If you live in Grand County, chances are you love being outdoors. There are endless recreational activities, many of which are probably within walking distance of where you are. Whether it’s skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, or simply walking your favorite trail, there’s one common and essential denominator to these activities: footwear.
Without comfortable and supportive shoes, all of these activities would be impossible. That’s why husband and wife team Lara Kurtak and Eric Russell “stepped in” to help. Kurtak and Russell own and operate Local Experience, a store that offers footwear and gear for the mountain lifestyle.
Local Experience is the only shoe-centric store in Grand County.
“We specialize in service and boot fitting,” Kurtak said. “Our philosophy is to put people in shoes with good support throughout their life, so that they don’t have back pain or problems like that.”
The main service offered by the store is that of orthotics, specialized inserts for shoes that help relieve foot, heel, ankle, leg and back pain. For customers who want a quick fix, Local Experience sells Superfeet insoles, which owners can cut to fit the person’s shoe. Insoles provide instant comfort and support.
“It’s a good start, but if people need to go further, or if they have a disability or foot issues, we go to custom,” Kurtak said. “Eric is a custom boot fitter and has been doing so for 25 years.”
Russell uses two orthoses to create these highly customized inserts for ski or snowboard boots. One is an infrared scanner that scans the person’s foot so Eric can create a custom footbed from the image. The second machine is a vacuum press which he uses to mold the orthopedic insert. It is then ready to be fitted into the customer’s shoe, ski or snowboard boot. Since these inserts are molded to the shape of the person’s foot, they are far more beneficial than a factory-made insert that does not address their specific foot issues.
“We’re very passionate about this,” Kurtak said. “Ski patrollers…or athletes from the Winter Park competition center come here before their competitions to get their skis tuned, if they have (foot) problems or just need help. So that’s really great.
Kurtak and Russell also repair gear such as boots, skis and bindings. They also sell, fit and adjust wax bindings and skis. The couple mainly work with ski boots, but they also store and try on snowboard boots.
“Our goal is to make people feel comfortable so they want to keep skiing. We live in a county that has a big ski industry, so we want to get people more interested, and then they can teach their kids. It’s going to help the economy, and we love (skiing) so much,” Kurtak said.
As the snow melts and Mary Jane approaches closing day, Kurtak pointed out that she still loves going up the mountain.
“We call it legbreaker snow, but we love it because it’s slushy and really fun!” she says.
Once the snow has melted, Local Experience moves into the world of biking, offering bike tune-ups and restoration. In footwear, the owners focus on hiking shoes, running and biking shoes, and sandals.
“We carry brands that are popular, but also orthopedic and good for you,” Kurtak said.
A popular running brand is Altra, which is recommended by doctors and podiatrists for the cushion. Other brands they carry include: Keen, Forsake, New Balance, Kodiak, Hi-Tec and Birkenstock. They also offer clothing and a variety of gear such as hiking packs, Camelbaks, helmets and more.
Both Kurtak and Russell have a decade of experience selling outdoor products. The couple first opened Local Experience in Winter Park in 2012. They were both born and raised in Grand County, hence the name of their store — Kurtak grew up in Granby and Russell in Fraser.
“We had many different jobs and decided to start our own business here. We found no reason to leave! We love him so much,” Kurtak said.
Kurtak explained that owning a small business in Grand County for the past 10 years has been an amazing experience, but it comes with some modern challenges, such as competing with online retailers.
“Amazon didn’t exist when I was younger, so it’s definitely a different breed there. I understand that people like to shop online, but that doesn’t help the community they live in or helps Grand County businesses succeed,” Kurtak said. “We still have people who need help. They want to come in and hold the shoe or try out the ski boot. If they buy their shoes online, they can bring them and we will help them adapt them and make them comfortable.
Another challenge Kurtak and Russell have faced is finding a permanent home for their business, due to developers buying buildings or construction issues.
“We had to move three times in four years. This is our fourth location,” Kurtak said. “With the housing market situation…people are thinking it’s hard to find housing right now, but try to find space for your business to live and thrive.”
This constant relocation has made it difficult for Local Experience to gain a foothold in East Grand. “Some people thought we closed, some people don’t know we’re here now, some people just moved here and don’t even know us. People are still coming and going,” Kurtak said.
Luckily, Kurtak and Russell have finally found a place they love and hope to settle in for the long term. The store is now conveniently located in Fraser’s Safeway Shopping Center across from the scenic Lion’s Club Ponds of the Fraser River Valley. Currently, they are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
“It’s nice to be near the pond,” Kurtak said. “People walking the trail can just walk inside or bring their bikes directly.”
On a sunny summer day, light spills into the store windows, where Kurtak and Russell can admire the view of the pond and the Winter Park Resort in the distance. Regardless of the season, people are outdoors enjoying all the activities offered by Grand. And for anyone who needs the right footwear for their sport of choice, Local Experience is just around the corner.