Most of us have had an experience with Ski School… whether learning to ski or snowboard as a child, or as a cry for help after trying to pass these skills onto our own kids. While I had lessons growing up, my most memorable moment with the Winter Sports School at Fernie Alpine Resort is the day we gave up teaching our eldest. Literally, after 45 minutes with an instructor she could ski on her own… and didn’t want to stop! Perhaps it’s their playful tactics, or the red jackets. Regardless, I went on quest to find out.
Wendy Reade is the the queen of FAR’s Winter Sports School. She has been with the school in Fernie for 22 years, and before that in Jasper for 18. That’s 40 years of experience! Impressive to say the least. Wendy is passionate about what she does, and about the people she does it with. As a good friend of Dave Rogers who operated the snow school here, Wendy was always intrigued with Fernie and bought a home here before heading to New Zealand to instruct. “I was offered a job here, and you just can’t turn those jobs down,” she tells me over a beer at Slopeside. “Then I had my son, so I stayed and didn’t go back to New Zealand.” I tell her I have never met anyone who chases winter, “there are a lot of people on our team who do it,” she lets me know, and I’m in awe of this passion for skiing and boarding!
Wendy’s passion goes back to her youth, growing up in Quebec and ski racing zones. Eventually she realised she didn’t want to continue, took her Level 1 Instructor and began teaching through the YMCA until moving to Jasper at 19. As she grew her skill set in managing people and attaining the highest level in instructing, her passion continued to grow alongside her.
“It’s been a funny journey. When you’re 19, you’re doing it for different reasons. I just turned 60… why I do it now is so different. As you develop and go through it, you change and mature and grow. I bring to it my own core beliefs of how we treat our staff, how we treat our guests, and always being as good as we can be. It’s a lot of work, but we have a lot of fun.”
Wendy is very proud of there team, of about 150 pros many with their Level 3 or 4 in instructing. “Not many people have that, Fernie is very fortunate,” she adds. “I’ve got people who have worked here for 22 years and we have a 75-80% return rate with our pros. We have one of the highest certified snow schools for our size. Qualified and amazing, they are teachers at heart,” which is why she believes they are so successful. It’s all about the people.
“Fernie’s a beautiful mountain with great snow… how do we help our guests and clients have good experiences and to have fun? We train our pros to be better people and to have fun in life,” Wendy says. “In any job if you are learning, then you are engaged which allows you to have a positive experience and to pass this on to the guests. We are always open to new ways of doing things, incorporating play.”
Wendy says a lot of her job is reading her staff. It’s important to her to invest in their health and wellness, to balance work and mountain town living to ensure they have a great season. “I try not to mother them too much, but just try to help them be successful at work and have fun.”
When thinking about the future, Wendy just says she knows she’ll be doing this for a few more years at least. "This is a snow school I’m really really proud of. I plan to continue having fun, to continue doing the best we can. I love teaching and coaching, and would like to see as many people in the community participating as possible without cost as a barrier.”
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? I arrived in 1997, and it was to work for Dave Rogers in his snow school.
2. Who did you first meet in town? I knew Coleen Dunn, we had worked together in Jasper. We came to visit on our way home from New Zealand, walking down 6th Ave in November and we saw this house for sale by owner.. it was snowing like crazy, the owner was getting out of his truck and that’s the house that we bought. “Maybe we should actually move here,” we thought!
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? I had skied here four years before buying the house, visiting Coleen… and I never once saw the Valley. It was always snowing and fogged in. The first impression was that there was a lot of snow. I never came in summer, and I’m an avid fly fisherman, so I love the summers now.
4. What keeps you here? It’s the community, it’s definitely the team that I work with at the mountain, and all of my friends.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? Oooh. I have a favourite memory… Tom and I come back from working the Level 4 course. We had driven all night, and had to do session the next morning and I was pretty tired. I went out and did the session, and it was one of those over your head, can’t see a thing white smoke days. I didn’t come in until 2:30pm… it was just one of those days, you couldn’t stop.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? I think I like the fall the most. It’s beautiful weather, moving towards winter. You can still get out and do everything you do in summer without the heat. The colours are changing, valley transforming. I love it.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in 5 years? I think right now the energy in our town is amazing. We’re coming into our own, with a great new council and mayor with great leadership. We can become really settled and stable, be who we really are without a lot of distractions. People come here for that, and it would be nice to see people in the community comfortable with who they are without a lot of friction.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? With a dog walk on Cemetery Bypass to What’s Up Doc, seven in the morning every day. I love being in the forest, seeing the sun come up and life awakening.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I was a really high end horse trainer for a long time. It helped me to rejuvenate my learning in the snow industry. It helped to feed me a little bit at a time when I really needed it.
10. Quote to live by: Good, better, best.