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The great escape By Myron Loveless Affordable housing, a relaxed social environment and few tourists. Throw in two pre-eminent ski hills — Whitewater Resort and Red Mountain — and you've got the makings of a great escape. Those factors are exactly what prompted 44-year-old Ralph Kennedy to make the big break to the Kootenays from Whistler in 1981, after eight years in the resort. "Life here is a little more... sensible," says Kennedy, a construction worker who started pounding nails in Whistler in the mid-70's. Back then, Whistler was a small community with relatively untouched terrain. According to Kennedy, the resort was still small enough that everybody know everybody else by name. And McDonald's was something you found in Vancouver. "It (Whistler) has changed in the respect that I didn't like the fast pace of life. It was kind of like losing control of your own home," he says of the resort's growth. "The change from year to year, I mean, my God." Kennedy discovered the Kootenays in 1976 when he spent a winter working as caretaker for the Whitewater ski area, 20 kilometres north of Nelson. The history of the area and the terrain convinced him he had to return. "I really like the area. I liked the people I met, I liked the country and I liked what you were able to do. It was very much like Whistler," he says. "When I came here in 1981 I was basically running away from the hectic lifestyle and looking for something a little more normal." Normality is just what Dave Mariani found in Nelson, along with cheaper rents. Mariani lived in Whistler for 13 years, spending his time working construction in the summer and skiing in the winter. But the fun only lasted so long. "You have fun for a while and then you get out and get serious. There's no future for a young kid there. That's how they work it," he says. Mariani and his partner Angela Lockerbie decided to move following the birth of their daughter Cloe in 1989. Faced with rising rents and the high cost of living in Whistler they sought shelter in the Kootenays. "Everything got too expensive there. I walked into a store here and started to laugh looking at the price tags. You could buy a pair of jeans for under $20 and in Whistler you wouldn't pay for a pair under $50." Anna Maclean was a wide-eyed 17-year-old when she moved to Whistler with a friend in 1978. She moved to Nelson for good, or so she says, a year-and-a-half ago. "I came to the Kootenays six years ago (to visit) and I just knew I had to move here," she says. "I loved it so much that I knew it was the place for me." Ironically, she recently met up with the same friend she moved to Whistler with and the two have decided to open their own business featuring fresh-baked cookies and pizza by the slice. Sound familiar? "I'm never going back, Whistler is not the real world. When you get out into the real world you realize that." Dean Moffitt, 38, has had his share of resort experiences. A veteran of life in Banff and Whistler, Moffitt moved to Rossland for peace of mind and an affordable place to live. "If you've spent any length of time in Whistler and had a chance to look at real estate prices, it's very unaffordable," he says. Moffitt spent a total of six years in Whistler before getting out in 1993. When he's not working with wife Lori Dawe on their furniture and folk-art business, Moffitt can be found tearing down Red Mountain or biking in the backcountry. "Whistler is sports cars and cellular phones. And if that's what you're into that's great, but there are other things," he says.