Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine throws on the winter tires and takes a rip around our backyard looking for new food, booze, and things to do. By Vince Hempsall. Photos by Peter Moynes.
The taco is the new hamburger. No matter where you are in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia now, you can find an absolutely delicious taco. Deep in downtown Trail or Castlegar there are the new restaurants Taco Debacle and Tacos El Gringo respectively. The Angry Hen Brewing Company in Kaslo started serving food recently and on the menu is a “Falafel piTaco.” Hell, you can be shredding the Cracker Jack run at Red Mountain Resort and need only step three metres off the slope to grab a Spanish Chorizo at Taco Rojo!
Photographer Peter Moynes and I are on a five-day “slaycation” mission to explore the West Kootenay winter and tacos have become our primary fuel. And beer, because that’s the other great tasting thing you can find plenty of in the West Kootenay. We’ve been tasked with finding new and alternative things to do in this region already world famous for its downhill, backcountry, heli- and cat-skiing. So we travelled from Rossland to Kaslo shredding snowy singletrack on fat bikes, baking in barrels, nordic skiing, bowling, and yes, we even fished. Through it all we ate like los gobernadores and drank tasty craft beer. So much craft beer. This is our report.
ROSSLAND & TRAIL
We started our stay in Rossland doing what we were tasked not to do: downhill ski. But the conditions at Red Mountain Resort were beauty and we wanted to see the new Constella Cabins on the backside of Granite Mountain in the Paradise Basin. There are six overnight cabins, built from sea-can containers, that can sleep up to five people each and a central clubhouse featuring a cool seating area around a woodstove, tables, a bar, and more. Although we didn’t get to stay in them, I fully appreciated the fact these ski-in, ski-out accommodations are available to the average person and not monster mansions owned by the one percent.
From there we headed to the other side of the resort to visit the new on-hill food stand Taco Rojo. Such genius! Other ski resorts need to take note: we don’t want to line up in sweaty lodges waiting for coagulated poutine. Having a taco truck on the side of a run that allows us to snarf good food fast is total perfection. It allowed us to get back out and shoot quickly before retiring to one of the best aprés places in the province. Rafters is an institution that’s not to be missed with its low ceilings, scarred wood tables, and eclectic clientele ranging from the twenty-somethings playing a drinking game beside us to a 60-year-old Texan visiting for the first time who swore to me he was going to retire to Rossland in 10 years. Understandably. The night finished in a unique barrel sauna at the Josie Hotel with a huge plexiglas window that offers views of the night cats hard at work on the nearby slopes.
The following day we were up early to meet Rory Belter at Revolution Cycles and grab fat bikes. Rory graciously offered us to take us on a tour of the local fat bike trail system, which we soon discovered is one of the best in the world. Sure, places like Minnesota groom a lot of bike trails in the winter but they’re flat and boring. Rory volunteers his time maintaining 17 kilometres of singletrack that are legit gnar: mellow ups followed by twisty downs that have you riding the brakes more than you even would in the summertime. He even grooms the black diamond run “Snake,” and riding it was probably the most fun we’ve ever had on a fattie.
For lunch we ordered Asian fusion meals at the new Underbelly Bistro and owner Mike Carriere personally delivered our food to our table at the Rossland Beer Company across the street. Sooo good! All of it. The food, the beer, the atmosphere. We’ve spent many an hour in the Beer Co. before, but this time we tried their new Blackberry Ale and even though we’re not usually fans of fruity brews, this one is delicious: subtle and refreshing. Afterwards we walked over to the city’s new OK Store Gear & More. Located in the well-known heritage building on Columbia Ave, this consignment store sells used backpacks, technical apparel, ski gear and other outdoor equipment. Owned by Camille and Alistair Vittery, who moved to the area from Cumberland, BC in 2022, the store is a genius idea in a community overrun with gear. While there I bought an almost-new pair of Dalbello downhill boots for only $130!
That night we headed down the hill to Trail for more eats and elixirs. Our first stop was the Trail Beer Refinery. Owned by Mike and Sheri Konkin, the craft brewery has been keeping the locals hydrated since 2017. This was actually the first time I managed to get into the place as previous attempts through the years were scuttled by long line-ups at the door – a testimony to its popularity. We then walked the two blocks to the new Taco Debacle joint, which was opened last year by Jocelyn Berglund. She’s a Kootenay local who spent time in LA before returning to the region. After doing some market research in 2022, she decided Trail needed a taco place. She was right. Another two-block walk took us to the new Kootenay West Distilling. Ash and Thomas Hodgkin have been setting up the business since 2019 and will be ready for full go in February. By then they’ll have 50 seats in their establishment that craft distills vodka and gin. We highly, highly recommend the espresso martinis there.
Rossland & Trail Highlights:
- Shredding legit singletrack on fat bikes thanks to the tireless efforts of Rory Belter
- Enjoying a Flyin’ Phil’s Cubano sandwich on slope at Red Mountain’s Taco Rojo
- Swilling a subtle blackberry ale at Rossland Beer Company while Mike Carriere, owner of the new Underbelly Bistro, hand-delivers a delicious King Gong Bao noodle dish
- Seeing the new Constella Cabins at Red Mountain: converted sea-cans for hard-working peeps versus monster mansions for the one percent
- Soaking up the steam in a barrel sauna at The Josie Hotel
- Meeting Jocelyn Berglund, owner of the new Taco Debacle restaurant in Trail
- Hanging at Rafters, one of the few truly authentic on-hill bars left in the world
- Sipping espresso martinis with Ash and Thomas Hodgkin, owners of the new Kootenay West Distilling in Trail
On our third day we drove north to Castlegar and encountered blustery winds and sleet, which was a bit surprising considering this city is in the banana belt of the West Kootenay and averages 292 days of sunshine a year. But we bundled up and met Wayne Bridgerman of Columbia River Fly Fishing at Scottie’s Marina for a tour of Lower Arrow Lake, which never freezes in the winter. Thankfully he had arrived early and the cabin of his 28-foot Alumaweld was already warm. Soon we were trolling for trout with downriggers and listening to Wayne’s stories about how his family have been fishing these waters since the 1880s.
Although he caught some decent fish the previous day, the lunkers eluded us but we didn’t care because there wasn’t any cell service, the scenery was captivating, and Wayne’s tales kept us in stitches for two hours. It was interesting hearing about how the city and surrounding area have changed in the 60+ years of his lifetime. He remembers when the Hugh Keenleyside Dam was built and the Columbia became the reservoir that is now Arrow. “Lots of lives were changed around then,” he said. After docking, Peter and I hit the venerable Lion’s Head Pub for a warm-up stout and chatted with owner Troy Pyett about the 30-pound pike caught last fall in the river 60 metres from his restaurant. If only we had been so lucky.
Following lunch we had a great time ripping around Millennium Park on fat bikes. Although the trails aren’t groomed, the conditions allowed us to cycle all over from beaches and bridges to fields and foreshores. At one point a fellow fat biker approached and, without stopping, high-fived us while yelling, “Yeah, fat bikes!” I share his sentiments. The sport is awesome, as is Millennium Park. At 23 hectares, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the region, and it’s situated on the Columbia River a mere five blocks from the downtown core. No matter the season this place is great.
When the rain started soaking through our jackets, we hustled to Castle Bowl where owner Brandon Racette gave us lessons in throwing five pin. We learned the sport originated in Ontario in the early 1900s when some patrons of the Toronto Bowling Club complained 10-pin balls were too heavy. The history of Castle Bowl dates back to 1960 and Brandon bought it from his uncle Roland Handley in 2021 because he says, “I grew up in this place. I didn’t want to lose it.” To say we had a great time at Castle Bowl is an understatement. The league players arrived soon after us and we were regaled with hilarious stories of championships won and lost. Finally we left the players to their scorecards and hit the new Tacos El Gringo restaurant where we chatted with owners Richard and Emmy had some of the best ceviche we’ve ever enjoyed in the region. The night ended with pints at Tailout Brewing, one of our favourite local craft breweries, and then we stumbled across the parking lot to our rooms at the Sure Stay Hotel.
- Trolling in a heated fishing boat on Arrow Lakes in a sleet storm and laughing at stories shared by local guide Wayne Bridgerman
- Inhaling the Bob Marley burger at the Lion’s Head Pub
- Receiving a random on-the-go high-five by a fellow fat biker in Millennium Park
- Chugging hazy pale ales at Tailout Brewing
- Knocking down five pins at Castle Bowl and meeting all the amazing league players
- Savouring the ceviche at the new Tacos El Gringo restaurant
Both Peter and I live in Nelson and are regular frequenters of the city’s three craft breweries including Backroads, Nelson Brewing Company, and Torchlight. We recommend visiting all three because each has a different vibe and most of the brews on offer are excellent. During this particular road trip we only hit the NBC tasting room, mostly because it’s only a few blocks from our houses, but also because we had other new establishments to visit. For example, the latest coffee shop and store to open in the city is the Uphill Market on Stanley St. and as denizens of the uphill area, we can’t express enough how happy we are this establishment, which has been run as a corner store since 1909, has reopened after a two-year hiatus. We also checked out the swank interior of the new Bear and Sturgeon bar in the Savoy Hotel and enjoyed a pint and then walked over to the recently opened Beauties Pizza on Baker Street, which is another good spot for a pint and a slice.
Both Peter and I live in Nelson and are regular frequenters of the city’s three craft breweries including Backroads, Nelson Brewing Company, and Torchlight. We recommend visiting all of them because each has a different vibe and most of the brews on offer are excellent. During this particular road trip we only hit the NBC tasting room, mostly because it’s a few blocks from our houses, but also because we had other new establishments to visit. For example, the latest coffee shop and store to open in the city is the Uphill Market on Stanley St. and as denizens of the uphill area, we can’t express enough how happy we are this establishment, which has been run as a corner store since 1909, has reopened after a two-year hiatus. We also checked out the swank interior of the new Bear and Sturgeon bar in the Savoy Hotel and then walked over to the recently opened Beauties Pizza on Baker Street, which is another good spot for a pint and a slice.
Despite instructions to concentrate on activities other than downhill skiing, Peter couldn’t stay off the boards and spent a few hours during the road trip at Whitewater Ski Resort. Later he told me he shared a chairlift with Rudy Kraus and his 22-year-old Quaker parrot named Bill. Rudy has been skiing at Whitewater with his pet bird for the past two decades but given it was a particular chilly day on the chair Peter asked, “Is the bird with us today?” Rudy just patted his jacket where the parrot was tucked inside. The conversation then continued like this:
- Peter: “What’s Bill think of this cold weather?”
- Rudy: “At first he squawked and scratched a bit but then he started riding on my back. It cut down on the wind and all.”
- Peter: “Well, shit, that’s a smart bird you’ve got there.”
- Rudy: “Oh he is smart. He knows it all. He knows what’s in the freezer. He know what’s in the fridge. He knows everything. Hell, if he don’t know it, it probably ain’t worth knowing.”
While Peter was having a typically surreal encounter at Whitewater, my wife was taking advantage of the sunshine at Apex, which is maintained by the Nelson Nordic Ski Club. A few years ago the non-profit organization fundraised to purchase a new groomer worth more than $300,000 and now the trails there and at the neighbouring Busk area are absolutely pristine. Classic and skate skiers can enjoy over 30 kilometres of groomed trails there and. While my wife was shushing with our oldest I was hiking up the local landmark Pulpit Rock with our youngest. Pulpit is a mega-popular hike in the summer months but less so in the winter because of the icy conditions but I have to say, I almost enjoyed the winter views more, especially because there wasn’t anyone else around.
- Meeting Rudy Kraus and his parrot on the lift at Whitewater Ski Resort
- Nordic skiing in the sunshine at Apex
- Eating pizza at the new Beauties restaurant on Baker St.
- Revelling in a flight at the NBC Brewery’s tasting room
- Hiking to the top of Pulpit Rock with a two year old
- Quaffing espressos at the new Uphill Market
On the last day of our Winter Slaycation we found ourselves in The Parlour, an ice cream shop in Kaslo that’s expanded its offerings recently to include cappuccinos, sandwiches and home-baked goods. Owner Hazel Veri whipped up two absolutely superb “brekky” croissant and, sufficiently fuelled, we hit the 12 kilometres of groomed trails maintained by the Kaslo Nordic Ski Club. We started at the Buchanan Mt looking parking area just east of town because you can also fat bike along the Wagon Road there, but I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for the approach off the road, which involves 755 metres of elevation gain over a kilometre. I’ve barely nordic skied since my days growing up in Manitoba so my legs were screaming by the time I reached the Moose Meadow warming hut. At one point a grey-haired, yet super fit skate skier named Joe took pity and tried to help correct my technique. A resident of Davis Creek, about 25 kilometres north of Kaslo, Joe tried to impart his knowledge of cross-country ski movement until eventually he shook his head and said, “Son, if you don’t move your hips, you can’t dance.” Despite my personal physical challenges I will say that the views of Kootenay Lake and the Purcell mountains far surpassed the boring, flat plains of my youth.
After punishing my legs on the Kaslo Nordic Ski Club trails we visited the recently refurbished restaurant at the Kaslo Hotel for some medicinal suds. Peter and I have frequented this place for decades and we have to say the new paint job and wood work behind the bar really classes the place up. In fact, it’s so classy now, Shelly our waitress had a hard time explaining they had Angry Hen’s “Bite Me” IPA on tap. It’s delicious. We highly recommend you sink your teeth in. In fact, we liked the beer so much we sauntered down the street to the Angry Hen brewery for some more remedies and learned they now serve food including, gasp, a falafel-style taco.
- Getting cross country ski advice from Joe while on the Mount Buchanan Nordic trails
- Lounging in the renovated Kaslo Hotel restaurant
- Soaking up views of the Purcells while fat biking the Wagon Road east of Kaslo
- Enjoying the breakfast sandwich at The Parlour
- Strolling in the sunshine on Front Street
- Washing down Angry Hen’s delicious “Falafel piTaco” with a pint of Bite Me IPA
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