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Work hard, party harder

How Whistler’s foreign workers make it work

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By Vivian Moreau

They survived their first power blackout in Whistler. They learned that unlike in Australia and New Zealand, cold showers are de rigeur when the power goes out. They’ve discovered which restaurants have the best deals and which pubs like lifties. One still hasn’t found a place to live and is couch surfing. They find cheese is ridiculously expensive, but Alphabits are good for hangovers. They had to work Christmas and will likely work New Year’s Day. They’ve learned Canadian phrases from other 20-somethings, like “Where’s the love,” “damn skippy” and “awesome, dude.”

They’re just five of the 500-plus seasonal workers who met at October’s welcome week dinner at the Telus Conference Centre and that are keeping the resort running this holiday season. Three New Zealand aircraft mechanics — Nick Shalders, Blaise Hastly and Mark Millar — work for Whistler-Blackcomb, as do Perth, Australians Bree Johnston and Kathryn Ives.

Two months since arriving they’ve developed survival techniques necessary to communal living in Whistler.

Johnston, a civil engineer, and Ives, an oncology nurse, landed jobs in finance and as a liftie. As roommates they share meals together, alternating cooking and clean-up. Although they grew up in the same city they didn’t meet until they were assigned to share a room together in staff housing, the group residences that house almost 1,200 of Whistler-Blackcomb staff on Glacier Way.

“It’s so strange,” Ives says, “She’s basically my best friend over here. It’s really cool.”

They’ve learned to put up with each other’s idiosyncracies.

“Like having to get up at 4 a.m. or coming home after a night out and falling asleep on my bed with all my clothes and boots still on,” Ives said, catching up over coffee at Esquires.

They lament the absence of inexpensive Thai food and that incoming cell phone calls are charged in Canada. They learned that tiger balm is good for boarding injuries and the best way to win a snowball fight is to be the first man, er, woman in, a fact the young men loudly protest.

“They come and break into our house and throw snowballs at us,” Shalders says with a wink.

“They show up at the most inopportune time,” Haslty adds.

Although two of the young men duck their heads and shuffle feet when asked if any of them have fallen in love yet, Shalders, who has taken on the role of ringleader, volunteers that his two friends have had some, ahem, encounters.

“You just watch yourself here,” Millar shoots back with a chagrined blush, “your nose isn’t that clean.”

The group has an infectious energy and enthusiasm, a youthful vibrancy that hums through Whistler. With huge snowfalls in the resort attracting an influx of snow-starved European and North American visitors their good natures add to Whistler’s élan. Absorbed in working hard and playing harder they are refreshingly naïve, concerned as they are about finding a place for Haslty to live, recovering from 10 hours a day of snow shovelling, and wondering what to take to the next pot luck toga party that housing staff organize. “A good way to ruin your bed sheets,” Haslty confesses.

Although they admit to “a few explosions” in the kitchen, the New Zealanders are planning a communal barbecue after Christmas to compensate for having to work the holiday. Steak, sausages, potato salad, garlic bread, prawns, and mussels will be on the menu.

“That’s what we usually do back home,” Shalders says.

And while Ives and Johnston say they miss Australia’s beaches and 38 Celsius weather, the men have different opinions. Millar says although he’d like some Melamite and Haslty says yet again he misses having a bed in a room of his own (will someone please take this guy in?), they say they don’t miss their home country.

Shalders points out the windows of the Crystal Lounge toward Blackcomb.

“Why would you need to go to the beach if you got this out here?”

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