There are plenty of right-sized towns with co-working spaces, which serve as hubs where you can get productive and stay engaged in the local business community–then hit the slopes all winter, plus have an active outdoor lifestyle year-round.
By Steve Threndyle
Rodney Payne just might be the original digital nomad. Payne is the CEO of Destination Think, a branding firm which specializes in promoting tourism destinations around the world. He went into a Yaletown office in Vancouver during the early days of his agency, but high-speed internet and dependable mobile phone coverage has enabled Payne to live in Sun Valley, Idaho; Hood River, Oregon; and Pemberton over the years.
Last December, Payne and his young family spent four weeks scouting out various B.C. mountain towns, hitting up Sun Peaks, Revelstoke, Rossland and Fernie. “Sure, we did a lot of snowboarding. But we were also looking at real estate and future educational opportunities for our daughter. We spent a week in each spot, staying at Airbnbs and making use of local co-working spaces to stay ahead of work.” The Mountain Co-Lab in downtown Revelstoke was particularly welcoming, and the Paynes liked the town so much, they ended up buying an “amazing” property just down the road from Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
The Paynes are just one family proving that operating your own business within a short jaunt of one of B.C.’s world-famous mountain resorts is the very definition of living the dream. Grab a latté to go from a homey café in the morning, hit the slopes for a few hours of full-throttle cruising and then settle into your friendly co-working space for a few intensely productive hours before calling it another perfect day. Order some take-out, get nine hours of deep shut-eye and then do it all over again.
The rapid rise of working from home and telecommuting, plus the ethos of start-up culture and the side-hustle, started changing B.C. work habits well before the global pandemic. As 2020 comes to a close, anecdotal evidence from realtors, economic development officers and school administrators indicates that growth is accelerating throughout the Sea to Sky, Vancouver Island, Thompson-Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies regions, where home prices are often still very affordable. (We’ve included the most recent BC Assessment values for your consideration.) With a La Niña winter (typically cooler with heavy snowfall, meaning deep powder days) predicted for 2021, that trend is likely to continue.
But you’ll need support, especially if this is your first winter and you’re just trying to get established on the local business and recreation scene. Economic development officers and small-business incubators can assist in giving your great entrepreneurial ideas lift, while co-working spaces can provide security and high-speed connectivity, office machines and amenities plus professional meeting space and a network off which to bounce your ideas. In most cases, these offices and meeting rooms are stylish, hip (and often dog-friendly!) joints that you might not want to leave at the end of the day. “Hot desks” can often be rented hourly; refrigerators and lunch rooms with free coffee and tea; and special monthly networking sessions or educational seminars might be among the other perks.
Co-working space pricing is a bit like gym memberships; day or hourly use will cost more, with monthly, yearly and multi-use memberships available. Many co-working spaces are accessible via smartphone key codes 24/7 for the ultimate in flexibility.
Note that COVID-19 has affected access to some co-working establishments, especially those with so-called hot desk options. If you’re passing through town, check beforehand. Depending on their location, some co-working spaces can be quite small and day-use seats might be in short supply.
Most people come here to escape the workaday grind, to shred alpine bowls and quaff late-night cocktails. The permanent population of nearly 14,000 (which almost triples when seasonal residents and visitors are factored in) must cultivate serious side-hustles to pay the town’s rents. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a visiting executive, Space Coworking (located in nearby Function Junction) will meet your needs. Whistler has a surprisingly robust startup culture, making Space the perfect hub if you’re considering a permanent move to the mountains. It’s airy, open concept and industrial-meets-mountain aesthetic might just make you forget you’re in a resort town.
Drive time to Whistler Village: 15 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $2,033,000.
Squamish has been a telecommute mecca for the past three decades but increasingly, the town of around 20,000 people is home to designers, artisans, high-tech consultants and other professionals who are up for dawn patrol laps at nearby Diamond Head. The founders of Aligned Collective co-work space came together after noting overcrowded conditions at Squamish’s bustling cafes and restaurants, since taking a business call with the woosh of milk steamer in the background is not always professional. Located in Squamish’s downtown retail core, this is an open, clean, airy workspace with outstanding views of the Chief.
Drive time to Whistler (Creekside): 45 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $930,000.
Located at the crossroads of three major highways (the Coquihalla, Trans-Canada and Yellowhead), this city of just under 100,000 has a thriving small-business scene, thanks to the efforts of Kamloops Innovation, a non-profit group that educates and encourages entrepreneurs, especially in technology. Its hot desks are currently closed during the pandemic, but dedicated office space for individuals and small teams starts at $350 a month. Drop-in rates are as low as $15 per day. Its expansive Blue Boardroom seats up to 60 for meetings and seminars.
Drive time to Sun Peaks Resort: 55 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $461,000.
The OK Co-Lab is one of the oldest co-working spaces outside Vancouver. It was formed in 2011, well before such spaces established themselves as go-to places for entrepreneurs and other solo freelance workers. With around 144,00 residents in the Central Okanagan and a major college and university close by, the OK Co-Lab is well equipped to handle the needs of budding entrepreneurs and start-up businesses and provides outstanding opportunities for mentorship from senior-level entrepreneurs who have recently moved to the Okanagan from elsewhere.
Drive time to Big White Ski Resort: 55 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $629,000.
Recognizing that moving to a smaller city and reinventing your business or career is a major transition, Cowork Penticton welcomes those from outside the region who might be “testing the waters” short term before moving there full time. Office space and meeting rooms are one set of perks, but the real payoff is in connecting with other like-minded professionals establishing and growing their businesses. Penticton is a huge lifestyle draw: the city of around 33,000 offers not just winter skiing at Apex Resort but Okanagan and Skaha Lake boating plus bike and wine touring.
Drive time to Apex Mountain Resort: 35 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $469,000.
“Blazing internet speed” is something you won’t have to worry about if you set up your hot desk at the Mountain CoLab in Revelstoke. This 50-member co-working space boasts 1 gigabit fibre-optic download speeds, perfect for file-sharing large, complex documents. Doubtless attracted by the equally high-speed gondola and lifts at nearby Revelstoke Mountain Resort, professionals of all ages and from a broad cross-section of business expertise have discovered that your technological standards need not be compromised once you move to a smaller community, like this town that recent estimates peg at almost 15,000 residents.
Drive time to Revelstoke Mountain Resort: 11 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $509,000.
Golden’s old courthouse has been converted into a co-working space with meeting rooms cleverly named the Judge’s Room and the Courtroom. Go-Lab, operated by the same group that runs the Mountain CoLab in Revelstoke, offers monthly memberships or punch-cards for five ($100) or $10 ($190) visits, plus daily drop-in options. Few towns in Western Canada are as scenic as Golden, with more than 8,000 residents, sitting at the apex of three mountain ranges: the Purcells, Rockies and Selkirks. Nearby Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is one of the true unsung gems of western Canadian skiing.
Drive time to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: 30 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $353,000.
This bucolic city of 10,000 in the West Kootenay was one of the first to recognize the economic value of restoring and converting heritage buildings into office space, so it’s no surprise that Jam Factory Coworking is located in a repurposed Jam Factory. Consistent with the Kootenays laid-back lifestyle vibe, a Jam Factory membership even includes free daily, guided mindfulness sessions in the downstairs meditation lounge. Of course, a few early-morning powder laps at nearby Whitewater Ski Area might assist with your business focus, too.
Drive time to Whitewater Ski Area: 20 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $471,000.
Dominated by pure Rocky Mountain majesty, these East Kootenay towns (with a combined population of almost 30,000 people, more than 20,000 of them in Cranbrook) bask in more than 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. Entrepreneurs in both towns can take advantage of the Ground Floor Coworking Space, a partnership between Community Futures of the East Kootenays and the Rocky Mountain Business Development Centre Society. Here’s one unique feature: Ground Floor offers a soundproof booth for taking those important business calls without getting side-eyed from other workers.
Drive time to Kimberley Alpine Resort: 34 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $307,000.
There are two co-working spaces in this picturesque town located in the Elk Mountain range: Fernie Common and 2nd Edition Coworking, a new space located in the Fernie Free Press building downtown. In winter, powder skiing is the big draw, while in summer months there’s world-class fly fishing, mountain biking and hiking. Fernie draws lifestyle refugees, seasonal workers and weekend warriors from across the provincial border in Alberta. The 2016 census reported that Fernie was the fastest-growing town in Canada, but don’t worry: with just more than 5,000 or so permanent residents–a population that almost doubles during ski season–there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Drive time to Fernie Alpine Resort: 15 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $553,000.
This town of just over 5,000 (often called “Nelson North,” since its beauty and eclectic community draws a creative population) offers two uncut gems of B.C. skiing. Hudson Bay Mountain is the perfect family hill, with a colony of rustic cabins that speak to its down-home charm. North of town, the community-funded Hankin-Evelyn Ski Area has easy-to-access backcountry skiing and a restored fire lookout for overnight stays. The Community Futures Nadina office in nearby Houston provides business advice and loan support and a training room rental; the Smithers Co-Working Space offers desk and office rentals, free wireless internet, desk lockers and a boardroom.
Drive time: to Hudson Mountain, 30 minutes; to Hankin-Evelyn, 45 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $315,000.
No B.C. mountain town is steeped in ski history quite like Rossland: the town’s Red Mountain Racers ski team groomed national and Olympic team members including Nancy Greene Raine and Kerrin Lee-Gartner. Thanks to terrain expansion and improved services at Red Mountain Resort, Rossland and Trail’s well-priced housing and access to nearby airports in Castlegar and Spokane, the area is attractive to business start-ups. Community Futures of Greater Trail offers business development coaching, courses and financing options. Its South Kootenay Business Centre provides affordable short-term office space, boardrooms and wireless, plus presentation tech and business-grade fibre-optic internet in every suite.
Drive time to Red Mountain: 15 minutes.
Assessed single-family home value: $362,000.