Importance of BUILDING Local

KORE – Kootenay’s Entrepreneurs

Imagine if we could make more gear here; outdoor gear that is. That’s the premise of KORE (Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise Initiative) Launched in early 2021, this Kimberley-based non-profit is aimed at supporting the growth of the Kootenays – and BC – as a hub of outdoor gear design and boutique manufacturing.

“We knew there were people out there doing interesting things, but we were blown away by how many,” says Kevin Pennock, the KORE’s project manager.

After shaking the trees, Pennock discovered more than 30 ski shapers, design engineers, apparel specialist and other entrepreneurs in the outdoor gear sector, many of whom were unaware of each other’s existence. People like Nelson’s Cam Shute, an engineer and former head of design at G3, Nelson clothing designer Carolyn Campos, Northern Teardrop Trailers, a company of two that manufactures roughly 30 ultralight camping trailers each year out of a shop in Salmo, and PJ Hunton, senior design engineer for Norco Bicycles who works remotely from Kimberley, to name just a few..

KORE is the fruit of several years of back-of-the-napkin brainstorming between Pennock and the American-born Matt Mosteller, Senior VP of marketing, sales and resort experience for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.

Testing the Attitude Skis at Red Mtn. Photo – Peter Moynes

“We wanted to change the narrative of small Kootenay communities as raw resource dependent towns and show that they are places where innovation and entrepreneurship in the outdoor sector is happening,” Pennock says.

KORE is inspired by similar efforts elsewhere, like the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina (OGB) based in Asheville, NC. The community was once anchored in the textile and forest industries, and later in bedrock firms like DuPont that built and then sold a massive plant in nearby Henderson County that employed more than 1500 at the time of its closure in 2002. OGB was established in 2013 with nine core members, and has since grown to include more than 80 companies and organizations. In that time established brands like Fox Suspension, Rockgeist and Kitsbow have relocated or opened branch operations in the area, while new brands like Black Mountain Adventure Apparel and Blyss Running have been born.  According to Noah Wilson, OGB’s director of sector development, member businesses collectively employ nearly 1100 people, spend (USD) $8.3 million annually in locally sourced materials, and are major contributors to North Carolina’s (USD) $28 billion outdoor recreation industry.

Exegi Snowboards

“A major motivator was bringing the outdoor media to our community, which was emerging as the east coast’s biggest hub of outdoor gear manufacturing, as well as creating a supportive community of companies that would work together to help one another grow and prosper,”, Wilson says, adding that support from the regional economic development organization was also key.

Pennock believes the Kootenays has similar ingredients for this secret sauce.

One of KORE’s biggest cheerleaders is Kimberley Mayor Dan McCormick, who was also part of early discussions with Pennock and Mosteller, and now sits on KORE’s board of directors. The East Kootenay community is historically rooted in forestry and mining. In 2001, Teck Resources Limited closed the Sullivan Mine, an underground lead, zinc and silver operation that operated on and off for nearly a century. Since then, Kimberley has shifted toward tourism as an economic mainstay, but COVID-19 has revealed the vulnerability of this sector.

We need to look beyond tourism to create some economic diversity and resiliency,” McCormick says. “I see outdoor manufacturing as a natural for creating lasting jobs and prosperity.”

KORE decided to examine the procurement and supply chain realities around Dyneema, the ultralight, ultra-strong, fabric used to make packs and tents to see what opportunities may exist for reshoring manufacturing. A report commissioned by KORE showed how this fabric travels back and forth across the ocean, racking up thousands of kilometres and a considerable carbon footprint before it ends up in the hands of North American consumers in the form of outdoor gear.  That’s why KORE is floating the idea of a Kootenay-based Dyneema product manufacturing facility that would tick a lot of boxes, a lower carbon footprint and better-quality control to name a few.

Ex-Canadian World Cup Mountain Bike downhiller Dustin Adams proved it when he launched, We Are One Composites, with the goal of designing and building carbon fiber wheels and bike frames from scratch in Kamloops. Most people told him he was nuts to try. They were wrong. His business is thriving, his staff is growing and Adams has several new bike frames in the works after the successful launch of his flagship model, Arrival, two years ago.

It’s the kind of success story that KORE wants to see repeated in small town BC. KORE is hosting the Outdoor Rec-Tech Summit, Oct 19-21, 2022, that will bring together BC-bred outdoor entrepreneurs to share stories around innovation, product design marketing, supply chain challenges and the case for making more gear here.

Interested in reasons why it is important to shop local, visit a previous blog post, Importance of Shopping Local.

Mt Assiniboine – 100 Years

Mount Assiniboine Park reaches 100

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a place of soaring glacier clad peaks, alpine meadows, powder snow, turquoise lakes and remote wilderness. For generations the area was the center of trade routes. Earlier this month the Assiniboine Lodge crew, along with Chic Scott & BC Parks celebrated its 100th year anniversary.

Interest in mountain places came to Western Canada when the Rockies became accessible by train in 1885. The CPR began building elegant mountain hotels such as the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. Mt. Assiniboine became prominent when James Outram and his two Swiss guides reached its summit at 11,870 ft. in 1901. A near perfect pyramid, Mt. Assiniboine is often called “the Matterhorn of the Rockies.” As James Outram said, “It towers 1500 ft. above its neighbours, commanding attention and admiration.” By 1922, the Mt. Assiniboine area was added to the newly established Canadian Provincial Park System.

Assiniboine Lodge is owned by B.C. Parks. After the Strom tenure ended, Sepp and Barb Renner and their family operated the Lodge for 29 years (1983-2010). The Lodge is now operated by Renner’s son, Andre, Claude Duchesne and his wife, Annick Blouin. They also manage the Naiset Huts, all of the camping facilities in the area and the helicopter access.

What an amazing setting!

One of the perks of being the executive director of the BLBCA is getting opportunities to spend time in so many amazing backcountry and alpine environments. I am fortunate to have just spent a week in the Assiniboine area under nearly perfect weather. After hiking in a lengthy but well-maintained and pleasant trail, my climbing partner, Masten and I headed up the Gmoser Ledges to the RC Hind Hut. The next morning brought perfect conditions, we cruised up the many coloured bands of rock that delineate the climbing route on Assiniboine, the red band is definitely my favourite. It was warm, calm and the spectacular views from the summit were unencumbered in all directions. After a leisurely lunch we moseyed down, thanks to BC Parks for all the bolted rappel stations, very convenient. It was an amazing day, a mountain I have always wanted to climb. Thanks to the staff at Assiniboine Lodge, Masten and Mother Nature for their important parts in making this trip so nearly perfect.

If you prefer exploring without a bunch of climbing gear, there are many wonderful scrambling opportunities in the immediate vicinity.

Masten, climbing the “red band”

All these years later the Assiniboine Team and Family stay true to the deeply held values of the early Assiniboine Lodge pioneers. The minute you arrive at Assiniboine, you are welcomed with open arms into the Assiniboine Family. Guests ski the same meadows and the same ski runs as Erling Strom did with guests 90 years ago. They hike the same trails. And after a day out in the mountains they gather to share hearty food and stories. It is a time to absorb all the beauty that Mother Nature can offer in this very special place. A time to regenerate, reconnect and recreate responsibly.

Mountain Masters

Mountain Goats – Alpine Experts

Mountain goats are masters of the vertical world. These shaggy, white-coated animals are skilled climbers who can balance on a spot no bigger than a Loonie. An adult mountain goat can weigh between 80 and 100 kilograms, as much as a black bear. Their gymnastic ability to scale a mountainside can be breathtaking.

Western Canada is made for mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus.) Bill Jex, BC Gov’t sheep & goat biologist estimates that between 40,000 and 70,000 of them range throughout BC’s backcountry alone, making up half the global population of this species. COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) lists them as not at risk, but there have been localized extirpations and declining populations in areas of southern BC.  Parks Canada considers goats an indicator species of ecosystem health and climate change impacts because of their unique ability to occupy the harsh, snowy alpine environment.

In very rare occasions these alpine ungulates can be as dangerous as they are beautiful. In 2010, a mountain goat in Washington State’s Olympic National Park killed a 63-year-old hiker (mountain goats successfully colonized the Olympic Range after humans introduced them to the area in the 1920s as prey for hunters.) Last September backpackers reported finding a dead grizzly near a trail crossing Yoho National Parks’ Burgess Pass. The cause, according to Parks Canada; death by a mountain goat horn.

mountain goats
Mountain goats are masters of the alpine environment.

More and more people are getting outside and in the mountains. That’s a good thing, generally, but it’s not without problems. In two popular BC provincial parks, Valhalla Park, north of Nelson and Cathedral Park near Keremeos, mountain goats are getting unusually up close with humans. Why they’re doing it is no secret to wildlife biologists. In spring and early summer mountain goats, especially nannies with kids, need minerals like potassium, phosphorous, and sodium to compensate for natural deficiencies that result from a winter of stingy forage. So intense is the drive for nutrients, they’ll travel 40 or more kilometres over rugged mountain terrain just to reach a natural salt lick. However opportunistic herds, like the ones hanging around certain campsites in Valhalla and Cathedral Lakes have found a much easier source – salty human pee, grey water, and sweaty hiking clothes. In fact, they have become uncomfortably addicted to it and it’s creating a tenuous human-wildlife management challenge for BC Parks. The problem is what to do about it. Weaning mountain goats off this salty supply isn’t easy. Diversionary salt licks, placing blocks of salt at locations away from people and campsites can work for awhile. However, it seems goats tend to revert back to old ways, especially after several generations have learned to be tolerant of people.

Most biologists agree it’s more of a human issue than a wildlife issue. In problem areas, using the outhouse instead of peeing next to the tent can go a long way. So can properly disposing grey water. Infrastructure is important. Installing more outhouses, greywater pits, and signage explaining goat behavior and habitat is a good start. But humans can be as stubborn as goats can be when it comes to altering their actions.

There’s a small percentage of people who probably don’t care. No amount of education will change their attitudes. But most who travel in goat country and have a chance to see one are thrilled and don’t wish them harm. But we have to remember that a goat’s normal behavior is to avoid humans. If you see one lounging outside your tent waiting for you to do your, ahem, morning business, don’t be fooled into thinking the goat is tame. It’s not. It’s wild and if the tables turn and they perceive a threat, it can go from cuddly looking to deadly in a heartbeat. And when a wild animal starts to get aggressive because of human disturbance, things rarely end well for the animal.

Are you a wildlife advocate, enthusiast or just like to learn more? Check out our blog post on the wolverine, highlighting another amazing backcountry resident, “The Ultimate Winter Specialist”

BLBCA – A Brief History

Association of Problem Solvers

The people who own and run BC’s backcountry lodges are, by necessity, tinkerers. Far from town, operating at the whims of Mother Nature, and with infinite variables at play, they get good at coming up with creative solutions.

But even after nearly 20 years of helping with the problem solving at Golden Alpine Holidays (GAH), a trio of backcountry lodges north of Golden, B.C., Brad Harrison wasn’t ready for the doozy that landed on the industry’s plate in 2003. Following a challenging avalanche season, the insurance industry decided either not to renew, or to charge exorbitant rates, for affected insurance policies. A commercial general liability policy is a BC Government requirement needed to operate on crown(public) land. As a result, GAH and every other commercial backcountry lodge were all left wondering how they move forward.

But as is often the case, a crisis created a chance to improve.

At the time the 25 odd commercial lodges in B.C. often looked at each other as competitors. In the insurance issue Tannis Dakin, then owner/operator of Sorcerer Lodge saw an opportunity. She believed in old adages like “a rising tide lifts all boats” and “don’t waste a good crisis”.

Dakin teamed up with two Calgary insurance agents, Bill Dunlop and Angela Dunlop McKenzie, to sort out a way to recapture the much-needed liability insurance policies. Standard operating protocols were researched, created and readied to be implemented or recommended. Protocols included waiver administration, human resource procedures, risk mitigation, information sharing processes and other business practices. Insurance underwriters agreed to make liability insurance available if an association was created and members of the association agreed to follow the aforementioned and other standard operating procedures. Hence the Backcountry Lodges of B.C. Association was created in 2004. Margie Jamieson, owner/operator of Ptarmigan Tours was the association’s first president.

Six years later, Harrison and his partners sold Golden Alpine Holidays and he became the Executive Director of the BLBCA, a position he still holds. His past experience helped, given the trials and tribulations of operating GAH. And by not owning a lodge anymore, he was in an impartial position, both in actuality and perceptively.

“I was well situated to help operators use the backcountry in an appropriate and responsible way,” he says. It’s a mission he continues to pursue.

The BLBCA gradually matured, members saw more value in working together. At annual meetings they would share their experiences and learn from each other. Learnings like effective solar panels, the best composting toilet, preferred water treatment systems were routinely shared. We realized if we help each other, everybody gains, says Harrison. 

Soon, the BLBCA started working with the BC Provincial Government in earnest and introduced an association-wide marketing program, with the integral help of Destination BC. Although themes of the marketing program have varied over the years, the overarching tenets to Regenerate, Reconnect and Recreate Responsibly have remained.

Harrison and the BLBCA are very focused on informing listeners on the value of wild places. The Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. estimates the economic impact of B.C.’s adventure tourism industry at $2-billion, Value of Adventure Tourism. Although difficult to quantify, the socio-economic value to Rural BC is significant. Health benefits of time spent in nature are well-documented, Canadian doctors can even prescribe it, Announcing a New Collaboration between PaRx and Parks Canada.

Now with outdoor recreation booming and government budgets stretched thin, Harrison thinks the BLBCA can play a role in enhancing and expanding a culture of stewardship. The lodges are perfectly positioned to support the BC Gov’t with citizen science data on species-at-risk, like Whitebark Pine, Wolverine, amongst others. And they hope to help new outdoor users learn the art of treading lightly, Backcountry Trail use is Booming.

The BLBCA hopes to help inform backcountry users with blog posts like these, Whitebark Pine – Save the Ents, The Ultimate Winter Specialist and Responsible Recreation in the Backcountry.

“A lot of new backcountry users aren’t yet sure how to treat Mother Nature with respect,” he says. “Lodge owners interact with a lot of backcountry users. It’s a perfect interface and opportunity for them to inform and influence backcountry users.”

And solve one more problem.

Written by Ryan Stuart

A Prescription for Nature

News flash: Getting outside is good for our health and ultimately good for the planet.

British Columbia doctors can now prescribe a national park pass to patients facing physical or mental health issues. The program is being spearhead by PaRx, a nature prescription program led by Vancouver family physician Dr. Melissa Lem. Through a partnership with Parks Canada, health-care professionals registered with PaRx can provide a free annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass to patients.

“We have a standard recommendation, based on the latest research, that patients spend at least two hours a week in nature and at least 20 minutes each time,” said Dr Lem in a recent Global News story. “So, this is all about breaking down those barriers to access to nature.”

You’d think in a country like Canada outdoor activity would be a fact of life for everybody. But it’s not. For some people, there’s a financial barrier. Others might have been raised in a family that considered a trip to the shopping mall a form of recreation. It could also be a function of too much time in front of a gaming console or other electronic device. Many patients would rather walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for drugs rather than make any substantive lifestyle changes. And more than a few physicians have been happy to oblige this dependence on pharmaceuticals like, for example, Ritalin, widely prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

That’s why this program is a positive step forward in terms of how we view health care and value time in the outdoors. Despite the fact that it applies to only national parks, seven of which are in BC, it sends an important message. 

There’s a growing body of research showing how time in nature can reduce the onset of ailments like diabetes and heart disease, as well as benefits for people suffering form depression and ADHD. For example, a 2008 ADHD study conducted by the University of Illinois found that a 20-minute walk in a park can improve concentration scores in kids suffering from this condition. A regular stroll in the woods can also reduce levels of anxiety. 

This is old news in Japan where doctors have been prescribing time outdoors for decades. In 1982 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term shinrin-yoku, which means literally “forest bathing.” It has since spawned a global forest bathing movement. There are even shinrin-yoku guides. Forest bathing, despite how it sounds, is far from a flakey, new age fad. There’s real science behind it. Trees – especially evergreens like pine, cedar and spruce – release phytoncides, natural oils with anti-fungal and anti-bacteria properties. Phytoncides linger in the air. When we breath them in, we can receive a host of health benefits. A study of forest bathing published in a 2016 edition of the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, showed that a walk in the woods can result in reduced pulse rates, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, among other benefits. 

Research into the other health benefits of getting outside, such as greater creativity and sharper cognition, is still not well understood. But if you’re like me, you’ve experienced ah ha moments of clarity while doing something outside. That’s no accident. 

 It’s not exactly a revelation that exercising in the outdoors is good for you. Who doesn’t experience an overall sense of well being after a hike, ski tour, or rambling ascent up an alpine ridge?

There are considerable social benefits as well. Children and adults who spend time outdoors are more likely to become champions for conservation and environmental stewardship, according to a recent study from the University of Plymouth. The planet needs people like that more than ever. 

So, bravo to the National Park prescription program – it’s a small but significant step.