I’m standing at the bottom of Crystal Bowl at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, mic in hand, looking up to the top of the ridge as the next competitor readies themselves at the Jeep Junior Freeski event. I’m MCing the event, rattling off the names of the young competitors as they drop in one-by-one, hoping to score big points with the judges.
“... from Fernie Alpine Resort!” I exclaim, rattling off another name to the excitement of a small group of parents who’ve congregated at the bottom of the bowl, watching the kids’ runs attentively. Presumably, they’re from Fernie.
The kid starts skiing out of the gate and onto the venue. Unlike some of the other competitors, he isn’t charging down the face with reckless abandon. No, quite the contrary; he’s taking his time. He arcs smooth, stylish turns across the lookers’ left side of the face. He tosses in a couple of hop turns on a steeper section, still in control. It looks easy. It looks fun, quite honestly. Moving into the lower section, he lines up a transfer air that none of the other competitors had even considered. Flying to his landing, he stylishly taps a tree with the tail of his skis mid-air. He confidently arcs a few more turns down into the finish corral. The Fernie parents are cheering, and it takes me a second to remember my MC duties as I zap back to reality. He didn’t go the fastest, not by a longshot. He didn’t go the biggest. In fact, his airs were modest in size. But he had found lines the other competitors had missed. And he looked like he was playing on his skis, not competing. “And we’ve got our next competitor dropping in 3, 2, 1…” I continue shouting out the names of the upcoming skiers.
Have you ever seen a skier from Fernie? A true blue Fernie skier? I found myself wondering, “What is it about Fernie?” You can always tell from a mile away if someone grew up skiing in Fernie—it’s a style that’s playful, fun, and never in a hurry. I was intrigued. What was it about the place that lent itself to making skiing so damn fun?
Could it be the town itself? Because this isn’t a town bent on taking itself too seriously. Consider the legend of the Griz, a man born in a grizzly’s den high in the mountains back during the winter of 1879. As legend has it, he now roams the hills around Fernie with a musket that’s eight feet long. When the clouds fill the valley, he shoots his musket at the clouds and snow billows down on the town below. Did I mention he supposedly has shoulders that stand six feet wide? In any case, the locals in Fernie take their snow very seriously, indeed. So to pay homage to the Griz, every winter, the town of Fernie erupts into celebrations for an entire week of festivities, known as Griz Days.
So, what gives? The fun-loving attitude seems to colour Fernie and its community, on and off the slopes. Is there something in the water? Or in the snow, more likely? One person came to mind when I decided I needed a good answer to this question: Dylan Siggers.
Dylan Siggers is one of Fernie’s most famous skiing exports, except that he never left Fernie. To this day, he still calls Fernie, where he was born and raised, home. And he’s well known in the ski industry for his unique take on skiing. His style is smooth and jibby. At the centre of his skiing universe is a sense of playfulness that is genuinely captivating. When you watch Dylan ski, it looks so effortless you feel like there’s no reason you shouldn’t be no-spinning off the cat track the next time you’re on your skis (reminder: there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t). He’s the most public manifestation of what I noticed watching the young Fernie skier at Jeep Junior Freeski, so I brought my curiosity to him.
“I think a lot of it has to do with terrain and the lift system we have at Fernie. We have steep terrain, for sure. But so much of the mountain is playful and fun. We didn’t have a terrain park back then, but there were these wonky lips and little side-hits all over the place. So my friends and I grew up skiing from hit to hit. To us, how many spins you threw in or how big you went didn’t really matter if you couldn’t style it out and look cool doing it.”
And with that, the ethos of skiing and living in Fernie becomes clear: Have fun. Lots of it. The fun comes easy at Fernie Alpine Resort. That’s the first word that springs to mind when I think about wheeling off the Great Bear Express, home to one of Siggers’ favourite jump lines. The terrain lends itself to a playful exploration of ski edges and airtime. It’s got a hop to it. It rolls, it ducks and it bounces over stumps, bumps, and half-pipe gully features. No wonder Fernie skiers have a style all their own.
In closing, I ask Siggers for any last advice to share with folks making their first pilgrimage to Fernie Alpine Resort’s playful slopes. He laughs, confirming my observations from the Jeep Junior Freeski event, “That’s easy. Follow the kids if you want to ski the fun stuff.”