As certain as the leaves changing and the first snow in the alpine at this time of year is the appearance of young people, loaded down with luggage and backpacks, looking for work, for places to live, for a community to belong to if only for a season.
Rather than let all those young people fend for themselves, Whistler has always made an effort to welcome everyone to the community. The longest running example is the Whistler Survival Guide, produced by Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and updated every year.
Ten years ago, WCSS, working with the municipality and other community stakeholders, created Whistler Welcome Week, hosting a series of events to orient newcomers to the community. The main event is the annual Jill Ackhurst Community Welcome Dinner where long-time locals host tables of newcomers and share their knowledge of the resort.
As well, the resort's largest employer, Whistler Blackcomb provides orientation for hundreds of new employees every year, including information for everyone living in staff housing at Base II, Brio and Tamarisk.
The tragic deaths of three young people working in the resort over recent years underlines the central safety message this year. A new WalkSafe program was launched to teach newcomers road and highway safety after 24-year-old Eleanor Reinecke was killed in early 2011. Last winter Mike Grefner, 34, and David Christian, 27, likely died of exposure after walking alone at night while intoxicated.
Whistler Survival Guide
Jackie Dickinson, community outreach worker for WCSS, said there is a lot of new information in this year's Whistler Survival Guide, which was released to the community last week. This year they printed 7,000 copies, and the first 2,000 have already been distributed.
"This year... there are a lot of changes to services within the community," she said. "We've put those services into the guide so newcomers are aware of the resources available locally and in the province. One of the new things we've incorporated into the guide this year was the Howe Sound Women's Centre operating the Whistler Drop-in Centre for women from Monday to Thursday, 12 to 4 p.m. They provide quite a few services to women and families in the community."
Another big change is the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Service Centre in Spring Creek, which has housed WCSS, the women's drop-in centre, food bank and other programs since February.
"We made sure in the guide to let people know that this exists in Spring Creek," said Dickinson. "Not only can they access 31 services by WCSS, the food bank, the women's centre, we also offer services like programs for moms and tots through Sea to Sky Community Services."
The guide also makes people aware of the new WorkBC Employment Services Centre in Function Junction, and the opportunity to meet with a career strategist at the Food Bank every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon (Tuesdays when there's a holiday), or at the library. The new Re-Build-It Centre also gets a nod for selling furniture such as beds and dressers and other items.
The Whistler Survival Guide is available at the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Centre in Spring Creek, at the library, at the visitor information centre, at orientation sessions and at other locations around town. "There's a big push the first couple of weeks, because we want to get it into people's hands," said Dickinson.
Whistler Blackcomb hires roughly 3,500 employees each winter to operate Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and several other businesses around town. The hiring starts in March and April each year. This season WB will hire 850 to 900 new employees, including workers from Ontario, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Denmark and elsewhere.
Joel Chevalier, manager of Employee Experience at Whistler Blackcomb, said every new staff member gets a four-hour orientation. The main focus is the resort and things like customer service, but they talk about safety as well.
"Most of it is specific to working at Whistler Blackcomb, what they need to know and what our core values are, how everything works and their role in customer service," said Chevalier. "We talk about safety on the hill and in the community, and about making good decisions.
"And then, within our housing, the majority of employees who live there do a pretty thorough orientation with our house advisors. We have a house advisor on every floor of every building, and they talk about things like alcohol safety."
As well, Chevalier said that Whistler Blackcomb is working with other stakeholders including the RCMP and local bars and nightclubs to introduce a new program that would encourage friends to walk friends home.
"We can't change everybody's mind on some behaviours, but we can make sure everyone knows what's available and help them to make better choices," he said. "We don't want last year to happen again, it was awful to have to go through that."
Whistler Welcome Week gets underway on Monday, Nov. 12 with a wide range of events for newcomers to the resort.
Monday — Pancake Breakfast, sponsored by the Millennium Rotary Club from 10 a.m. to noon at the Whistler Fire Hall #1. The cost is $3, with proceeds going towards Whistler Welcome Week. From 6:30 p.m., Millennium Place and The Escape Route are hosting a ski movie called Superheroes of Stoke. Tickets are $5, available at The Escape Route.
Tuesday — Volunteer Fair from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., hosted by the Whistler Museum and Whistler Animals Galore encourages newcomers to get involved with the community. There's also a Games Night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Whistler Public Library.
Wednesday — The annual Welcome Week scavenger hunt gets underway at 2 p.m., with Whistler Blackcomb sponsoring the post-hunt barbecue at WB House at Base II.
Thursday — The Jill Ackhurst Welcome Dinner takes place at 5 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre. Tickets are $5 at the Visitor Information Centre outside the conference centre. If you want to host an Exhibitor Table at the Welcome Dinner, email Jackie@mywcss.org.
Friday — There's a film screening of the National Film Board classic "Ski Bums" at the Whistler Public Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. From 9 p.m. to midnight, Meadow Park is hosting the annual Pool Party. Tickets are $5.
Saturday — Feeding the Spirit, a special presentation at the Whistler Museum from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. There is free food and prizes available.
As well, Yama Yoga is offering complimentary yoga classes through the week. For more, visit www.mywcss.org/pages/whistler-welcome-week.
This is the second winter for Whistler's Walk Safe campaign, which was created to educate people about how to walk safely on the highway and roadways at night, as well as the alternatives that are available like public transit and the Valley Trail network.
In the first year of the program — initiated by the Whistler RCMP in partnership with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the American Friends of Whistler, and supported by Pique — some 3,000 Walk Safe kits were distributed with information about walking at night and free high visibility reflectors that people can carry.
This year the goal is to distribute 5,000 kits and reflectors, targeting newcomers to the resort.
"The Whistler RCMP fully support and endorse the Walk Safe program," said Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair. "Many areas of Whistler, particularly the various neighbourhoods, are quite dark at night so extra caution must be taken.
"Through the Walk Safe program, with a combination of education and the reflector campaign, our goal is to change both pedestrian and driver behaviours. We are striving for a safer community where we prevent needless injury and death."
The kits will be available during Whistler Welcome Week and at the RCMP detachment on Blackcomb Way. More details will be announced soon on other opportunities.
Meanwhile, newcomers are advised to avoid the highway when possible and use the Valley Trail. While walking on roadways, people should wear bright clothing and walk into traffic. Carrying the reflectors or wearing headlamps also makes you more visible. If possible you should take transit or cabs at night.