Crowsnest Highway: Fernie, British Columbia

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Every trip has days that are better than others, and all too often, the weather is the deciding factor. This is especially true if you decide to travel during winter or early spring. So when I awoke on Day 4, and once again saw clouds and rain and snow, I wasn’t surprised. For once, the forecasters had been dead-on. This was going to be an ugly day, even if I tried to make the best of it.

And I had a lot of driving to do — going from Pincher Creek, Alberta to Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, via the Crowsnest Highway (Route 3) and the Kootenay Highway (Routes 93 and 95). The route is 338 kilometers (210 miles), mostly on 2-lane roads. Normally, it would be a visually stunning drive, but the clouds obscured most of the mountains. Adding rain or snow to the mix made it even tougher.

I drove from Pincher Creek, into British Columbia, and through Sparwood without stopping for a single picture. Since this was the same area I explored on Day 2, I didn’t feel like I was missing much. I was catching a slight break in the weather, when I arrived at the ski town of Fernie.

Fernie

As I arrived in Fernie, I stopped at the visitor center on the west side of town. It’s next-door to a tall wooden tower — the last free-standing wooden oil derrick in British Columbia. Its metal parts were used to drill the first oil wells in BC.

I went inside and asked for any rainy-day activity suggestions. Their best advice was to head into downtown, so that’s what I did.

Downtown Fernie felt bigger than any town I had been in, since leaving Calgary. And since it’s a ski resort town, it’s no surprise that it has all the shops and restaurants necessary to service a big resort.

Fernie played a starring role in the 2010 movie, “Hot Tub Time Machine”, where a magical Jacuzzi sent four friends back in time to the 80’s.

Fernie’s old railroad station used to service the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was built in 1908, and in the late 1980’s it was restored for use as a center for the arts. The old station is the last surviving example of a specific style, designed for use along the Crowsnest Route.

The old railroad station is at the end of First Avenue (most businesses are a block away, on Second Avenue). First Avenue runs alongside the railroad tracks, and some of the town’s older, more rough-and-tumble-looking buildings are on the opposite side.

A quick walk around town will take you past some of Fernie’s more notable buildings. This is St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Fernie’s courthouse is the fourth, and it’s also lasted the longest. It was built in 1909, a year after the third courthouse was destroyed by a devastating fire that swept through the town. The third courthouse had only been open for a few months when it burned. If the current building is open, you should step inside and walk around. It was expensive to build, topping $100,000 — a lot of money for 1909.

Fernie’s City Hall dates back to 1905. Several hundred people took shelter inside of it, during the great fire of 1908. During warmer weather, you’ll be able to appreciate the Miners Walk Exhibit in front of the building. It was snow-covered during my stop in Fernie.

The Lizard Range, near Fernie, is home to the Fernie Alpine Resort. The area receives an average of 37 feet of snow per year, and offers 142 named ski runs. It usually opens in early December, and skiing continues through April.

Mount Broadwood Heritage Conservation Area

Heading out of Fernie, westbound Highway 3 follows the Elk River and heads south, and even a little bit east, before curving around to the west again. This area is beautiful, and I was fortunate to enjoy a little bit of sunlight during a brief break-up of the clouds. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t find many places along the highway where it was safe to stop and take pictures. I took these pictures near Morrissey Provincial Park, and the Mount Broadwood Heritage Conservation Area.

But after this stop, the weather got cloudy again, then rainy, and I gave up on picture-taking for a while. My next stop was Cranbrook, which was a little out-of-the-way of my route to Radium, but I was getting bored, and I needed an excuse to stop.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Fernie, and on to Cranbrook:

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