World leaders in the snow industry will be flocking to Fernie in October for the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW), the world’s largest conference on snow and avalanches.
The ISSW exists to bring leading snow researchers and practitioners together for a fruitful and enlightening exchange of knowledge. It focuses on current advances in snow and avalanche science and technologies, and merges research with the real life experience of snow sport practitioners. The event takes place every two years, with the host countries alternating between Canada, the United States and Europe.
In 2018, the conference was hosted in Innsbruck, Austria and in 2016, Breckenridge, Colorado played host. According to Christine Grimble, who is part of the local organizing committee and looks after communications and marketing for the event, the ISSW often ends up at bigger resorts “because the conference continues to grow in size and volume.”
The challenge, she said, is actually finding local, grassroots communities that have the resources and capacity to host the huge international workshop. An estimated 1,000 people from approximately 25 different countries are expected to attend the event in Fernie from October 4 to 9.
Steve Kuijt was the driving force behind bringing this significant event to the Elk Valley. In 2016, the call went out for communities willing to be the next Canadian host and after a lot of thought and planning, Kuijt went ahead and threw his hat in the ring.
The ISSW steering committee agreed with Kuijt that Fernie had the potential to be the perfect place for the 2020 conference. While the last conference in Innsbruck was hosted in a multi million dollar conference facility, Kuijt said the steering committee was “totally okay that is wasn’t going to be in a shiny conference centre” this time around.
One of the goals of the 2020 conference is to keep things affordable for attendees. Kuijt pointed out that although some of the scientists and researchers attending might have financial backing from the government or other research organizations, the practitioners are going just for their love of snow.
“Let’s face it, professional ski patrollers are not high income earners,” explained sponsorship chair Andre Labine. “We want to be able to keep it as affordable as possible.”
Once Fernie had been selected as host, the local organizing committee needed to have someone come out and assess whether Fernie had the capacity to truly pull this off. After an assessment of the town and its facilities, they got the full go ahead. The conference will be hosted at the Fernie Memorial Arena, the Fernie Community Centre, and the Fernie Curling Club.
According to Labine, the European members of the ISSW steering committee loved the idea.
“They said, how Canadian to have a convention in a hockey rink and a curling club. They really liked it because they thought it was so Canadian.”
With an estimated 1,000 people coming to Fernie for the conference in October, the impact on local businesses is expected to be huge. Rough estimates put the numbers at $1.5 to $2 million to the local economy as a direct result of the conference.
The event organizers explained that almost every single aspect of the business community in Fernie will be positively impacted by this event.
“All of the aspects of our business community will be touched by this,” said Grimble. “Dining, shopping, transportation, accommodation, we’re covering every single piece of the puzzle concerning who is going to benefit from this.”
Aside from the economic benefits during the six days of convention, Kuijt added that people will be travelling from all over the world and will no doubt want to stay awhile and explore the area. This in turn will lead to even more positive impacts on tourism and adventure based businesses in the area.
Even though an influx of 1,000 people may seem like a lot, Grimble points out that that is actually pretty average for Fernie.
“I don’t think people realize how much we infill during some of our busier winter months and weekends,” she said. “Having 1,000 people come into our community is a big deal but also we do that all the time, like every weekend… I really hope that people embrace it and the business community is so excited because traditionally it’s such a quiet time of the year.”
Even though Fernie has experience when it comes to hosting large numbers of outdoor enthusiasts and snow lovers, the local organizing committee is still taking steps to mitigate the impact that so many people might have on the local environment.
“This one coming up will probably be one of the most proactive in terms of mitigating waste and just making different conscious choices,” said Grimble.
The team is working on a plethora of initiatives to make the conference eco-conscious and sustainable. Although the ideas will be locked down for sure as we get closer to the event in the fall, things are in motion to make this the most sustainable ISSW yet.
“There is a lot of frontiers where we’ve been creating the path versus having an easy way to follow,” said Grimble regarding the challenges of putting on an event of this size in Fernie. “That’s why it’s really important for the community to understand the amount of energy going in to it. It’s all working towards putting on a really quality event.”
She went on to say that the Fernie ISSW is going to be the perfect combination of grassroots and professional. With a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, the Fernie team is working hard to not only host a successful event, but to pave the way for others afterwards.
Kuijt explained that one of the side benefits of hosting a convention of this size in Fernie is that “people are going to look at what we’re doing and think, wow, we really do need to be able to host these things.”
Labine agreed, adding that “using the ISSW as a model will show the community, and especially the local government that we can do this. Bringing in 1,000 delegates is a good thing for Fernie… Little Fernie, with only 5,500 people is now in the big leagues…We’re going to have a big impact on the avalanche world.”
Not only will the event have a big impact on the avalanche world globally, there will also be a noticeable impact for the Elk Valley years after the conference has ended. One of the goals of the conference according to Kuijt was to host the ISSW “in a fashion that we end up with a little bit of a surplus and that surplus will go to maintaining the Elk Valley Snow Avalanche Workshops from now until forever.”
Even for residents who are not directly involved in the conference, there will be a lasting positive impact on the snow community in the area.