Fairmont: The Heart of the Rockies
January 1, 1970
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are something that everybody should see for themselves at least once in their lifetime. Found nestled within them, is a small town of many hidden treasures, which offers luxury, beauty and most importantly adventure. This is the town that first ignited the travel bug within me.
I arrived in Fairmont through an offer for summer employment at a local hot spring resort as a lifeguard – a job which I almost didn’t accept. Fortunately, a life-altering decision forced me to part ways with my home town and my easy, and comfortable life.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is built around natural hot pools, which are fed through the Rocky Mountains. Acting as a family resort, it has also incorporated a ski hill, three golf courses, hiking, cycling, climbing, kayaking and rafting tours and rentals galore. Although it offers plenty, the mountain view is actually what sells most about this beautiful place. The resort itself is incredible, and was hands down my favorite employment opportunity to date, but the resort is not what kept me. The town and its lifestyle offers this kind of unexplainable freedom. Freedom from technology, freedom from expenses, freedom from worry and freedom from whatever it is you need a break from. Its definitive beauty will pull you out of your daily routine and push you into a place you may not be comfortable in – but in the absolute best way. This place changed me, along with everyone else I know who has had the opportunity to be a part of its lifestyle.
To start, the people of Fairmont offer this wild sense of life in which everything is extremely in the moment and unrestricted. Growing up in a town where the thing to do is to take your normal, everyday mountain adventure and turning it into something extreme; it raises some pretty hard core human beings. The idea of fun in this town is so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. Best part of it all, is that everyone is so fully in the moment, that nobody feels the need to grab their phones to document every waking moment. Although hiking, golf, skiing and kayaking are a plenty around here, these are not the main attractions.
THINGS TO DO
Fairmont Hot Springs: Although this town was built around this resort, these pools aren’t even close to the nicest in the area. This is the location in which I was employed at the time as a lifeguard, and it’s a pretty epic place to make some cash year round if you’re ever wondering what you should do with you life for a couple months or so. Somewhat expensive, and insanely packed in peak season, the springs are man-made and include three different pools, all with varying temperatures. If you time it properly (in the off season), it’s quite possible that you’ll get these pools all to yourself. A hot pool, a cold (but still disgustingly warm) lap pool, and a dive tank with a one and three metre diving board, is what people from all over Canada come to take advantage of year round.
Lussier Hot Springs: are what most people think they’re coming to see when they arrive at the man-made pools. Lussier is made up of 3-9 natural rock hot pools (season depending), which vary from excruciatingly hot to intolerably cold. Unfortunately, because it’s a very well known tourist attraction which is enjoyed by individuals and families of all ages, it is always packed. The locals quickly taught me that if you want to go and get the best experience possible, you should wait until at least midnight before arriving during peak summer season. In the colder months, it only really gets crowded on weekends and school holidays. My ultimate favourite: go late, grab a car or two full of friends, grab a case of beer, invest in glow sticks and/or candles (hot tub/pool lights also work great), bring a bluetooth speaker, and have the most chill night.
There are your average ‘beautiful British Columbia’ hikes and views – all which I would highly recommend to anyone who is up for anything between a short trek, and multi-day hike. You’ve got your shorter hikes such as Hoodoos, Swansea (panoramic view of the town), Mineral King (mine/caving), the multiple Lake Louise hikes, Stanly Glacier, Marble Canyon and Premier Lake (gorgeous clear blue lakes), and then your typical ‘rocky mountain’ day/multi day treks including the Lake of the Hanging Glacier and Top of the World. Keep in mind that these too will be insanely crowded in peak, summer season, and also that they may be covered in knee deep snow any other time of the year.
I personally prefer the harder to get to and less popularly known multi-day hikes such
as Farnham Glacier, The Bugaboos and Thunderwater Lake. These are more advanced treks, but absolutely worth trying if you’re up for a challenge. Your best bet – if you’ve got the time – would be mid week in early September if you want to grab some epic shots with nobody else in them!
My personal favourite is a place referred to as “the Fire Tower,” which is located about half an hour drive from town in an even smaller town called Spillimachene. If you plan this trip around peak-summer season, you can easily drive directly to the top as long as the road is clear of fallen trees, and you’ve got yourself a good 4×4 vehicle. In the winter, the last five – ten km will be covered in knee to wait deep snow.
**Always keep in mind that British Columbia is covered in bears – so don’t leave food around, and always clean up after yourself. I once left the window to my apartment open, and I got woken up to a bear in my living room. He stole my snacks and continued to hang out for an hour or so on my deck.
Hands down, favourite Fairmont activity. Grab yourself a floatie (you can buy them for under $20 at the local grocer), a pack of beer, a group of friends, and your afternoon is set. The Columbia River flows through the entirety of Fairmont, and takes anywhere between 2 – 5 hours to float down depending on the water level (season depending), and your determination. Best thing to do: tie your beer onto your floatie to keep it cold, and tie yourself onto the friends that you trust won’t pop your floatie (there are some danger zones, so keep an eye out). Flip flops will be your best friend here – as you can stick your hand through them and use them as paddles to avoid trees, eddies, sharp rocks, and the occasional deer.
You’ve got a plethora of choices in this category, all within a three hour drive from town centre. The resorts hill that is right in town is a very basic family, beginner mountain. Panorama, Kimberly, Lake Louise, and Nakusp are your typical British Columbia ski hills on the East Coast of the province. The bigger, better and more adventurous are Fernie, Kicking Horse, White Water and my personal favourite – Revelstoke (the place to go if you want the back country feel without having to hike for hours on end to find fresh and fluffy powder).
Back country skiing is also an option here, along with cat-skiing and heli-skiing. Jumbo glacier is your typical ‘ski-film’ back country experience, and it actually has a ski film based on it. It’s a drive and a half to get to, and a hell of a hike to the peak, but worth every bit of it if you’ve got a solid 4×4.
Adrenaline junkie? This area has a few locations to curve your craving. Twin Lakes is your most well known cliff jumping location in town. It includes a cliff which allows you to attempt anything from 15 – 80 ft jumps. It also has an insanely sketchy rope swing, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who is at all sceptical about rope swings. Silver Springs is closer to Kimberly, but well worth the drive. This location offers anything between 10-60 ft in the main area. On the way there, you’ll come across a bridge which is also jumpable. Follow the river down after the bridge and you will also find a massive, but less sketchy rope swing. Careful here through, the height of the swing allows you to play a litter harder, but I’ve seen some things go wrong here due to it. Moye Falls is the the most epic of the list. While it only offers a 15, 20 and 30 footer, if you’re brave, you can jump the 80 ft waterfall that gives the place its name – you can even jump through it. If you’re into caving, this is also the place for you. Once an old mining site, it now holds a number of paths and tunnels – just make sure you take a headlamp!
Aka, ‘bouncy bikes’ in Fairmont, is something of large opportunity in Fairmont, and British Columbia in general. With trails built everywhere ranging from beginner to advanced cross country and DH tracks, it’s got something for everyone who’s interested in the sport. Panorama Mountain Resort offers day lifts up in accordance with an entry fee for DH trails. They also offer DH rentals of decent quality. If you’re looking for something a bit more inexpensive, check out Swansea Mountain. If you’ve got a car (or preferably a truck – road is quite rough), you can drive directly to the trail heads to get started. Make sure to have a vehicle at the bottom as well if you’re not keen on walking back up the mountain.
It’s not your normal nightlife in Fairmont. There are three bars, although there might as well only be one. It’s called Farside and is only really a bar on Tuesday nights. Tuesday is karaoke, and coming from someone who hated karaoke prior to my time in Fairmont, it’s a party and a half. I recommend at least one beer prior to your arrival, and plenty while you’re there if you feel like getting into the Karaoke spirit.
This bar is not where you’ll find most people in Fairmont after dark. Bonfires, beach parties, tailgates and theme/keg parties at “the point” are where the real fun happens – all which you’ll have to buddy up with a local in order to find your way. Upon my arrival, I thought these parties were going to be a joke. After partying in big cities and being exposed to the university lifestyle, I was quite hesitant about such events at first. But trust me, these will be some of the best parties you’ll ever experience as long as you’ve got an open mind going into it.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
For such a small town, this place has plenty to offer when it comes to food. The resort itself hosts 5 dine in restaurants, which all have a shockingly similar menu, and generally aren’t worth the price. My personal favourite dine in option is a place called “From Scratch,” and is found at the base of the resort road. It is known for its entirely locally grown ingredients, made from scratch daily. Best breakfast and best freshly made drinks, hands down. If you’re looking for something a bit quicker and inexpensive, “Fairmont Pizza & Ice Cream” is where it’s at. Two of the best, right in the name – and easily some of the best pizza I’ve ever had.
THAT’S IT, THAT’S ALL
Although there’s so much more than what I’ve let on about this beautifully extreme adventure town, I’ll leave the rest for you to discover. With opportunity for adrenaline junkies to luxury resort seekers, Fairmont has something for everyone and more. If you’re looking for a change of pace, a fresh start, or simply more adventure in your day – this is the place.