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Surviving the shoulder season

Seven steps to fighting the doldrums and courting chaos



"The steelhead is from Lois Lake, the duck is from Yarrow farms, and the mushrooms are from Ponderosa," says Araxi Chef James Walt,as we eye the locally-sourced, five-course menu. It is 2 p.m., the rain is pounding down outside, and Whistler Village is damp and quiet. Inside Araxi, James and his crew are preparing for yet another busy night serving mainly locals, many of whom are taking advantage of the 30th anniversary, $30 menu. The price is right for the cash-starved.

For the last fifteen years, Araxi's has been sourcing its ingredients locally, notes James. "In '97, the farmers were struggling. . . now, they're bursting at the seams," he says, citing Pemberton growers North Arm Farms, Rootdown Organics, and Across the Creek as "supplying 100 per cent of our salads" and other produce, to not only Araxi but nearly all eateries in the Valley. I turn back to the menu. BC Albacore Tuna Tataki, says one dish. That sounds delicious. And it's basically six bucks.

Yet while I and others enjoy Araxi's fine dining service — a quick glance around reveals at least a dozen locals recognizable by face, clad in the attire of a Canadian tuxedo — others struggle to make ends meet during the off-season's snailpace.

The Hunger Games: provisions for provisional labour

Whatever our intrepid weather gurus say — and they have promised much this season — chances are the merry month of May will be wet and dreary down to the last drop. May is the heart of the shoulder season. Diehard parkrats and manic backcountry skiers take to the alpine, with corn snow and superhero slush enticing the rest of us when the sun fights its way through the overcast grey. The month of Taurus and Gemini is when Whistler's ski shops swap out their planks for bikes, storing away the iron and wax for chain lube and torque wrenches. The star sign of this bullish month gives way to the double-identity schizophrenia of late May, when sun once again promises to grab ahold of June by the nards and shake it loose into summer.

The shoulder season is offside for the winter game, the big break between the two influxes of sports addicts. The transient snowkids and powderhounds, if they haven't already left, now flee Whistler, leaving their tiny rentals and staff-housing encampments for the incoming flood of rubber tire enthusiasts. Apartments abound. It's also a time of stretching budgets to the limit. Many businesses offer off-season specials worth taking advantage of; for others, the shoulder season means loss of employment. The results are tangible: the Whistler Food Bank has seen an increase in visits from 1,800 in 2010 to over 2,900 last year. The Food Bank ended the year $22, 000 in the red, with most of the food budget spent in the first three months of the 2011 fiscal year, explains Lorna Van Straaten, executive director of Whistler Community Services. Though numbers have begun dropping in early 2012, the food bank is calling for increased support from the community in food, money and volunteers.