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Four Zero Ceiling graduates hired by snowboard school

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As the name suggests, the sky really is the limit in Whistler's Zero Ceiling program, especially for its newest graduates.

This month four former homeless youth from Vancouver passed the Snowboard Instructor Program and were offered jobs to teach at Whistler-Blackcomb.

Twelve teens so far have graduated from the instructors program since Zero Ceiling was founded in December 1997.

"A lot of the guys and girls who have moved up here have turned their lives around," said pro freeskier Chris Winter, who founded the program four years ago. "If they are given a chance then they really get to shine."

The Zero Ceiling program brings roughly 80 Vancouver street kids to Whistler every year, where they are given the chance to spend a day on the slopes.

Each year four of those kids are trained to be snowboard instructors. They go through six days of intensive training where they are on their snowboards all day and then finishing homework at night.

"So much about snowboard instructing is about how good a communicator someone is," said program co-ordinator Jo Woods. "It's about the teaching side as well as the riding."

Many of the kids who go through the program have never had the chance to go snowboarding before.

"Because of their living situation, snowboarding is sometimes financially out of their reach," said Woods.

Instead, many have spent a lot of time skateboarding. They can apply some of the same skills to snowboarding and can learn how to ride very quickly.

Winter said he is pleased with the program and its graduates thus far.

Although he just sort of stumbled upon the idea of showing disadvantaged street youth the magic of the mountains and the thrill of the sport, the program is congruent with some of his long-term objectives.

"One of my goals in life is to have an impact on society in a positive way," he said. "At 17 anything could have happened to me. (These kids) chose to go a certain way but they're just like all of us."

He said Zero Ceiling has been instrumental in helping some kids find direction in their life. Some have gone back to school. Others have started saving money.

"They're provided with such a huge opportunity to change their lifestyle," said Winter.

Being snowboard instructors also allows them to be positive role models for other young kids.

And some of the graduates have decided to settle in Whistler long term.

The people in the community have been very receptive to the program and the kids that have gone through it, said Winter.

The new instructors will be getting support and advice from other Zero Ceiling grads through a new peer support program, as well as from local youth outreach worker Greg McDonnell.

Whistler-Blackcomb provides free training, rental and lift passes. The new snowboard instructors are provided with accommodation at the Glacier Staff Residence and Merlin's and the GLC provide food.

Although Winter said he does not really want the program to get much bigger, he is developing other aspects to Zero Ceiling, like an avalanche awareness course for disadvantaged youth.

In addition, Woods said they are looking to do more work with First Nations kids in the Sea to Sky Corridor.

"We also welcome youth from other ethnic backgrounds as well as white Canadians," she said.

Winter said he got the idea to call the program Zero Ceiling to reinforce the fact that the sky is the limit and anything is possible.

When asked about the future of the program he said: "We'll see the way fate takes us."

For the immediate future, however, Winter said they are looking for a used computer and printer. He can be reached at 604-938-3863.

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