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Alta States

Whistler’s future fulfilled

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One of those “dedicated teachers” who continues to give tirelessly, she tells me, is Mitch Sulkers. The founder of Whistler’s legendary Outdoor Recreational Leadership Program, Sulkers is the kind of teacher who understands how to fan the flame for learning smouldering in most teenagers’ hearts. “The program,” explains Claire, “comes at a time in high school — Grades 11 and 12 — when most kids are getting bored with the ‘Whistler Scene.’ What Mitch does is introduce them to a way of experiencing the outdoors that is both positive and incredibly inspiring.”

Claire knows of what she speaks. Keen to get involved with the program, she somehow convinced the school to let her take part during her Grade 10 year. By Grade 12, she was an ORL intern — “which means I was kind of an assistant,” she says, almost apologetically. She continues: “For most of us who grew up at Whistler, the mountains are like the extensions of our backyards. But when you take students into the backcountry — and put them in novel settings — it becomes a more challenging environment. And it requires people to step up and take different leadership roles. You get to learn so much in this program — communications, co-operation, teamwork, and of course all the basic backcountry skills, like how to use an avalanche transceiver and how to dig a snow pit and how to use climbing skins.”

The positive influence of Whistler educators like Sulkers and Titus has certainly served Claire well in the intervening years. “People are often critical of the schools at Whistler,” says Kashi Richardson, Claire’s mum. “But I can say without any hesitation that Claire was well prepared for university when she left for Victoria. It’s tough when you only have a base of 300 students. But I think the teachers do an outstanding job.”

Claire is spending the winter at Whistler this year. Midway through her third year of university studies — “I’m majoring in geography and environmental studies,” she says — she’s decided to take a little time off and “live the Whistler dream” for a while. “I went straight from high school to university,” she explains. “So even though I’ve grown up here, I’ve never spent a full winter on the mountain.” Like most kids her age here, she’s holding down two jobs, one at Lululemon and the other at Il Caminetto, but that doesn’t seem to phase her one bit.

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