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Interview with Benoit Gosselin, Owner of Canmore’s Vertical Addiction

Canmore is one of Canada’s all-round climbing towns and Vertical Addiction is the go-to shop for climbers.

Located between Calgary and Banff National Park, Canmore has been home to climbers for over 100 years. While there have been a number of stores that specialize in outdoor gear, Vertical Addiction has become the one for climbers and skiers.

Gripped recently touched base with Benoit Gosselin, who is a long-time climber and the man behind Vertical Addiction.

Benoit Gosselin at Vertical Addiction in Canmore.
Benoit Gosselin at Vertical Addiction in Canmore.

Where are you from and when did you start climbing and skiing?

I was born and raised in a suburb just north of Montreal called Laval. I started alpine and cross country skiing with my parents when I was six or seven years old.

Climbing came much later. I was in Cegep and joined the outdoor club. I think I was about 19. I started backcountry skiing in 1997 because two friends and I were training to go climb Denali and thought it would be more efficient than snowshoes.

Did you have a favourite gear shop growing up?

When I started climbing and backpacking, the shop I spent the most time in was L’Aventurier in Laval. One of the staff there was very knowledgeable and super patient with all my newbie questions.

Later, I started to travel and my favourite shops became The Mountaineer in Keen Valley (Adirondacks), Rock and Snow in New Paltz (Gunks) and Mountain Magic in Banff.

What was your first job in the outdoor industry?

I have been in the industry for 20 years. I started working as a sales person in an outdoor shop called Le Baron, in Montreal. Then became a sales rep for a couple of ski and snowboard companies for about eight years.

I eventually went on my own and started to distribute climbing gear in Canada and the U.S. for European companies such as Simond, Edelweiss and Triop.

Vertical Addiction in Canmore.
Vertical Addiction in Canmore.

When did you realize you wanted to open a shop?

Ten years ago, my wife Valerie and I were going to have our first child and I did not want to spend so much time on the road visiting clients throughout Canada and the US.

At the same time, I could not understand why Canmore, a climbing mecca and backcountry ski destination, did not have a core climbing and ski shop. Having spent so many years in the industry, and visited so many small town in the US with great little climbing and/or ski shops, I knew it was lacking.

Was Canmore already home or did you relocate?

I was already in Canmore at that time. Valerie and I had moved here two years earlier to live in this great setting.

What was the most difficult part of turning the dream into reality?

Overcoming my fear of failure and actually signing the lease and committing 100 per cent to the project. I knew it was possible and it was missing but still, I was terrified to leave something I knew and start over. Especially when I had a family to provide for.

Was the plan to have a climbing shop or climb/ski/mountain sports?

The skiing part of the business was a big component for me because I was already so passionate with backcountry skiing. I had a feeling this thing was about to really take off in popularity. At that time, there was no ski shop in Canmore except for Altitude Sports who was mostly selling alpine gear.

Vertical Addiction is a great name, where did it come from?

Vertical Addiction was the name of my distribution company at the time, but I was looking for something else for the retail shop. One day, I was having a talk with the late Dave Campbell at Wicked Gravity in Calgary about my project of opening a shop and he told me I should use Vertical Addiction as he thought it was a cool name for an outdoor shop.

What is on the walls of Vertical Addiction these days?

Every season we try to be more and more specialized with the products we offer. Of course we need to have climbing and ski gear that have a broader appeal but we also stock a vast selection of items that are very niche and specialized. For example, this spring, we will have the best selection of expedition boots we’ve ever had.

Vertical Addiction in Canmore.
Vertical Addiction in Canmore.

Canmore is a small town, but has countless outdoor enthusiasts coming through every week. Do you find being in a small town in the mountains is better than being in a city?

Climbing shops in a large city versus in a small mountain town are two completely different animals. The challenge for us is that even if we have a great local customer base, a lot of our business is only here for a short period, so we have to be well stocked at all times.

People who come here on holidays do not have time to wait for special orders to come in, they need the gear right away. The nice part is that we serve a double duty with them as they often come to us for info on current conditions and route beta, so we have to make sure we stay up-to-date.

Many climbing shops in Canada have closed over the past 15 years, does that motivate you to succeed even more?

Yes, for sure. I love what I do and I don’t want it to ever go away, but ultimately it’s up to our customers to decide if we stay or not. We do our best to listen to them and adjust our offers and service accordingly. Every time someone buys something at Vertical Addiction it’s like they are saying, “I like what you guys are doing and I want you to continue doing it.”

What is one key factor that has helped Vertical Addiction become a landmark for climbers in Canmore?

I think it might be our size. Because we have such a small space, we have no choice but to stay focused on what we do best which is being a climbing and backcountry gear shop.

I think a lot of our customers appreciate that we don’t clutter our space with lifestyle clothing and footwear. The fact that we have been able to have regular employees that know their stuff and that I am often in the shop, people eventually recognize us.

You are located at a prime intersection near downtown, it must be expensive to rent that space?

Yes, rent is expensive in a destination town like Canmore, but there is nowhere else I would rather be to play, raise my kids and have a shop like Vertical Addiction.

Looking into the future, are you hoping that the shop will be in Canmore for 5, 10, 20 years?

I don’t see myself closing shop, but ultimately it’s up to our customer to decide how long we stay in business. All we can do is try to stay relevant to our customers so they keep coming back and enjoy their experience at Vertical Addiction. The same applies with our online store.

What are some of the bonuses about having a locally owned store in a mountain town?

Because we are part of this community, I think, our customers have a greater sense of connection with the business. Because Canmore is a small town, we eventually get to recognize people around town.

I often have conversations with customers about gear or any related topics at the grocery store, the climbing gym, the restaurant or even the dentist’s office. I think people like having the ability to talk to the owner outside of the environment of the shop.

Vertical Addiction in Canmore.
Vertical Addiction in Canmore.

Over the years, I have also got to know personally a lot of my customers, they became climbing or skiing partners and even close friends. So when I purchase, for example, a very niche or specialized piece of gear for the shop, I often have a specific person in mind.

Why should climbers and skiers shop at Vertical Addiction?

First, we are a locally-owned business and I think that local businesses are an important asset for any community. Second, even if we have a small space, we do our best to keep the largest selection of gear in stock so people can find here what they would find elsewhere but also gear that is harder to get, that has very specific use and that not many places would be willing to carry.

We also offer very competitive prices. But I think that one of the most appealing asset of our store is that we have very knowledgeable staff who can provide personalized service and professional advices. It is something the bigger stores can’t always offer.

– Vertical Addiction is located at 1040 Railway Ave #100 in Canmore, near Safeway and Save On. For more information on shop hours and sales, visit here. Follow on Facebook here.