Willard Ripley

The City of Fernie welcomed new council members and mayor with the municipal election last November. With many energized by the opportunity of change, we thought it fitting to feature one of the newly elected in the New Year’s edition, in which the topic of change and resolutions is a primary focus.

Sitting with Willard Ripley over a bowl of soup at The Loaf, I had to ask why. Like all of us, I care about the community, work towards making it better and want to see it go in the right direction, but being a councillor sounds like a lot of work and stress.

“I really watched Fernie for a long time, and became increasingly dissatisfied with the way the City was running. I wanted to see more business opportunities taken advantage of. The City is saying no with in-action, and making opportunities so complicated or impossible,” he responded to my query.

As the conversation continued the topic of “business vs. environment” came up, as it was a recurring theme during the campaign last fall.

“During the campaign there was this big wedge that people perceived that I don’t think was really there. Everybody is interested in Fernie, and everyone would be surprised to see how conservative or green or liberal each of us really are. People surprise you,” he said, having just completed training in Nelson with fellow council members.

The more I learned of Willard’s history with Fernie, the more I understood his decision to take this next step within the community. Having first come here in 1975 to ski, Willard decided to come every winter to teach with the ski school. Finally in 1989 he saw an opportunity to move here for the long term.

“I watched Fernie in the 80’s and it was horrible. The late 70’s it was rocking. The ski business had never been better, people were pouring in and it was great – then wabam. In 89’ there were hints that it was turning around so I bought some lots at the ski hill and built some houses,” he says. At the time his business was geared towards building homes, eventually adding woodworking. But they decided to specialize to avoid competing locally and expand the business outside of Fernie, with Rivercity Woodworks. “It allows us to bring business from outside of Fernie but still pour the payroll in town,” he added.

When it comes down to it, Willard has Fernie’s best interest in mind along with everyone that steps up to be a part of the City. Specifically he “hopes to really change the way Fernie is towards business and opportunities. I don’t think we should have uncontrolled development but the threat of becoming the next Whistler or Canmore isn’t there. We need to streamline the process while still being fair and safe.”

Fernie is home for Willard and his family, and he plans on being here for a while. “I don’t think about retiring - I might have skied too much when I was young to think about that yet. But I wouldn’t want to retire anywhere else. Fernie is not a stop.”

We would like to pass along the best of luck to the City of Fernie’s new council and mayor.

1. When did you arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? I grew up across the street from Richard Laughlin in New Brunswick. In 1975 he was in Fernie and I was in Yellow Knife. I came for a visit and that was it.
2. Where did you first live in Fernie? I used to stay in the Fernie Hotel when we came here to teach skiing. I had a two-room suite with a bathroom down the hall.
3. What was your first impression? What could be cooler than hanging around a ski town? And in the 70’s it was a ski town that was having a good time.
4. What keeps you in Fernie? Skiing, lifestyle, fresh air, great drinking water, and the small town atmosphere. I love it. I want a bumper sticker that says, “Fernie, no sooner done than said.”
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? A litany of great days of powder skiing. It was definitely fun becoming Fernie’s first Griz – duking it out with Mitchy and Frank Pilosio.
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? That’s a tough one. I really don’t love winter, but I love skiing. And a nice summer in Fernie is fantastic.
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? I see Fernie as the same as it is now with a healthier business community if I have anything to do with it. Trying to and continuing to develop the character it has now, without changing it. Just making it better.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Coffee and email, and then off to the office.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. How interested I am in the environment and how green I am! While I may swing right wing or left wing depending on the issue, I balance out in the middle.
10. Quote to live by: Say what you do and do what you say.