They may be your barista, your cab driver, even your ski instructor. They are the ones who came to Whistler out of burning curiosity, pushing the pause buttons on their lives to sample B.C.'s finest — the powder, the trails, the lifestyle of a mountain town. Yes, here in Whistler we are blessed with some of the finest mountain recreation opportunities, all encapsulated in a transparent bubble that shields us from the realities of the outside world.
What you may not know is the story behind the local workforce in Whistler. They may speak with an accent or be from the other side of the country, but more often than not they are educated. They are lawyers, engineers, environmental scientists, teachers, geographers and computer programmers. If you needed a nuclear physicist in a pinch, you could probably find one tuning skis in a ski shop basement.
Thousands of educated seasonal workers circulate through Whistler every year and take the opportunity to enjoy all Whistler's outdoor pleasures year round. At the end of their allotted season, or year, or whenever their work visa expires most will return to their homes and begin their "real" jobs. But a percentage remain longer, transfixed by the lifestyle they have just experienced.
Outsiders may balk at such atrocities, "Why would you waste your education just to ski?" they cry. The outsiders are usually parents and relatives, friends from hometowns and former student peers. They ask how much money you are earning and reassure you of the job prospects at home, thousands of miles away where you can build a solid career using that expensive degree that took so long to pay off.
But Whistler has an invisible hook that snags the unsuspecting seasonaire. The kids who defer their tertiary enrolments to come out for a season after finishing school, what the British kids refer to as a "gap year."
"It was October 1999 when I came out and spent the year out here until the summer of 2000," said Dan Carr, a local professional ski photographer with a degree in aerospace engineering.
"That was my first taste of both Whistler and snow sports in general. I went back home to university and did my degree, but never really stopped thinking about Whistler. When I finished it I knew that I needed to go back to Whistler for one more year of fun. After that year out here I went back home and I think I lasted two or three weeks before I booked another flight back to Canada."
Carr's story is a familiar one around these parts — you come here for one season then you return to the career path that you spent years labouring for. But then every season that you return, the hook sinks deeper and the chance of leaving for good diminishes. It is usually between the second or the third season that the self-reflecting questions are raised: "Is Whistler where I want to make my new home?" And if the answer is yes, then next is always, "What the hell am I going to do for a living?"