Full Nelson

An epic struggle—to leave Canada

In celebration of POWDER’s 45th Anniversary, we are releasing select stories from every volume. This story originally published in the November 2000 issue (Volume 29, Issue 3).

This place is weird. And contagious, I’m finding. I have 11 pounds, er… kilos, of change in my pocket, indigestion from a pizza last night that had cheese on top and toppings on the bottom, and I’m starting to pronounce the syllable “ow” as “oo.” I think I’m growing a mullet, too.

Right now, I’m dodging Bohemians on Baker Street, the main thoroughfare of Nelson, British Columbia, while recounting two weeks of northern exposure in the midst of the Selkirk Range. Suffering from a feverish urge to guzzle a 4:20 p.m. brew, I fear I am becoming a Nelsonite. I am suddenly horrified at the fact that I might be transmutating into… Rosco.

“This is the biggest night of 19… 2000!” the 30-something Whitewater Ski Resort maintenance man shrieked on my first aprés at Nelson’s local hill. Rosco—a man as real as clipping your head on a steel-reinforced door-frame and as Canadian as a 25-foot snowmobile gap jump on a 30-beer buzz—was excited. The lift-cat-telephone-plumbing-change-machine guru of Nelson’s local ski hill had been toasting his good fortune—a 24-7 ski bum life of monkey wrenches and mule kicks—for nine hours. Later, when I asked what his plans were for the night, hoping to keep him off the road, he answered, “…goin’ hoome, crackin’ a cold one, and watchin’ Hoot Doog.”

As I walk past the local gym farther down Baker, I recall a more…rustic…vantage of Nelson. “Ha! I goht in a bit of trooble in Bantam too!” an 895-pound chainsaw surgeon yelled to his friend in the fitness basement two nights ago. The blare of a homemade radio jingle about Marty McSorley being an “A-hole” reverberated in the dungeon-like spa. “Yah, ‘da coach ‘der, he told me to goo take oot noomber 20. I was oonly 14, and didn’t really know what to do. Soo I tackled the guy, put one hand on his skate and one on his thigh, and started to beat my helmet against his knee… ‘Da refs didn’t like ‘dat too much.”

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If I’m indeed to become a Nelsonite, I think I’d rather be Rosco. Crossing Hall Street, I can now see Herridge Lane, a half block up the hill. I quicken my pace. I’ve got to avoid that back street—the mind-altering potions there would surely make Nelson metamorphosis complete. Especially if Paul has anything to do with it.

“Sometimes I light too big a one and hurt people,” the proprietor of the Holy Smoke head shop and ex-Warren Miller stuntman (see Escape to Ski) said the day I fell into his Herridge Lane rabbit hole. “I’ll try to keep it small.” He was holding the “Iron Mare,” a homemade hash oil pipe that resembled a Dr. No brain-sucker. My friend held the receiving end. I held my friend.

“Sometimes I light too big a one and hurt people,” the proprietor of the Holy Smoke head shop and ex-Warren Miller stuntman (see Escape to Ski) said the day I fell into his Herridge Lane rabbit hole. “I’ll try to keep it small.” He was holding the “Iron Mare,” a homemade hash oil pipe that resembled a Dr. No brain-sucker. My friend held the receiving end. I held my friend.

Two notes fluttered in the breeze on a cork bulletin board. “Pot Brownie Delivery! $7.95/brownie,” and “Steve Tatigian: hols spore kit.” As my friend took a deep pull, someone in the “legalized” smoking room—a recent coup for Holy Smoke over the local authorities—told his life story. “I couldn’t imagine making a living any other way than blowing glass, man. Actually, I didn’t make a living before I started blowing glass.”

I shuffle quickly past a spot on the turnoff for Falls Street. I know what lies there: something my grandfather used to refer to as, “a spot of trouble”—in the form of a Mexican restaurant. In legendary Nelson skier and photographer Dave Heath’s life, the two apparently go hand-in-hand.

“Did I drive down here?” I heard our designated driver slur on our last night at the Mazatlan cantina, just before the local Gestapo burst through the doors. The question went unanswered as three unathletic, pasty-white hick cops announced that they had come to “shut the place down for good.” As the police shoved their way through the crowd, I realized every utopia harbors a dark side. These guys were it, and they were an embarrassment to the town.

I can still taste the bitterness from that night, and some of the beer, as the mellow, raspy timbre of a tenor sax mixed with the drug-like scent of Oso Negro coffee drifts up Josephine Street from the Glacier Cafe—a halfway house for Nelson’s burgeoning Berklee-born music school. A car pulls up beside me, and I see that it’s Heath and his girlfriend. I jump in and an hour later, on the other side of Nelson’s hallmark orange bridge, near the edge of sprawling Kootenay Lake, I float on my back watching bloated snowflakes disappear into 110-degree Ainsworth Hot Springs.

Deep in a limestone cave, in the heart of a mountain that once supported the historic silver mines of Pearl Lulu, Skyline, Highland, and Mile Point, I reassure myself that I am ready to go home. I’ve got stuff to take care of. I need to stop drinking beer like it’s carbonated water. I need to cut this neck blanket off the back of my head.

I stroke toward the light at the exit of the tunnel, and a hand grabs my leg—a metaphoric last grasp of a town that nearly turned me. I spin around to see a scrawny man wearing a “Canada Kicks Ass” baseball hat trying to pass me in the one-man channel. We struggle the last five feet to the exit, but I reach the edge first and scramble quickly out of the pool. I am going back to where I belong—to my family and friends, to my life. I look the guy in the eye, and proudly proclaim:

“Take off, eh?”

Uh-oh.