An 8-hour drive east of Vancouver and close to the American border is the tiny city of Nelson (population: 10,000) in the Kootenays region of British Columbia. It sits on the banks of Kootenay Lake and rises into the Selkirk mountains which surround the town. It was incorporated in 1897 during the silver rush, when it served as a transportation and distribution hub for the area. The later settlement of exiled Dukhobours from Russia and Vietnam-war draft dodgers from the US has no doubt contributed to the liberal and "hippie" feel of the city. It has become a cultural centre, home to artists, musicians, and people seeking an alternative lifestyle.
The main thoroughfare of Baker Street is lined with independent shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. The only fast-food joint you'll likely see is Subway (although an A&W and KFC are in town, but out-of-the-way). There is no McDonald's but, much to the chagrin of many Nelsonites, there is a Wal-Mart in nearby Chahko Mika mall. Steve Martin helped put Nelson on the map in 1986 when he chose it as the primary setting for his comedy Roxanne.
In winter, small Whitewater Mountain (known locally as WH20) has a surprising amount of varied terrain -- from beautifully spaced glades to beginner groomers -- and consistently gets several feet of champagne powder. There are also miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In warmer times, the surrounding region has enough hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and lake and river activities (sailing, boating, kayaking, whitewater rafting) to keep anyone busy for their entire lifetime.