The Fells live with their sons Ty, 11, and Gavin, 9 and their Lagotto Romagnolo puppy named Winnie (short for Winter) in the Alpine Village in the Resort. The family moved in 2018 from Nanaimo, where Dan was working at an engineering firm and spending all his spare time either skiing, boating or camping.
Dan owns his own engineering company now, JD Structural Consulting, and is accountable to himself and his clients. Kim, a former dental assistant, works part time in Outdoor Elements, the clothing store at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Her commute takes her two minutes from door to door, and she gets her summers off when the store closes. “I pretty much wanted to work less and play more,” Dan admits.
Just before making the decision to move to Mount Washington permanently, the Fells were spending fewer than half of their nights at their home in Nanaimo: they were either skiing at Mount Washington, on the lake in their power boat or camping in the family RV. They had purchased their condo a couple of years previously, thinking it would remain a weekend getaway.
The Fells traded life for lifestyle, downsizing from 3,000 square feet to 900 sq. ft. It was a challenge, says Dan, but it was worth it. “The whole point of this move was to have more flexibility in our life,” he says.
Ty and Gavin attend École Puntledge Park Elementary School. They car pool with their friend Tegan, 11, whose parents Jeff Warren and Janine Rathleff live at the mountain too. Because there isn’t a large number of kids living at the mountain, the Fells thought it was important for the boys to socialize with friends at a public school instead of home schooling them.
Gavin says living on the mountain isn’t so different from their previous life in Nanaimo. “It’s kind of like normal except you get a lot of snow in winter,” he says. The boys get lots of visits with friends from town who come up to Mount Washington to ski or snowboard, says Ty. “We can skip more school,” he says. “When we lived in Nanaimo we didn’t have snow days.”
The family has only been skiing for about five years. Dan’s former partner took the family skiing as a company Christmas party, and everyone loved it. “We took (Gavin and Ty) skiing one time and they both took to it like crazy,” Kim says. The next weekend, they went to Ski Tak Hut in Courtenay and outfitted everyone with all the equipment they needed. The boys were so excited “we went to White Spot and ate with our helmets on,” Gavin remembers.
While Kim and Gavin are fair weather skiers, Dan and Ty hit the slopes in all sorts of conditions: the steeper and deeper, the better. Gavin competes in Freestyle, preferring to ski only one day per weekend. For Ty, though, skiing is a passion: he takes Fridays off school so he can train with the Mount Washington Ski Club three days every weekend in winter.
There are two questions the Fells always hear when their friends find out they live at Mount Washington full time: you must hate the commute, and don’t you get lonely? “It’s 20 minutes to Courtenay, and the views are spectacular,” says Kim “We get some amazing sunsets and sunrises.” As for loneliness, both Kim and Dan say their life couldn’t be further away from loneliness. “It’s a very tight community, and it’s a growing and vibrant community,” says Kim. “There are a lot of people who live up here full time.”
The Fells are among at least 27 families or couples that live full time in the Alpine Village, Foster’s Place or any of the numerous buildings and homes surrounding the Resort. “It’s kind of more like an old-fashioned community where everyone looks after one another,” Dan agrees. Children play around the Village and parents look after each others’ kids. Kim knows Ty and Gavin are safe. Whenever someone heads into town, they ask around to see if they can pick something up for their neighbours while they’re at it.