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Alta states

Jorge Alvarez: Stranger in a strange land



Imagine growing up in Madrid in the late 1970s. You’re in your mid-teens and living the Euro urban lifestyle to the hilt. Remember, this is the capital of Spain: drenched in centuries of history and a very hip, very cosmopolitan place. Skiing is definitely not part of your world. Suddenly your dad — a mining engineer — is transferred to Trail, B.C. to work for Cominco. How do you adapt?

“My mother cried for five years straight,” says the inimitable George (Jorge) Alvarez. A character’s character, George is one of Whistler’s most passionate citizens. Colourful doesn’t even come close to describing this guy. So much goes on around him — both in reality and in fantasy — that one could easily create a weekly comic strip on his life. Artist, hipster, entrepreneur, rebel, enfant terrible , innovator, mountain-lover and loyal friend, he brings a much-needed Latin spiciness to the Whistler story mix. But he’s definitely an acquired taste…

And one of the most irrepressibly funny guys I know. “It was May 7 th , 1978,” says with the Chilean-born 46 year old. “That’s when my family’s world came tumbling down.” He smiles. “Or at least, that’s what we thought then…”

For like so many newcomers to this country, George and his sisters had no idea what awaited them in the New World. “My dad never got around to telling us what living in the West Kootenays would be like,” he tells me. And giggles. “I still remember driving through Spokane and thinking what a quaint little place this is.” The giggles turn into a full-on chortle. “Like most people in Europe our vision of Canada was that it would look like New York but with lots of lakes and mountains around. When we got to Trail, my mum turned to my dad and said ‘Take us to the big city.’ She thought he was joking…”

But he wasn’t. “So there I am,” says George, “sixteen years old, can’t speak a word of English, and enrolled in Grade 12 at the local high school.” He smiles. “I really didn’t fit in all that well. Madrid culture and Castlegar culture were light years apart. I was into neon, tight jeans and short hair — they were still in the hippy era.” Fortunately for George, he met a guy in his homeroom called Felix Belczyk. “He was my first friend in Canada,” says Alvarez of the future ski-racing star. “Through Felix I got to know all these racer guys like Chris Kent and Gary Athans and Rob Boyd and Don Stevens. Ski racing eventually became a religion for me…”

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