Category Archives: Fernie

Cat Skiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures

Spending the season in Fernie was a really amazing experience.  There was a few days that will be forever edged into my memory.  One of those is the EPIC day we’ve spent Cat-skiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures.  The conditions were as good as it gets. There was about 20-30cm of fresh snow that fell a day or two before we went, and the day was a picture perfect blue bird day!

Now as many people has asked me what Cat Skiing is, let me explain.  When you ski inside a resort boundary, you usually take a chairlift up the mountain and then ski down a run.  The area inside a resort is controlled for avalanches and is groomed daily. This grooming is done by a snow cat. That looks like this:

This a typical snow cat used to groom slopes inside a resort

A typical snow cat used to groom slopes inside a resort

These wonderful machines can also be modified to carry people up a mountain. So when you want to find the best untracked powder, don’t want to skin (hike) up a mountain and don’t have the budget to do heli-skiing, cat skiing is the perfect solution. Here is a picture of the cat we were in:

This cat has a cabin on the back to carry you up the mountain

This cat has a cabin on the back to carry you up the mountain

Now I thought I loved skiing before we went to Fernie. But there I learned about a whole new way of skiing.  Skiing in powder is an amazing feeling.  It feels like you are floating on clouds. And although we had bunch of days in the resort where we could ski fresh powder, the cat skiing took it to completely new level!

The terrain we skied on was great, mostly between spectacular trees, with views that leaves you breathless.  Here is another amazing pictures the photographer took on the day:

The views while cat skiing was fantastic!

The views while cat skiing was fantastic!

It was a quite a surreal experience to be honest.  I have seen many of these extreme skiing videos of people skiing in the wilderness. This was the first time that we were skiing in one of those videos. Nick Nault the photographer did such an amazing job on the day, watching his pictures afterwards enhanced the experience significantly.  Here are a few more astonishing pics:

Jonathan and I making fresh tracks! Living the dream!

Jonathan and I making fresh tracks! Living the dream!

One of our guide day getting some air, jumping between to tight trees!

One of our guides on the day getting some air, jumping between two tight trees!


Stunning picture of us making the traverse on the top on the mountain.

Stunning picture of us making the traverse on the top of the mountain.

This was a wonderful day. If you ever have the chance to go cat skiing, don’t miss out! Next time I would love to try heli-skiing as well!

Thanks to our guide, Fernie Wilderness Adventure, Nonstop and Nick for making this a wonderful day for all of us!

There is a book full of amazing picture taken at one of the other Cat Skiing operations in Fernie, Island Lake Lodge. It was done by some local legends. It is called Bears Above the Valley.

CSIA level 1 Ski Instructors

This week we went through the CSIA Level 1 course.  We are both now officially qualified to be ski instructors. YEA! NonStop prepared us really well for the CSIA Level 1 course. The CSIA level 1 course span over three days and is based on continuous evaluation.  You had to show an acceptable level of competency in your own skiing as well as teaching the basic of skiing.

Although it was a little painful at times to be demonstrating a snowplow while fresh powder was calling, I am glad we persisted.  We both had great course evaluators that help us not only improve our own skiing but also master the teaching aspect.

In Fernie Alpine Resort

My CSIA level 1 Group, with Louisa our Instructor Photo: Courtesy of  Jonathon Ralfe –

As part of the course we got a copy of the Canadian Ski Teaching Manual. The manual covers all aspects of ski teaching; the way the Canadians believe it should be done, including guest services. A big part of a ski instructors job is to make sure the guests have a great time and come back in order to make the industry more viable.

Motor learning happens is 5 stages: Initiation, Acquisition, Consolidation, Refinement and Creative Variation.  In order to pass CSIA level 1, your own skiing has to be at the Acquisition stages for all 5 of the basic skills in skiing. The basic skills are:

      1. Stance and Balance
      2. Pivoting
      3. Pressure Control
      4. Edging
      5. Timing and coordination

By applying these skills appropriately to skiing it creates three basic competencies: A centred and mobile stance, turning with the lower body and balance on the edges of the skis.

We also had to learn how to teach a real beginner, somebody who has never skied before, and get them to skiing parallel. This process is called “fast track to parallel”. There are 5 steps to achieve this:

  1. Mobility.  Getting guest familiar with the equipment and conditions. Including safely carrying the equipment.
  2. Sliding.  Getting comfortable with sliding on the skis. Usually starting with one ski, then the other then on both skis.
  3. Stopping. Getting comfortable with stopping in a snowplow.
  4. Turning. Doing slow snowplow turns, first to one side and then to the other.
  5. Linking turns. Linking left and right turns together.

Once a guest can link two turns they are ready to go up one of the chair lifts and get some mileage.  They also need to be taught to get on and off the chairlift.

We also worked through the 6 steps to for a great lesson: Assess the students, consider terrain, assess basic competencies, choose development tactics, evaluate progress and guided mileage.

In Fernie Alpine Resort

Proof that I passed CSIA level 1 – YEA!

I can’t wait to teach my first class in a few weeks so I can put my newly acquired CSIA level 1 to use!

Avalanche Safety Training

There are many great things about the NonStop Programme.   One of my personal favourites is the additional activities they organize.  There is a long list you can choose from, or you can do them all.  I particularly looked forward to doing the AST (Avalanche Safety Training) course.

Being from South Africa, I had very little exposure to snow and therefore avalanches while growing up.  Since we started skiing regularly, I have always been fascinated by the amazing power that avalanches have, but have never really gone to any effort to learn more about them.

The Avalanche Safety Training gave me a great introduction about avalanches.  We learned some very basic tools to help start the learning process in order to travel safely in avalanche terrain.  Avalanche risk has three basic elements: unstable snow, suitable terrain and people or property.

We learned a bunch of tests to help test the stability of the snow including: Burp test (Shovel tilt test), Compression test (tap test) and Rutschblock test.  The interesting thing about snow stability test is that are a good indicator of instability but not really a good predictor of stability.

Our Instructor Mark prepares for some of the test on our Avalanche Safety Training field day

Our Instructor Mark prepares for some of the test on our Avalanche Safety Training field day

From 1997 to 2007 there were an average of 40 fatalities among recreationists in North America.  In Canada the average fatalities are about 14 per year. Avalanches are classed from 1 to 5, with 5 big and strong enough to destroy a town or forest of 40 hectares and would run for multiple kilometres.

The New York Times recently did an amazing multimedia production about a fatal avalanche that happened last year at Tunnel Creek next to Steven Pass ski area in Washington State.  It shows how even some of the best skiers in the world with loads of experience can make mistakes that kill them. Here is one of the videos:

In western Canada about a million destructive avalanches occur every year.  Luckily most of them happen away from property and people.  The amazing thing is that people trigger most fatal avalanches.  This is usually either the victim or somebody travelling with them.

Backcountry travel seems to have grown over the last decade, and I can see the allure it offers.  Skiing fresh powder that is thigh deep, away from the crowds, in the peace and quite of the backcountry must be amazing.  This week we are planning to go on our first backcountry trip.

There are three basic tools that you must have for a backcountry trip to do self-rescue: shovel, probe and transceiver.  Airbag backpacks that help you float on top of or near the top of the avalanche is gaining popularity and report up to 98% success rate in surviving a avalanche.

The experts say that trips like these are never 100% safe, and it is really about mitigating the risk and finding a safe way to enjoy yourself, based on your level of experience and knowledge.  A big part of the challenge is that many of the slopes that offer the best skiing are prime terrain for avalanches.

This Avalanche Safety Training Course was just a first step for me to learn much more about this fascinating subject.  There is a second level of Avalanche Safety Training that I can hopefully do soon!

Best Ski boots in the World

From day 1, the Non Stop instructor course added value to my skiing experience!!  After the technical session with Jens Mende, I realized that my ski boots were not ideal, and it was causing unnecessary knee pain.  Topshelf was recommended to help me out, and boy did they just do that!  These guys specialize in building custom ski boots called the TS1.

Donny and Ryland evaluated my 8 year old ski boots, my feet and lower legs;  I could tell from the look on their faces that my feet and leg dimensions did not match up with my current ski boots at all.  Luckily I didn’t buy boots of the shelf on our arrival in Fernie, so the option of getting customized ski boots was open.  I grabbed it with both hands!!  After a short negotiation in our native language, and Justinus getting new powder ski’s out of the deal, we agreed for the process to begin.

They have all kinds of machines and tools to custom fit a boot, and lots of experience in the field.  Pointing out that I have a bunion on my right foot, they just smiled and said “no problem, we have a tool for that!”.  I thought they were joking….they do not joke about feet problems, they only have solutions!  If they have all the ingredients available, it will be about a day or two to get your boots out the door for testing, but you don’t want to rush it anyway.

Raptor 115 RS Race Ski Boots - The Shell of my new boots!

Raptor 115 RS Race Ski Boots – The Shell of my new boots!

The first step was getting the right shell for my feet.  They had a look, consulted and decided on Head Raptor 115 RS Race Ski Boots.  Here the client doesn’t have a lot of choice, but to trust the experts.  The next step was customized foot beds.  The foam injection was the last step before testing and tweaking, here I had a say on the colour of the socks that I prefer.  I appreciated the fact that Ryland prepared me for the process, as it was a bit uncomfortable to stand in the boots while the foam was compacting my feet within.  Throughout the process, Ryland’s experience and expertise on boots and skiing was making me more and more comfortable with the process and I knew I was in good hands.  The glass of smooth French red wine welcoming me to the TS1 gang was the cherry on top!

Having a nice Red wine while fitting the best ski boots in the world!

Having a nice Red wine while fitting the best ski boots in the world!

In the days to follow the main focus points would be comfort and alignment.  I needed to work out the air in the foam and my alignment would be tested continually.  The alignment is tweaked by sticking strips of wedges with duct tape. Ryland said that I should keep on coming back, until I am of opinion that it is the best ski boots that I’ve ever worn.

The next week, Ryland worked somewhere else and Donny continued the process.  Monday afternoon Donny tested the alignment intensely and the results started to become consistent, by the next day we had the best stance!  The duct tape were taken of the final result was made permanent.

I walked out with the best ski boots in the world!

If you ever need custom fit ski boots, look them up in Fernie!

5369 Fernie Ski Hill Rd  Fernie, BC V0B 1M4, Canada



Curling Rink – Ice, Rocks and Brooms

While watching the last few winter Olympic Games, I was fascinated by Curling.  This week Ankie and I had the opportunity to experience Curling first hand.  There is a Curling rink in Fernie, with a club running drop in evenings every week.  At first glance the game definitely seemed to be related to bowls, which we are more familiar within South Africa.  I must say we had great fun playing about 4 ends. I guess, like many other sports, it was a little trickier than it looked.

Curling in Fernie - Ankie is clearly better with a broom!

Curling in Fernie – Ankie is clearly better with a broom!

As usually Ankie and I were a little early, so we started chatting to some of the club members hosting us at the Curling rink.  They were very friendly and helpful.  The Fernie Curling Club has about 8 teams that play regularly.  The city of Fernie also supports the club to keep this popular sport in Canada in Fernie.

As we chatted we quickly did some research on the game of Curling. It originated in Scotland more than 500 years ago!  In the last Olympic Games in Vancouver the Canadian teams won the Gold in the men’s and silver in the women’s competition. There were only 10 countries competing.  What was very interesting to me is that the team that represent their country at the Olympics is not the combination of the best individual players but rather the team who won the national championship. For example: 4 club players from Edmonton won the gold medal in 2010.

Another of the club members gave Ankie a little help learning the game before the other NonStoppers arrived.  The sliding to release the Rock was a lot trickier than I expected.  We had to put on a special plastic slider underneath one foot to help with the sliding.  The power control was not easy as I tended to slide the rock to fast, which would make it go over the target.  Sweeping the ice to help the rock go further did not come as naturally to me as to Ankie.

If we ever find ourselves in a country where they play curling, I might well take the time to learn to play it properly.  With only ten countries competing in the Olympics the odds are better than most other sports once you get in. Have you ever gone Curling? Tell us below: