By Glenn Alderson
In the middle of downtown Rossland is an iconic bronze statue of a stoic looking man named Olaus Jeldness, holding a pair of skis and looking wistfully over the West Kootenay town of approximately 3,000 from atop his permanent perch.
Jeldness moved to the quaint mining community in 1896 and is credited with pioneering the establishment of competitive skiing in Western Canada. Originally from Norway, he caused quite the stir in 1857 when, at the age of 15, he ski jumped a distance of 92 feet. That’s 28 meters in Canadian! Longer than the distance from first to second base, for all you baseball freaks. What brought Jeldness to Rossland was the work, but if you spend one weekend in this magical town, it’s clear he stayed for the same reason most do to this day — that sweet, sweet powder. It’s actually a common theme in Rossland; those who come don’t really ever seem to leave. They just have one simple rule — don’t tell anyone.
The secret is one worth keeping, but the cat seems to be out of the bag. Located seven hours east of Vancouver, just 15 minutes north of the US border, Rossland is easily one of the most Canadian towns in Canada and it doesn’t even have a Tim Hortons. Instead it’s got an intimate and independent vibe that is fostered by its budding community of young and old. Spend one night hanging out and drinking at their local gastropub, The Flying Steamshovel, and you’ll immediately sense why the residents don’t want their secret to get out. Imagine Whistler back in the day, before they got their first Earls and opened the floodgates for big business and international visitors alike to après their way through hell every winter season.
Not only is Rossland home to RED Mountain, one of the oldest and most heavenly ski hills in North America, it’s also host to the Rossland Winter Carnival. Established in 1898, it’s one of the oldest winter carnivals in Canada, second only to Quebec City.
It’s a crisp Friday night in January. The snow on the side streets is piled up about five feet high, but Columbia Avenue — the street Jeldness’s bronzed, beautiful body is looking out over — is packed with spectators for the carnival’s annual parade. There are fire spinners, floats packed with kids throwing candy, a herd of wiener dogs being guided by their bundled-up owners… a random pick-up truck with one dude in its cab, driving with their music cranked. And then come the new kids on the block, the staff of The Josie, Rossland’s brand new boutique hotel. Hanging out the windows of an SUV decorated with Christmas lights, they’re wearing the hotel’s signature bathrobes, honking and waving to the excited onlookers.
The Josie opened its doors to the public at the end of November 2018. Located at the base of the town’s coveted RED Mountain Resort, the fresh and vibrant oasis blurs the line between luxury and accessibility in hospitality with ease. If RED Mountain is celebrated as one of the last great unspoiled resorts, then The Josie, much like Olaus Jeldness, is a pioneer, offering a first of its kind in dining and hospitality for the modest and modern mountain town.
Born from a partnership between William Cole Companies, a Texas company who operates another similar property in Bryan, TX called The Stella, and Noble House Hotels & Resorts, The Josie offers a stunning ski-in/ski-out experience with 106 rooms for their guests, plus an opportunity for casual fine dining at their locally-inspired restaurant, The Velvet. Named after one of the most famous and valuable mines in the area originally discovered by old man Jeldness, the restaurant is as fresh and funky as it is warm and inviting, offering stunning views of the mountain’s base during the day and a cozy feeling of intimate seclusion in the evenings. Executive Chef Marc-Andre Choquette has thoughtfully curated a locally foraged menu with French influences that range from baked French onion soup and charcuterie starters to mains like baked sablefish and confit rabbit pappardelle pasta with mushrooms, leeks, chile, garlic zucchini and basil puree. If you’re in a sharing mood, make sure to try to their rack of lamb served with cumin-date purée and roasted carrots, or the generously portioned dry-aged 26 oz beef striploin, served with roasted root vegetables and pomme purée.
Back in the town’s mining heyday, the infamous Jeldness was also known for hosting mountaintop tea parties — most notable was the one way up at the top of the Velvet mine. It’s fun to think back on these interesting pieces of Rossland’s rich mining history while enjoying the new luxuries that The Josie has worked so tirelessly to bring to its patrons. If Jeldness was still alive to experience the comfort and care The Josie has brought to town, it’s almost guaranteed that he’d be moving those tea parties inside and inviting all of his Instagram friends and followers that he undoubtedly would have amassed.
It’s now Saturday morning, and after a relaxing evening in one of The Josie’s premium king suites, there’s no better way to continue the winter carnival festivities than by standing at the top of one of the town’s steepest hills, watching the Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race down the menacingly steep Spokane Street. One after the other, these homemade death traps are being lined up to brave the icy track that’s lined with spectators. At the bottom of the hill, a representative from the local radio station is sitting atop an outlook station, calling out the times as each team comes barreling down at alarming speeds. “Fifty-six kilometers an hour for the Pillbillies! Not bad,” he says while Lil John’s “Get Low” is blaring on the speakers behind him. Everyone in the town is out for this bobsled spectacular and the energy is high.
After the races, the local Legion is hosting a borscht smorgasbord, complete with both Ukrainian and Russian renditions of the dish — $7 per bowl and an extra $2 if you want a piece of pie. Respectfully removing our hats, we grab a bowl and pull up a seat next to a couple of retired local women, June and Alma. June is 83 and has been living in Rossland for more than 50 years. She’s already been skiing 25 times this season.
It wasn’t more than five minutes before Alma was offering up the ski gear of her recently deceased husband.
“So you’re writing about Rossland for a magazine?” June says, chipping away at the crust of her lemon meringue pie. “Yes,” I say, trying to divert the conversation away from Alma’s generous but awkward offer.
“Is there anything I should know before writing it?” I ask.
“Yes, tell your readers that Rossland is just ok,” she says with a smirk on her face.
Don’t worry June and Alma, your secret is safe with me.
Don’t go to Rossland. Don’t ski RED Mountain. Don’t go to The Josie. You’ll hate it 😉