Words: Austin Sweetin
Nestled in the Central Kootenay mountains of British Columbia, just a few hours north of Spokane, Washington, is a place called Nelson. This quiet town has long been a destination for diehard snowboarders. It is the place one of the greatest and most inspirational settled. Nelson is where Craig Kelly lived, rode, guided, and founded one of the best places to go ride pow: Baldface Lodge. Here, Gigi Rüf and Nicolas Müller fillmed memorable video parts with Justin Hostynek and Absinthe Films for years. The region is also home to Whitewater Ski Resort, the Canadian Mount Baker. Whitewater is a place where you can eat poutine on the cat track before heading back to the lift.
British Columbia was having a good winter, and Absinthe headquarters—Justin Hostynek’s house—is located just outside of Nelson. So Garret Warnick, Ethan Deiss, Mark Sollors, Jaeger Bailey, and I decided to spend a chunk of our season around Nelson, living in Justin’s guest unit, riding pow at Baldface and Whitewater, participating in nightly Absinthe Films history 101 classes. For two weeks it didn’t stop snowing, the banks growing taller each day. What do you do when you’re snowed in? You roam the streets, snowboarding through them, riding the mountain town from top to bottom.
During one of our evening study sessions we noticed a particular urban line in Futureproof—one by Gigi. We drove by the spot daily. Finally it occurred to us: Why bother dealing with police and authorities if we could work with them? So Justin went to the cops to get permission to snowboard in the city. The police sent him to the mayor for approval, who sent him to court, and the judge ruled in favor of snowboarding! We were able to close the streets, direct traffic, and ride the town of Nelson to our liking, as long as we respected and honored the city’s property.
The quaint mountain locale is an unsuspecting yet perfect venue for street riding. The whole town is on a hill, and every sidewalk is lined with long, odd- shaped green handrails providing a variety of funky spots. Everything seemed it was meant to be ridden, a true masterpiece. Long at rails, short up rails, down rails, elbow rails, kinked rails, rainbow rails. The natural speed provided by Nelson’s topography made it possible to piece together a line with road gaps and an occasional pow turn in someone’s front yard. We even had a local spirit animal that seemed to follow us around the whole time: Koji, the big white dog. At every spot, coffee shop, and park he would randomly show up and hang for a few as we boarded around.
The town isn’t large, so after a few days driving around, you get the lay of the land. With “Sweet Emotion” blaring through the truck speakers Ethan and I began to connect the ins and outs of Nelson’s parks and rails. The opportunity to ride anything in a town is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and with that realization we started getting creative. Connecting lines through multiple streets, linking lines through the woods into rails, it gave us that feeling that comes from riding your local hill.
And then there was the Megalodon—the sultan of swat, the rail of all rails, kink of all kinks. Bent, rusted, and sideways alongside an overpass, it became an ongoing joke. Who was going to be the first person to try it? One wet day, Mark decided it was time to tackle the beast. Hang-up after hang-up, he fought the Megalodon, repeatedly slamming and climbing the 35 stairs back to the top, for two hours. Then, with a battle-hardened look in his eye, he dropped in and conquered it with a savage backside 50-50. It’s hard to say who was more worked—Mark from hitting the rail relentlessly, or Ethan and I from shovel-towing him in so many times. It’s during sessions like these that teamwork pays off and the brotherly bond grows stronger.
Nelson is a Shangri-la—a tucked-away paradise of mountains and water. No matter the direction by which you arrive, you cross passes high and valleys low. And when you do, the people are welcoming. Something about this place drew Craig here; it pulled Jeff Pensiero here to create Baldface Lodge. It brought Justin to continue the Absinthe legacy. It has an effect that makes one feel at home.
Nelson draws eclectic people who want to do something they truly believe in, in a place where others don’t seem to judge. The days we woke up to the sun shining and the air crisp, we’d ride pow. But the days when it was socked in were the days we took to the town, up and down through the parks, trees, and sidewalks. Snowboarding is about riding whatever is in your path. It doesn’t have to be the same thing. Diversity is key, and Absinthe has always brought together an eclectic group of talented, well-rounded snowboarders, down to ride anything put in front of them. This year we had just that.