Walk a mile in these shoes

Local Experience is a footwear and outdoor gear store ‘for the locals, by the locals’

Owners Lara Kurtak and Eric Russell both love skiing and the outdoors lifestyle. They want customers to love being outdoors as much as they do, and start with helping customers find the perfect footwear for their activity.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

If you live in Grand County, chances are you love being outside. There are endless recreational activities, many likely a stone’s throw from where you’re standing. Whether it’s skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking or simply walking your favorite trail, there is a common and essential denominator to these activities — footwear.

Without comfortable and supportive footwear, all these activities would be impossible. That’s why husband and wife team Lara Kurtak and Eric Russell have “stepped in” to help. Kurtak and Russell own and run Local Experience, a store that offers shoes 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 putting people in footwear with good support throughout their life, so they don’t have back pain or issues like that.”

The main service the store offers is 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 the owners can trim to fit the person’s shoe. The insoles provides instant comfort and support.

“That’s a good start, but if people need to go a step further, or if they have a handicap or foot issues, we go to custom,” Kurtak said. “Eric is a custom boot fitter and has been doing it for 25 years.”

Local Experience sells ski boots and offers custom fittings. Boots are the first point of contact with bindings; how skiers move their feet and ankles guides their entire performance. Not only are ill-fitting boots uncomfortable, they hinder the skier’s ability.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Russell uses two orthotic machines 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 that he uses to mold the orthotic insert. Then it’s ready to be fitted in the customer’s shoe, ski or snowboard boot. Since these inserts are molded to the shape of the person’s foot, they are much more beneficial than a factory-made insert that doesn’t address their specific foot issues.

“We’re very passionate about this,” Kurtak said. “Ski patrollers … or athletes up at the Winter Park Competition Center come here before their competitions for ski tuning, if they have (foot) issues, or if they just need some help. So that’s really awesome.”

Kurtak and Russell also repair equipment such as boots, skis and bindings. They also sell, mount and tune bindings and wax skis. The couple mostly works with ski boots, but they stock and do fittings of snowboard boots as well.

“We’re about making people comfortable so they want to keep skiing. We live in a ski industry county, so we want to get people more interested in it, and then they can teach their children. That’s going to help the economy, and we just love (skiing) so much,” Kurtak said.

As the snow melts and Mary Jane approaches closing day, Kurtak emphasized she still loves getting on the mountain.

“We call this leg-breaker snow, but we like it because it’s all slushy and really fun!” she said.

Once the snow melts, Local Experience switches into the biking world, offering bike tune-ups and restoration. In the footwear realm, the owners concentrate on hiking boots, running and biking shoes, and sandals.

“We carry brands that are popular, but are also orthopedic and good for you,” Kurtak said.

One popular running brand is Altra, which is recommended by doctors and podiatrists for 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 backpacking bags, Camelbaks, helmets and more.

Kurtak and Russell both have a decade’s worth of experience selling outdoors products. The couple first opened Local Experience in Winter Park in 2012. They were both born and raised in Grand County, hence their shop’s name — Kurtak grew up in Granby and Russell in Fraser.

“We’ve had a lot of different jobs and decided to start our own business here. We haven’t found a reason to leave! We love it so much,” Kurtak said.

Kurtak explained that being a small business owner in Grand County for the past 10 years has been an amazing experience, but it does come with a couple modern-day challenges, such as competition with online retailers.

“Amazon didn’t exist when I was younger, so it’s definitely a different breed out there. I understand that people like to online shop, but that doesn’t help the community they live in or help businesses in Grand County make it,” Kurtak said. “We still have people that do need help. They want to come in and hold the shoe or try on the ski boot. If they buy their ski boots online, they can bring them in and we’ll help make it fit and be comfortable.”

Another challenge Kurtak and Russell have faced is finding a permanent home for their business, due to developers purchasing buildings, or construction issues.

“We’ve had to move three times in four years. This is our fourth location,” Kurtak said. “With how the housing market is … people think it’s hard to find a place to live right now, but try finding a space for your business to live and thrive.”

This constant relocating has made it difficult for Local Experience to get a footing in East Grand. “Some people thought we’d closed, some people don’t know we’re here now, some people have just moved here and don’t even know about us. People are always coming and going,” Kurtak said.

Kurtak and Russel both enjoy Local Experience’s new location right next to the picturesque Lions Club Ponds in Fraser. The peaceful pond is a hub for those enjoy the outdoors.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Fortunately, Kurtak and Russell have finally found a location they love and hope they can settle down for the long term. The store’s location is now conveniently located in Fraser’s Safeway shopping center, across from the picturesque Fraser River Valley Lion’s Club Ponds. Currently, they’re open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.

“It’s nice being by the pond,” Kurtak said. “People walking the trail can just come inside, or bring their bikes right in.”

During a sunny summer day, light spills into the store’s windows, where Kurtak and Russell can look out to enjoy views of the pond and Winter Park Resort in the distance. No matter the season, people are outside enjoying all the activities Grand offers. And for anyone who needs the proper footwear for their sport of choice, Local Experience is just around the corner.

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