Gearing Up for Winter on Baker Street

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Gearing Up for Winter on Baker Street

By John Bowden

Deep powder. Mild climate. Gourmet fresh food. Killer ski town. Nelson is well known for all of the above. It also offers some of the friendliest and best equipped outdoor gear stores you’ll find anywhere, all contributing to Nelson’s amazing ski town vibe.

I set out to discover what makes each of these independent retailers unique. Although they all have their own distinctive feel and variety of goods, they all have one thing in common: proven gear and genuine personal service from staff with a deep passion for the local outdoors. And they’re all located along Nelson’s bustling and historic Baker Street.


“This place is the total package. Where else can you find an awesome ski resort with lots of powder and no lift lines, a plethora of cat and heli skiing, hot springs, and an extremely vibrant and lively town with amazing shops, dining, and nightlife?”

Sam Baio, Valhalla Pure Outfitters


Village Ski HutThe unbridled excitement of skiing in the Kootenays is contagious at Village Ski Hut. The cozy yet carefully stocked retailer has been setting up locals and visitors for more than 30 years, a testament to their reliability and expertise.

Owner Heather Renwick noted that it’s not uncommon for customers to help other customers in the store, and the close-knit vibe is something that keeps bringing people back. “We ski all the time, testing skis and gear. We pride ourselves on being a specialty store and building relationships and trust with our customers in the store and on the hill at Whitewater Ski Resort.”

Valhalla Pure Outfitters is another long-running small business with top-notch gear, and an emphasis on tested clothing and apparel for the local conditions. The gear they sell gets used. Hard.

“We have a huge core user group in town who put our products through the ringer. We know pretty quickly if products will last and hold up to the local standards”, said Sam Baio of VPO. “Suppliers listen to us, and often redesign product based on our feedback.” That proven durability means that products will surpass the expectations of normal users.

I asked Sam what makes Nelson worth visiting in the winter. “This place is the total package. Where else can you find an awesome ski resort with lots of powder and no lift lines, a plethora of cat and heli skiing, hot springs, and an extremely vibrant and lively town with amazing shops, dining, and nightlife?”

If you’re looking to hit the backcountry, ROAM has you covered. The store’s name is an acronym for Rivers Oceans And Mountains. Although Kootenay Lake isn’t quite an open sea, you can find gear appropriate for just about any water conditions. But it’s the ski selection and related gear that makes ROAM a must visit in the winter.

“With nine backcountry operators within two hours of here, you’re getting the true powder experience. Our backcountry rentals set us apart in Nelson, with entire packages, split boards and skis. We’re also a core shop, meaning that we stock core brands like Arc’teryx” said owner Rob Stojanowski (an appropriate last name for running a ski shop!).


"We provide the goods to get you to the goods"

Ross McNamara, Gerick Cycle & Ski


Another sweet gear destination is Gerick Cycle & Ski. They offer the right advice and equipment for all sorts of alpine pursuits, including cross-country skiing. “We’re enablers. We provide the goods to get you to the goods” says storeowner and longtime local Ross McNamara.

“Everyone here is keen to get out there. The guys and gals working here love the lifestyle, and many have been with Gerick’s for over a decade. There’s a group that ski tours before work, calling themselves the “Dawn Patrol”. Now that’s dedicated product knowledge!

Snowpack Outdoor Experience is also well worth a stop, especially if you’re a fan of Patagonia. It’s home to the only Patagonia Outlet in Canada, offering great deals on some of the best technical apparel out there. They focus on carrying tried and tested gear combined with excellent customer service. “Whether you’re heading to the ski hill, touring the backcountry, or après ski, Snowpack has the right gear for you”.

And if snowboarding is more your thing, Nelson offers up an amazing selection of stores geared towards the riding lifestyle (but that’s another article on it’s own!).

If you’re thinking of coming to the Nelson and Kootenay Lake area to ski this winter, you can trust the locals to set you up with the right outfit for the terrain. What better way to get the best gear and contribute to making Nelson North America's Best Ski Town?!?

Bringing Design to Life

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Bringing Design to Life

By John Bowden

I’ll be honest. The thought of stepping into a shopping mall (or just about any store) is usually enough to send me running to the nearest pub. But there’s something about charming mountain towns that draw me in the doors of retailers. A walk along Nelson’s historic Baker Street is like a mash-up of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and Hill Valley in Back to the Future.

Perhaps it’s the refreshingly un-chain-like look that small businesses offer. Or the carefully selected assortment of items that populate the characterful interiors. Or maybe it’s the small-town personalized service that makes the experience so friendly. Whatever it is, Nelson seems to have it in spades.

The eclectic and artsy city, with its colourful leafy trees and abundance of public art, boasts a cornucopia of heritage buildings and independent small businesses.

Take Cartolina, for example. Opened just a few years ago, it has become a destination unto itself on Baker Street. If there is such a thing as “modern-vintage” surely this is it. With its historic pressed tin ceiling and creaky wood floors, the cozy curated store is brimming with lovingly designed paper materials, prints, and various Canadiana themed items. Plus, the awesome home accents are a sure bet to help make your digs a little less IKEA-like and a little more Cabin-like. Little wonder that Cartolina received the prestigious award as Nelson’s Heritage Building of the Year in 2015.

I asked Cartolina co-owner Fiona Richards what inspired her and partner Doug to launch their business. “We purchased the building two and half years ago to house our designer wholesale business, and opened up a retail store to sell directly to consumers. We pride ourselves on the store reflecting the specific look and vintage feel of our building that dates back to 1891, and try hard to design products for locals and visitors.” One step inside the store and I guarantee you’ll be transported into a world of history and wonder.


“It’s a je-ne-sais-quoi that you can’t put your finger on what makes it so intriguing. You know how wine is influenced by the local terroir? Nelson is the same."


Many moons ago the building housed a Chinese diner on the main floor and a tiny hotel above. Today, the old dining room is home to the store, while the kitchen has been transformed into the design and wholesale hub. And to come full circle, the upstairs has been lovingly renovated into a two-room self-contained vacation rental with the same remarkable character found in the store below. Slated to open in time for the winter, the Tremont Loft will offer visitors a tastefully designed accommodation option with sweeping views of historic Baker Street.

And did I mention maps? Cartolina boats a plethora of heritage themed cartography with an emphasis on BC. The hallway filled with old-school maps is a trip down memory lane to the days before digital. Google Maps ain’t got nothing on these beauties.

There’s a good reason why Cartolina distributes their prints to places like the Smithsonian, Harrod’s, The British Museum, Chapters, and countless other partners around the world. Their stuff is just so damn cool. It oozes character and the look and feel that only seriously legit designers can create. Picking up a gift from Cartolina will earn you brownie points from your mother-in-law, while hanging one of their feature prints at home will win you the admiration of your dinner guests. Props to that.

I asked Fiona how she would describe Nelson to a potential visitor. After a momentary pause, she said “It’s a je-ne-sais-quoi that you can’t put your finger on what makes it so intriguing. You know how wine is influenced by the local terroir? Nelson is the same. Stores here have their own terroir because this place is not like anywhere else. It has these un-definable aspects that make it so interesting, with a pure and vibrant energy.” Amen.


"We pride ourselves on the store reflecting the specific look and vintage feel of our building that dates back to 1891, and try hard to design products for locals and visitors.”

Fiona Richards, Cartolina


I think that’s spot on. Having spent the past five years living in Banff, perhaps the tourist mecca in Canada (Niagara Falls has nothing on the mountains), I’ve been trying to articulate what makes Nelson tick since I moved here a few months ago. Fiona not only described it so thoughtfully and precisely, but her unbridled passion and love for this place is infectious. Her fervor for great design and Nelson emanates from every thoughtfully chosen item at Cartolina.

It’s no wonder that the store has become a destination unto itself; it’s a microcosm of Nelson and goes beyond the boundaries of traditional “shopping”. Indeed, it is an experience, a trip to a place of wonder, inspiration, and awe.

Now go already, before everyone else finds out about this amazing little gem. 

Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre and the Explosive Power of Music

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Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre and the Explosive Power of Music

Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre

Let’s start this one off with a bang, shall we?

Jeremy Behn of the Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre in Kaslo has this to say about musical instruments: “Surely, musical instruments are one the most powerful tools humanity has ever invented (and continue to invent), right up there with gunpowder I’d say.” That made me smile. In fact, I hope you’ll be brimming with joy after reading about Jeremy Behn and his ideas about folklore, Kaslo, music, the digital age and the Kootenays.

Kaslo: Come for the Vibe, Stay for the Love

Jeremy came to Kaslo in 2002 when his first son was just learning to walk. Wanting his children to experience the small town life he had growing up led him to Kaslo, but, as he said, “Kaslo pretty much chose us.” When I asked him what he loves the most about Kaslo, he answered like this: “How small it is. How wild it is. How beautiful it is. How trusting.” Yes, yes... And then,  “How much history comes to life. How political, how friendly and how safe it is for my kids.” It’s hard not to be taken in by his vision of Kaslo. And also, “How off the beaten track it is. How easy it is to get your neighbour to lend a hand. How supportive it is of my Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre and other local biz'.” And finally, “How I never stop finding new things to love about this place like walking the back alleys on my way home. How much it has allowed me to grow. How musical and creative it is.” Wow. It’s hard not to love Kaslo, but Jeremy’s answer must have given you a few new reasons.

The Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre

Jeremy began as an artist and sculptor and through serendipity found his way to hand crafting musical instruments. Introduced to an icon in Canadian lutherie and intrigued, he took a course in guitar making from Michael Dunn at Douglas College in New Westminister. Since then, he’s continued to train and learn and “grow into the idea of paying my bills with these skills.”

He’s drawn to “making, period — canoe paddle, sculpture, house or stringed instrument”. He’s recently made Marimbas, and helped a friend guide a group of kids at the local high school to build electric guitars.

“Stringed instruments can speak to a deeper place in me,” he says, which has to do with their life in relationship first to the maker, then to the repair person and then to the intimate relationship with those who make music with them. “An instrument can lead many lives of its own spanning several human companions and lifetimes and that is quite amazing.”

Unexpected Joy

Through the Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre (Canada’s Smallest Music Shop!) Jeremy is helping people get the tools they need on their musical journeys. Repair has been the focus for the last few years. It’s deeply rewarding — “folks are often deeply attached to their instruments, so there is much trust involved. It feels like right livelihood.” But recently, he’s “been pleasantly surprised with finding and selling products (or inventions if you will) that I believe in.” Introducing people to instruments and to music, indeed, finding connections is one of many gifts Jeremy brings to Kaslo. As he says, “One unexpected joy has been all the connections between people, musicians, history, etc. It’s as though my vision for this endeavour was simply a vehicle for a portal of connection that was awaiting a location.”

Will Jeremy continue to make instruments, though? Here’s his answer: “I love making instruments and I’ve been too long from it! With a “wonderful full-time employee,” Kevin John, of the Selkirk Music Program, Jeremy’s time is potentially freeing up to actually make instruments again. Fingers crossed.

The full vision includes space for in store concerts and workshops. Take a look at Halifax Folklore Centre or Dusty Strings in Seattle for an idea of what this might look like in Kaslo.

The Interconnectedness of Folklore

Jeremy holding folklore and culture front and centre shines a gentle but persuasive light on its importance to our lives. Music at the centre, but, as he says so eloquently, “I’ve come to think, as I grow older, that every aspect of folklore is equally important. The interconnectedness of all the aspects of a culture are undeniable. The farmer wants to dance to live music at night, the musician wants fresh vegetables in the fridge, the logger needs an accountant, the accountant needs groceries and the evolution of it all happens right under our very noses as we navigate each generation of children into a mystery awaiting. We pass on what we know as best we can and new facets of the existing folk/culture emerge.”

A Vision for What Small Towns Can Do

And where will all this lead?

“In this new digital realm anything seems possible; I always look to the success of the Kaslo Jazz Fest when I need inspiration about what can happen in small towns.” He’s on the board this year and can tell us that this year is going to be fantastic. And certainly, from the example of the Kaslo Jazz Fest, the vision to grow the Mountain Fruit Folklore Centre into “more of a cultural institution than just a place to ‘buy stuff’” seems immenently possible, if not probable.

Kaslo is a vibrant community with shopping and music on many street corners and in dining establishments. Come for a stay and tour the village and area, you'll be pleasantly surprised and you'll wish you'd stayed longer.


Baker Street Downtown Nelson in Spring

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Baker Street Downtown Nelson in Spring

Snow Has Melted & the Sun is Shining

At this time of year, people around the Kootenays seem to come out of hibernation. Though we've been active all winter long on the ski hill, xc skiing or in the backcountry snowshoeing, when we feel the sun on our faces and can see the crocuses have bloomed (with the irises and strawberries not far behind) we seem to wake up. Perhaps, if you live in a similarly four-season climate, you've felt this too. It's time to get outside. In Nelson at this time of year, Baker Street downtown is packed with pedestrians, as people ditch their cars almost in an effort to get every possible drop of sun. There is a tangible feeling of real joy in the air as people walk along Baker Street going about their day. Whether it be simply running errands, having lunch with friends on a newly opened patio or walking to work, as a visitor, you may well be surprised at the number of people you see on the streets in the middle of the day.

Baker Street Downtown: Historic and Well Planned

Nelson has not gone so far as to create a pedestrian-only area in its downtown. However, the city has done several smart things to help visitors and residents alike enjoy walking on Baker Street downtown. Parking is easy to find and inexpensive, which means that you can leave your car and walk in the downtown area easily. Most of our hotels are located right downtown, so when you visit, you are able to truly leave your car behind and walk to your morning coffee, visit the local shops (Such as Sanderella's, where you can not only have your tea or coffee, but also browse locally made crafts.) and experience a little bit of what people rave about in Nelson. You're going to slow down. There's a bit of magic that happens while simply walking down Baker Street on a sunny day. Perhaps you woke from your hotel, and full of practical ideas, decided to grab a coffee so you could simply wake up and better plan you day. You may even feel a bit grumpy. The first time someone waits patiently to turn right while you cross the street, or holds the door open for you as you enter a shop, you may think you were just lucky. Or perhaps something slightly irritating happens: A group of friends stop right in front of you on the sidewalk as you are hurrying back to your hotel. You look up, ready to tell them to keep moving, when you notice their smiles, hear their laughter, and realize they are not affected in the least by your irritation. You don't need to go to some remote island paradise to experience this kind of almost old-world kindness and slower pace of life. It's here.

Local Shops Worth Visiting

Once you have had your morning coffee, you may feel a bit more ready to take on a couple hours shopping and browsing on Baker Street. You'll most likely be spending at least a part of your vacation here outdoors, either hiking or on the water...or both. Village Ski Hut and Valhalla Pure Outfitters are stops you'll want to make. Whether you buy something for your later adventures or simply get some incredible ideas for what is possible outdoors (a hand pumped espresso, for example), you'll want to have a look around. And if you've got kids with you, Mountain Baby will truly leave you feeling like you simply don't have enough great gear for them. And in this day and age, that is an incredible statement. Judy, founder and owner, took her passion for children, Master's in Early Childhood Education, and her love of the outdoors and put it to use in this shop: Each and every item in the store, whether it be camping gear, toys, books or clothing, is selected with such care and wisdom that you can almost shop blindfolded. No matter what you end up choosing, you'll be enriched. (Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much. Stop in and let us know if you agree.) You've browsed the gear and had your coffee. Now if you're looking to head out a bit more, but aren't ready to get back in your car just yet, we understand. From Mountain Baby, you are steps away from Gerick Cycle and Ski, where for a mere $30, you can rent a hardtail bike that'll get you around town or on some easy trails. Perhaps for a ride down to Lakeside Park? And if you're feeling really adventerous, go ahead and take a full suspension bike out for the day. You're ready to head out now and enjoy a Kootenay spring weekend. ***

This blog is a repost from our sister blog, 108 Healthy Things to Do
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