When it comes to celebrating all aspects of mountain culture, theres nothing like the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. It started with sports, but gradually grew to include music and the arts.
Making that culture inclusive has been a mission for Whistlers Chris Winter since 1997, when he helped to organize a day snowboard trip to the resort for Vancouver street youth and youth at risk.
Since then the program has expanded and evolved. Every year about 160 youths take part, in groups of 10, many of them getting their first chance to snowboard. The program has expanded to Mont Tremblant, another Intrawest resort, as well as First Nations communities.
Zero Ceiling has also created a snowboard instructor program for youth at risk. The youth spend several days in Whistler, refining their riding, before taking the Level 1 instructor course. Those who pass are given the opportunity of a lifetime a place in staff housing, a job with Whistler-Blackcomb ski and snowboard school, the gear they need to teach, and assistance while they get settled in a new community.
"It really blows my mind how successful the Snowboard Instructor Program has become," said Winter. "Who would have known that rebellious street youth could go from scrapping with motorists while cleaning car windows on the corner of Main and Terminal in Vancouver to teaching the international jet set crowd on the slopes, and do it well.
"Some former street youth have been living here and working here for seven-plus years."
Almost since the beginning of Zero Ceiling it has been a charity of choice for the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, with proceeds from fundraising events going towards the program.
This year things will be a little different. Instead of hosting a Zero Ceiling event the festivals online box office is offering people a chance to make a donation while buying tickets for events.
"What Chris Winter recognized when he started Zero Ceiling was that many people need a helping hand in living their lives to the fullest by being exposed to positive experiences," said Doug Perry, TWSSF founder and chief executive. "Zero Ceilings spirit of respect and generosity is an inspiration to us all to take a moment to open the door for others. We hope that as people purchase their tickets to some of the festival events this year, theyll also consider making a donation to Zero Ceiling through the e-store at whistler2006.com. Every bit helps."
For more information on Zero Ceiling, visit www.zeroceiling.org.