FAR will be opening for summer operations on June 25 this year. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

FAR will be opening for summer operations on June 25 this year. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Summer season approaches for Fernie Alpine Resort

Timber chair will not be opening for a fourth year in a row

The stoke is high for the summer at Fernie Alpine Resort, with a scheduled opening day on June 25.

Summer 2022 should be different to the last two years, with the removal of mandatory mask requirements and the scrapping of the winter vaccination pass requirement.

“The same experience down on main street will be happening on the mountain,” said Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) executive, Matt Mosteller.

Regular programming will be making a return, with guided hikes, mountain biking lessons and the Kids Adventure Camp returning for the season, among other things.

What won’t be returning – for the fourth year in a row – is the Timber chair.

“It’s definitely a lot more complex to operate that lift, and the terrain that goes with it,” said Mostller. “It requires a lot more team members to do so, in addition to team members to revive the trails themselves which hasn’t had any work done on the majority of them for the last many years here.”

Mosteller said there were no plans to bring it back into summer operation this season, and the resort would be focusing on staffing what parts of the mountain it could open instead.

“We appreciate the passion and enthusiasm regarding Timber chair and we’ve spent a lot of time looking at it from all angles … but we’ve got to figure out solutions and deal with the challenges facing all industries across Canada with staffing.”

Instead, the resort would be focusing on making the Elk Chair more efficient to get riders up the hill faster. In summer ‘21, an additional 46 bike hooks were added to the Elk chair, meaning 100 percent of chairs could load bikes, theoretically making lines move faster. “We’re going to continue doing all we can to make that lift as efficient as possible,” said Mosteller.

Notably, the resort has added e-bikes to its offering of bikes for rent. E-bikes have seen a surge in popularity, and Mosteller said that FAR was looking to lean into it, with e-bikes permitted access to all parts of the trail network accessible by mountain bikes, and allowed to be taken on the chairlift up the hill. The mountain also has an uphill trail perfect for e-bikers.

Staffing continues to be an issue. Over the 21-22 winter season, the resort was short by 120 workers, with that number rising as high as 200 during the worst of the various waves of the pandemic, putting significant stress on the workforce.

Come summer, that dearth of staffing hasn’t gone away, with the resort advertising 32 different job types on its website less than two weeks out from summer operations opening day, ranging from landscape maintenance, to lifties, guest services and more. Notably, each job advertised as a $17 per hour position receives a $2 per hour bonus for the 2022 season in a bid to entice more workers.

Mosteller said that housing was something the resort continued to look at, especially given nearby pipeline work in the Elk Valley which is soaking up hotel space.

For the 21-22 winter season, FAR offered space at it’s Slopeside Lodge, which Mosteller said had been received well and taken full advantage of. While he didn’t say whether the same option would be open for summer ‘22, it would be making a return next winter.

Looking ahead to winter 22-23, Mosteller said that there were good signs that the workforce problems could be eased by the time winter rolls around.

“The stoke around skiing and snowboarding in the southern hemisphere is really high this year,” said Mosteller. In Australia, ski resorts in Victoria and New South Wales have seen some of the highest snowfalls in the early season in decades. “That bodes well for a lot of people interested in wanting to continue to enjoy winter, and we’re seeing early indicators of a strong interest in wanting to come back to Canada,” he said.

“Fernie has had a strong connection with our extended family in Australia and New Zealand. For a long time, many people have come and worked and been a part of our community. So we’re hoping that this year we’ll see that return happen.”

Canadian resorts could also see a further interest in job opportunities next winter, given that the Japanese market remains difficult to get into, with strong pandemic measures still in place there, and forecast to continue well into the future.

READ MORE: Bike sector bounces back (partly) from shortages in 2021

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