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Feature - Growing up Whistler

The pluses, the minuses and the reality of life as a Whistler teenager.


By Kara-Leah Grant

It’s the time in one’s life where the excitement of emerging opportunities is tempered by the continuing constraints of home life.

It’s the time when you still don’t know who you are, or who you want to be, but you know you don’t want anyone else telling you their answers, especially your parents.

Most of all, it’s the time in your life when you suddenly feel all grown up, but everybody else thinks you are still so young.

For Whistler’s teenagers, it’s a time when they still appreciate all the wonderful things about growing up here – the mountains, the powder, the active lifestyle, the fresh air, the forests, lakes and mountains, and the joys of small town living, like safety and community.

But it’s also a time when Whistler’s homogenous culture, the constant influx of tourists, the Disneyland atmosphere and the sensation of being trapped inside a bubble create a suffocation that weighs on teenagers and encourages thoughts of escape to the much bigger world out there.

These are the thoughts a group of Whistler’s graduating students shared one Friday afternoon during last period on a perfect spring day. Only three of the students are recent arrivals in Whistler, most of the rest have been here since birth. Their discussion of growing up here is like any other discussion of life in Whistler – it centres on affordable housing, career opportunities, monster mansions and tourists.

The teenagers are very aware of the reality of the town they live in and their comments are thoughtful, and thought provoking, revealing a world far removed from the stereotypes that have crept up around Whistler’s high school students.

They say a big part of being a Whistler teenager is the weight of media scrutiny that rests upon a number one resort and Olympic venue. Whistler’s party town image, which lingers despite the increasing push to make Whistler more ‘family-friendly’, combusted with a sensationalized report in the national media last year, and led to an erroneously held belief that drug use was a problem at the school. It wasn’t true, but long after the media moved on, the students were left to deal with the aftermath.

"Whistler’s (adult) party scene may be full of drugs," says one student. "But this high school is probably cleaner than most schools in the city."

The students and teachers at the school were frustrated at their inability to fight against the negative impression the report left. But untrue stereotypes don’t only spring from misleading newspaper reports. The town’s high profile also feeds into the problem.

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