home than that, says Tourism Fernie executive officer Jikke Gyorki.

"It's the lifestyle, too," says Gyorki, who says maintaining an active and interesting downtown core is crucial.

Visitors are sure to be impressed with the surprising variety of businesses there.

Shops such as Beanpod Chocolate, Board Stiff and Big Bang Bagels are combining with others to help give Fernie a trendy atmosphere.

"The chocolate is to die for," writes one online blogger in describing her recent visit to Beanpod, a chocolate-making facility.

"The owners make all of their chocolate on site," writes another visitor impressed by the tasty treats.

"I don't mean melt down existing bars and shape them.

"I mean make their chocolate -- straight from imported cocoa beans."

There's also places such as the Fernie Museum downtown, where curator Mike Pennock will explain the region's fascinating industrial and tourism history.

Visitors can also learn about the two devastating fires -- in 1904 and 1908 -- both of which ravaged the community in the early going.

They'll also learn more about William Fernie, the man behind the region's coal-mining activity that goes back as early as the 1880s.


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