Man who transformed Fernie into world class ski destination, Heiko Socher, dies

The German-born forester saw the potential of a local hill in Fernie, B.C., and transformed it into an internationally renowned ski resort, leaving a lasting legacy on the town and region.

Local ‘legend’ and pioneer of Heiko’s Trail bought hill in 1972 and built it up

After retiring from the day-to-day operations at Fernie Alpine Resort, Heiko Socher took up trail building. (Judy McMahon)

Skiers from around the world travel to Fernie, B.C., for its vast terrain and insane vertical. 

But it wasn't always that way.

Back in the early '60s, it was a dinky locals' hill. 

That all changed with the arrival of a German-born forester by the name of Heiko Socher. He saw big potential in the piles of champagne powder.

Socher and his wife, Linda, established Fernie's first ski school then bought the hill in 1972, transforming it into an internationally renowned resort.

"Heiko was well-known to be in his pickup truck and with his chainsaw. Of course, he used his chainsaw to cut the trails on the mountain on the slopes above Fernie," said Mike Delich, a longtime friend and business associate.

The community has said goodbye to the hardworking, longtime resident. Socher died last week at the age of 86.

"He was in it for the common good. He would always think of his employees, he would think of the community and he would think of the generations of skiers," Delich told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Heiko Socher and wife, Linda, in 2012 when Heiko received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal. ( Mike Delich)

The Griz

"He was a legend in our community," said Delich. 

Socher also invented another legend — The Griz.

"He's the mascot or man who lives up in the mountain that you have to be kind to each year because he's the one who brings the wonderful powder," said Delich.

Socher used the snow god to market the mountain resort around the globe. The mascot is used in souvenirs and is the namesake of Fernie's winter carnival.

Socher also gave back to the community in a big way — donating funds to complete the city's Chamber of Commerce and supporting the career of former alpine racer, Emily Brydon.

For his philanthropy, Socher was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012. 

Heiko and Linda Socher (left), Greg Barrow and Dr. Geoff Seagram on the 1st chair of the 50th ski season at Fernie. (Mike Delich)

Heiko's Trail

In 1997, Socher retired from his role as the boss of Fernie Alpine Resort — but didn't let his chainsaw sit idle for long.

In 2000, he pioneered a majestic eight-hour day hike that begins in Hartley Lake and ends with an ice, cold, brew on the patio of the Island Lake Lodge.

Officially, it's called the Mountain Lakes Trail. But locals call it Heiko's Trail.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener