A much-loved member of the Fernie ski community has been immortalized in the very mountain he helped to develop and run over decades.
Dave “Wally” Wall will forever be a part of Fernie Alpine Resort, formerly Fernie Snow Valley, after his ashes were fired onto the mountain by an avalanche cannon during a memorial service at the resort on Sunday.
Hundreds of people, many sporting Wally’s trademark neckties, gathered at Bear’s Den cafe and the Griz Bar that afternoon to remember a man hailed as a local legend.
Wally spent 25 years at the ski resort in a variety of roles and was instrumental in organizing events such as Fernie’s annual pre-winter party, the Mogul Smoker, and the Powder, Pedal, Paddle relay race.
He was 64 when he suffered a fatal heart attack while landscaping at his house in Panama, Central America, on December 12, 2017.
On Sunday, friends and family regaled each other with stories of Wally, who they fondly remembered as a dreamer who was both outgoing and industrious.
“He had many jobs on the mountain, he operated lifts and snow plows, he worked in the bar, he managed the restaurant, he organized dances and booked bands, and took tourists on guided ski tours, he cut down trees and created new ski runs, he learnt first aid and avalanche control and became a professional ski patroller,” Wally’s youngest brother Andy told the crowd gathered at the Griz Bar.
“When he retired from the mountain in 2007, he took some of his skills into the construction industry, he was never afraid of a challenge and always dared to dream.”
“After mastering mountainside logging, he designed and built his first home using logs salvaged from the ski hill. That sounds impressive until you hear he’s not a carpenter, he drew the plans and built it around his existing home, which he then dismantled. Then it sounds impossible.
“Dave did not lack self confidence and believed anything was possible with enough hard work, imagination and tenacity.”
Andy was by Wally’s side when he embarked on his biggest project of all – building a house in Panama.
“In true Dave style, he decided to start this project by driving from Canada to Panama with a load of old tools, a tent, a rusty barbecue and his youngest brother, who took no more than two minutes to convince,” he said.
“His enthusiasm for life was contagious. Dave leaves behind so many people who are better for having known him.”
Wally enjoyed many sporting pursuits and it was his love of downhill skiing that brought him to Fernie. He discovered the town while working as a travelling salesman for the Hudson Bay Company.
“He just became part of the Fernie Snow Valley family,” recalled friend and ski patroller, Robin Siggers.
“We all hung out together, skied a lot together and Dave’s contagious enthusiasm, he fit right in.”
Wally became a colourful fixture at the resort and always ensured guests had a good time from the moment they arrived.
“Saturday morning, he’d start out early doing some plowing in the parking lots then he’d put on the tie and some bright clothing then he’d start parking people and he’d make sure everybody got parked in so they couldn’t leave, then he’d go over here and ride up the chairlift and get to the Bear T-Bar then he’d start riling everyone up there and he’d have the whole crowd just going crazy then he’d come down to the lodge here and start serving them drinks,” said Randy Gliege, who met Wall in 1981 while working at the resort.
Wally often went beyond his call of duty to organize events such as the Mogul Smoker, a Fernie tradition that celebrates the start of winter and continues today.
Muriel MacLeod recalled a conversation between Wally and former Fernie Snow Valley owner-operator Heiko Socher.
“If it wasn’t snowing, he would want to know why Dave hadn’t organized it yet,” she said.
“Years later he (Dave) told me he never organized it until the forecast said there was snow coming, so then it always worked.” As well as organizing events, Wally often MC’d them.
“He was just the most exciting MC,” said MacLeod.“He knew everybody and he knew everything about the teams and would just embellish everything, that’s just how he was… There was nothing boring about Dave Wall.”
Siggers was confident Wally would have approved of his lively send off.
“It’s very similar to what he came to do in 1980. Forty years on almost and we’re still here doing exactly the same thing in the same bar and I don’t think he would have a problem with that,” he laughed.
At the Griz Bar, friends and family sat at tables Wally helped build, drinking at the bar he once managed, with a lock of his hair framed on the wall to commemorate the opening of the Timber Express chairlift.
“There was a bit of a delay to get the lifts built, so Wally decided he wasn’t cutting his hair until that lift opened,” recalled FAR veteran Blair Craig.
“Then on opening day of the chair, they cut his ponytail.”
Ski patroller and friend, Paul Wright, met Wally when he was working as a liftie on Bear T-Bar, now Bear Chair.
Over the years, Wright and Wally poured beer at the Griz Bar, patrolled the mountain and moved to Baynes Lake, southwest of Fernie, together.
“We spent a lot of time running around in boats, drinking beer and landscaping at the lake,” said Wright.
“He’s touched a tonne of people here over the years.”
It was long-term friend Chris Chorostecki who lured Wally to Panama 10 years ago.
“Wally was my kids’ best friend,” said Chorostecki.
“He taught them to play chess and football, and they would go and watch hockey with him.
“My kids lost a really good friend.”
Chorostecki said Wally embraced the Panamanian lifestyle, attending sporting events and befriending the locals, who knew him as Santa Claus.
“My fondest memories would be drinking Ron Abuelo rum with Wally in Panama at the rodeos,” he said.
“We had lots of beach walks too. Two days before he died, we went on a beach walk with him to a friend’s bar down the beach. That was a normal life for us down there.”
Wally’s brother Graham travelled from Victoria, B.C., for Sunday’s memorial.
He said one of his fondest memories of his brother was hurtling through Lethbridge, Alberta, on the back of Wally’s motorcycle in search of asparagus.
“I was hanging on for dear life and we went to this asparagus farm and bought some asparagus then brought it home and the rest of the family is saying ‘what’s that?’,” Graham said.
“He introduced us to new things and that’s just the way he was – adventurous and full of life.”
Wall is survived by his wife Diane, father Peter, son Jesse, granddaughter Kalia, stepsons Leon and Drew, and brothers Kevin, Steve, Graham, Trevor and Andy.
“His spirit is in all of our lives and will continue to inspire us to be happy, to live our lives fully and dream fully,” said Andy.