For a 14-year-old girl with a big voice and even bigger ambitions, the idea of going off to a performing arts high school in a major urban centre, you know, the kind immortalized in the movie/TV show Fame!, might sound romantic and exciting.
But if you’re Ali Milner it would mean leaving Whistler, your home since Grade 1, leaving your family and friends as well as your coaches and riding crew from the Whistler Kids Freeride Club.
Lucky for our heroine, there’s a program at Whistler Secondary that allows her to have her snow and a burgeoning singing career too.
Milner, a fresh-faced articulate, red-head, started high school this past week, knowing right from the start her teachers were perfectly fine with the fact that she’ll be cutting an entire day of classes every week.
Her schedule has been tailored so she can spend every Wednesday in Vancouver taking voice lessons, jazz piano, guitar and acting lessons and singing with the world-renowned Vancouver Children’s Choir.
Some call the program "sport school," a reference to the ski-racer majority that are enrolled – Milner’s older brother Smith being one of them. But the program’s teacher advisor, Rod Thompson, prefers "flex-Ed." – a more all-encompassing term with a nod to Ali. It’s not just athlete-students who can make use of a more flexible schedule and independently tailored program.
At one day a week her needs are still radically different than those of a national ski-team prospect, who might be expected to spend blocks of five weeks on a European race circuit, but the motive is the same: school should not hinder extracurricular excellence.
"The idea behind having personal goals beyond school has been embraced by Whistler Secondary since the beginning," Thompson said. "It’s come in a circle by having performing arts kids who are kind of in the same boat."
It’s plain to see that having close ties to the sporting world has influenced Milner artistically. She’s a hard worker who doesn’t back down from a challenge, whether riding rails switch in the terrain park or learning the six-part harmonies of a Mozart Requiem with her choir’s senior Cantata chamber ensemble. She uses the term "coach" when referring to vocal instructor Joani Taylor. She trains.
Her work ethic doesn’t leave much time for pop culture phenomena like the American/Canadian Idol series.
"They’re going to be in the spotlight for a few minutes, but no one’s going to remember them," she states. "You don’t gain respect by winning a short contest. You have to work for years and years to get credit and get respect and to really gain an audience. You have to really work at it."