Opinion » Alta States

Sam Rees - making the Whistler leap



"Passion isn't something that lives way up in the sky, in abstract dreams and hopes. It lives at ground level, in the specific details of what you're doing every day."

- Author Marcus Buckingham

It was ugly the afternoon we met. A slushy rain was falling in the valley and the air felt a lot chillier than what the thermostat showed. But it didn't seem to bother the 23-year old one bit. He came bouncing into the coffee shop like it was a sunny afternoon in August. Smiling eyes and guileless grin, easy lope and happy greetings. Only his garb hinted at anything different.

Hmm... how could I put this? With his scuffed rubber boots and tatty rain pants, his floppy hat and flappy rain-cheater (all in black), the kid looked more like a Commercial Drive hipster than a Whistler local. I mean, the stuff he was wearing had "Value Village" written all over it. What kind of statement was he trying to make? It was only then that I realized that Sam Rees had ridden his bike across town — in the mucky rain and slush — to meet with me.

I know. I know. It's no big deal anymore. We're all supposed to be riding our bikes... all the time. And yet I'm still impressed when I meet people (mostly young) who actually live that way.

Sam Rees is one such young man. "I don't have a cell phone and I don't have a car," the Brit transplant told me in one of our first conversations. "I'm consciously trying to simplify my life." And then he laughed, acknowledging the irony of his situation. "I know it's a bit of a contradiction living and working in Whistler, but I'm trying to not get too caught up in the consumer 'I need things' world."

A worthy goal, of course. But how does he square that with working at Fanatyk Co, a place where customers routinely drop serious coin on the latest-and-greatest in high-performance sports toys? Doesn't it feel weird, I ask, to be counselling clients on purchasing such big-ticket items? Not really, he says. He likes helping people, he explains, especially people who are passionate about what they do.

We hear a lot of talk in this town about the importance of our frontline staff. And they are important. For the majority of Whistler guests, frontline workers are all they're ever going to see. How these two groups interact — in the stores, in the restaurants, on the hill — is how most visitors are going to define their holiday experience. And yet we don't do all that great a job training our young people. It's still pretty much a hit-and-miss affair — you hire whomever you can, you pay the least amount possible, and you hope the best of them will hang in for the season.