Skip to main content

Greg Barrow (in the orange jacket) makes the first chair at Fernie for the 14th year in a row.Vinnie Mo

A dozen ski seasons or so ago, a security guard kicked Greg (G-Money) Barrow off Fernie Alpine Resort.

Barrow had pitched a tent at the bottom of the Timber chair the night before Opening Day. He wanted to be on the first chair of the season. The security guard told him to camp in the designated camping area. Barrow started negotiating.

"I can't get first chair from up there."

"You're gonna camp for first chair?" the guard asked.

"Yeah," Barrow replied. "Well, can I stand here?"

"Yes," the security guard said. "But you can't camp here."

Barrow, who speaks with a silky North Carolina drawl, tried to get the fun police to call and check with his boss. "He goes: 'I am not gonna call my boss at 2 in the morning and wake him up because some fool is trying to camp.'

"So, I just went and put my tent in the car and then went back and stood there."

Barrow got first chair. The 67-year-old has had first chair at Fernie for 14 years straight. The resort, tucked in the southeast corner of British Columbia, now lets die-hards camp the night before the lifts start spinning. Barrow, who moved to Fernie in 1999, sleeps in a one-man yellow tent. He rarely has company before 4:30 a.m.

Being first on Opening Day is all about strategy. Each mountain requires a different game plan, ranging from selfish benevolence to outright stampeding. Pack your rock skis if you have them – it will be a little stoney out there – and giggle all the way down. And even if you sleep in, Opening Day makes up for in smiles what it lacks in snow if you play it smart.

Lake Louise Ski Resort, Alta.

If you're aiming for first chair – hey, it comes with some serious bragging rights – commit. Getting to Lake Louise Ski Resort at 6:30 a.m. and landing second chair on the Glacier Express is embarrassing. You lost the race and sleep. Opening Day here can be deceptive. The famous Alberta resort claims four "named" runs are open. Don't buy that. Bits and bites of those runs blend into Wiwaxy, and for one day and one day only, Wiwaxy is the greatest run in the West. It is the only run. The glorious Wiwaxy 500 – a nickname for the Lake's Opening Day, because all you can do is go 'round and 'round this green run – is scheduled for Nov. 6. These short laps are usually the first ones you can lay down each season. The Wiwaxy 500 means winter is back, baby. Just don't be one of the jackholes cutting it too close to other skiers on the crowded fairway.

Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort, Alta.

This is Lake Louise's No. 1 rival and it plays dirty pool on Opening Day. First, Opening Day isn't the first day of the year the public can ski the 'Shine. The resort holds social media contests in the fall and about 20 skiers and boarders win their way onto the mountain the day before Opening Day. Second, only four people can ride the first chair at Sunshine, but eight people fit in the gondola that gets skiers and snowboarders from the parking lot to the resort. Imagine, being first in the gondola line at 7 a.m. (the line for first chair at Sunshine starts at a much more civilized hour), but not getting to bust through the winner's banner at the top of the Strawberry chair because four others outran you. Sunshine offers consolation prizes for those moving a little slower on Opening Day. Strawberry serves five or six runs, so even if you miss first chair, you can still get first tracks. And while Strawberry is a go on Opening Day, tentatively slated for Nov. 11, other lifts may twirl if the weather co-operates.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, B.C.

Charity with a not-so-hidden agenda is the way to snag first gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C. It raffles off the first ride of the year, with proceeds going to the food bank. Kicking Horse, which hopes to flip the switch on Dec. 5, raised about $1,200 last year. The winner picks seven pals to share the first gondola.

Fernie Alpine Resort, B.C.

Back in Fernie, Barrow knows people are out to break his 14-year streak. He's having none of it. He'll be at the front of the line come Dec. 4, the mountain's tentative Opening Day.

"I have to," he says. "Everybody starts talking about it early and so I gotta do it."