By Vivian Moreau
“So where you from?”
“This your first winter here?”
“There’s different kinds of lifts — quad chairs, T-bars, yes, that is the one you swing your leg over.”
It’s the fourth annual Jill Ackhurst welcome week dinner for over 500 seasonal workers who came to the $2 dinner at the Telus Conference Centre last Saturday.
Each of the 80-some tables have one table host, a local who can answer questions like where is the Re-Use-It Centre and when will the snow arrive?
The first question is easy because the host at table 33 is Marty Saeger a volunteer for the popular second hand store. Funding for the dinner organized by Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) came from Whistler bylaw services, with space donated by Tourism Whistler.
“Whistler is the only community in the province that doesn’t ask for money for social programs from the provincial government,” Saeger tells the three young men from New Zealand and two Australian women at the table, explaining how WCSS funds dozens of social programs in the Whistler area. Our line of tables is the first up for dinner: vegetarian lasagna and an assortment of salads, followed by Nanaimo bars, carrot cake and butter tart bars for dessert.
The three young men at our table are taking time out from their jobs as aircraft mechanic coworkers in Auckland to work in Whistler this winter and then head to Europe. After applying online with Whistler-Blackcomb in September, they landed work as lifties and as a snowcat driver and have found a place to live in Whistler-Blackcomb’s staff housing. They’ve gone to a B.C. Lions home game, lost a credit card, took part in their first Halloween, and already received their first noise warning from staff housing administrators.
A roar goes up from another line of tables when their numbers are announced for food line access by host Robin Taylor, local filmmaker turned impromptu comedian when a survival guide to Whistler video freezes the mayor in mid-word.
“That’s our mayor, Ken Melamed — he looks like that a lot,” Taylor jokes. There’s a communal giggle when the video starts up again and an onscreen young local advises newcomers to “watch out for the weed — it’s the best anywhere, but don’t overdo it.”
Bree Johnston and Kathryn Ives are both from Perth, Australia and are now roommates in Whistler-Blackcomb staff housing — where they’ve discovered they lived only blocks from each other back home. Johnston, 25, a civil engineer, and Ives, 25, an oncology nurse, are taking much-needed breaks from demanding careers. Both have arrived with one-year around-the-world flight tickets, and intend to work in Whistler for six months as a liftie and in the finance department before heading to Europe.
It’s a busy evening for the 200 volunteers organized by youth worker Michelle Chang, but breaks up early as newcomers head out to their favourite pubs or back to their new homes. Part of a week of activities that included a pancake breakfast, film night, and scavenger hunt designed to help seasonal staff feel welcome, one of the Aussies said the week has done its job.
“Everyone has been so good to us,” said Nick Shalders, “there’s one guy on our floor who knocks on everyone’s door to make sure we all know each other. It’s great.”