You’re not hearing things. There’s a reason every other gondola attendant, ski-school instructor, cashier, waiter, coffee-shop barista and hotel housekeeper in Whistler, BC has an accent that sounds like it crossed an ocean to get here. It did. This gorgeous ski resort, site of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, hires some 5,000 seasonal workers annually. A significant percentage of them are university students from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, enjoying a “gap year” off from their studies.
The area’s pristine, spacious slopes, the variety of terrain and manicured, pedestrian-style alpine village below make Whistler — a two hour’s drive north of Vancouver — attractive to visitors. It’s also become the “it” spot of global twenty-somethings for whom the gap year is a time-honoured tradition. “Last year was the second-snowiest ski season on record,” says Melbourne native Narelle Bruce, 23. “I worked night shifts at my hotel just so I could go boarding on the fresh powder in the mornings. Ace!”
The idea: volunteer, learn a new skill, travel and earn some coin. Entire companies exist to facilitate these work-and-travel programs, and the websites feature long lists of BC and Alberta mountain resorts. Over several days every November, the Whistler Blackcomb Hiring Fair schedules 1,500 40-minute job interviews in various venues around the village.
Eager to spread the news of western Canada’s hospitality and epic skiing, many hired in recent years launched their own blogs, posting daily reports and snapshots detailing their adventures. “Heaps of aussies here,” reported one visitor in his blog on the website RealTravel.com. “Whistler is so huge, that despite there being thousands of people here, everyone just kinda disappears on the two mountains somewhere. Most of the time you have the runs to yourself and the lift operators apologize if you’ve been waiting for over a minute in the queue…. Will dream tonight of sunshine and more powder!”