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Wed 16 June 2021
It’s a gorgeous, warm evening as I hike toward the 1,591-metre summit of Red Mountain in British Columbia’s West Kootenays. I glance to my right. Down a steep slope, I spot a young black bear in the foliage, looking up at me.
He’s perfectly calm, and I’m wearing jingling bear bells I acquired back home on Vancouver’s North Shore. Still, it’s an unforgettable, heart-racing moment in the Monashee Mountains.
Like a smart city slicker, I decide not to go back the way I came. After admiring the wilderness sunset, I sing Van Halen and AC/DC songs while jogging down the wide, winding Sally’s Ride trail to The Josie, my boutique hotel at the foot of Red Mountain. (Bears avoid ’80s rock music even more than bells.)
In retrospect, my comical flight from Mr. Bear is only slightly less smooth than the Pacific Coastal Airlines flight from Vancouver to Trail. That takes just an hour and 15 minutes.
After landing the previous day, I made the 20-minute drive to The Josie in a rented 2019 Toyota Corolla. I was curious about visiting Rossland in the summer. After all, this 1897-founded gold-mining town is well known for its rich history of winter sports athletes.
Nancy Greene, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, hails from Rossland, and was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the 20th century. Kerrin-Lee Gartner, who won the 1992 Olympic gold medal in downhill, is another local product.
Hockey fans harken back to former Canadian national team goalie Seth Martin (IIHF Hall of Fame, 1997) and Stanley Cup champion Dallas Drake (Detroit Red Wings, 2008). Also, the Rossland Ladies Hockey Team went unbeaten from 1900 to 1917 (BC Hockey Hall of Fame, 2018).
The Josie was named Canada’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel in the 2019 World Ski Awards, but a summertime visit offers great opportunities to explore the well-maintained area trails, which welcome hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers. Rossland boasts more than 50 trails and 160 kilometres of single track.
Coming into The Josie, which opened in 2018 with 106 rooms just outside Rossland, I enjoy the aura of mental and physical freedom. The lobby design includes ski lift chairs, a chess set and towering windows. My fourth-floor room features a deep soaker tub and a glass-encased walk-in shower, in addition to fabulous views of Red Mountain.
I feast on lunch under a big red patio umbrella at The Velvet, the in-house restaurant. It’s hard to go wrong with a crispy chicken sandwich with Gruyere cheese, coleslaw and avocado puree, plus a hearty Cobb salad.
As I discover on my post-lunch foray into town, Rossland brims with laidback rustic charm, but the town of 3,700 also has enough creature comforts to satisfy spoiled city dwellers.
After grabbing a handcrafted Americano from the popular Seven Summits coffee shop, I stroll down Columbia Avenue, which is festooned with hanging flower baskets.
Red Mountain, near Rossland, provides a fitting backdrop for all manner of outdoor activities.
At the Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company, the decor catches my eye. Vintage wooden skis adorn the wall behind the counter. Local artist Lars Baggenstos has prints like “Young Black Bear” for sale ($30 to $120) in frames made of Slocan Lake driftwood. I shell out for some BC blueberry anise, maple walnut and strawberry balsamic chocolates.
Just off Columbia Avenue, the well-stocked Gold Rush Bookstore indulges my cultural appetites. Owner Michelle Fairbanks recommends titles about Kootenay history like Ron Walker’s Old Glory. This primes me to check out the recently renovated Rossland Museum & Discovery Centre.
From a vintage Esso gas station to an enormous rope drive compressor used to power drills in the Rossland mines, the museum brims with intriguing exhibits. A special Nancy Greene display includes her skis, medals and various memorabilia from the ‘68 Grenoble Olympics.
To round out my local sports experience, I drive to Crescent Valley the next day for a two-hour kayak tour on the Slocan River with Endless Adventure guide Jordan Overholt. During the five-kilometre odyssey, Overholt, who doubles as a logging-truck mechanic, shows me how to power through challenging sections of the river, which have names like Calm Before the Storm and Elevator Rapids.
There are plenty of serene moments on the water, surprisingly warm at 21°C. “It’s a good, accessible experience for kayaking or rafting,” Overholt says. “Sometimes, we spot ospreys or grizzlies drinking.”
At Crescent Valley Beach Park, I’m thrilled to walk around the former site of Patrick Lumber. Frank and Lester Patrick used proceeds from this 1907-founded sawmill company to found the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which featured pro teams in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and Portland through 1924. The PCHA transformed hockey forever with innovations like blue lines, penalty shots and forward passing. In a sense, the remaining riverside log pilings and graffiti-covered sawmill ruins here constitute the ancient Mesopotamia of modern-day hockey.
I’m still musing about it as I head to the Rossland Beer Company. The brick-walled establishment, formerly a hardware store, offers refreshing, rap-themed beers with names like Slim Shady Summer Wheat, plus Straight Outta Rossland T-shirts. Co-founder Petri Raito is on a first-name basis with his many local customers. The vibe is so laid-back that I’m almost surprised when my Red Mountain bear doesn’t wander in.
I don’t spot the bear when I’m eating beef brisket and ahi tacos at the Flying Steamshovel either. Ah well, I’m sure he didn’t have as much summer fun in Rossland as I did. (No offence intended to the bear community.)