Zero Ceiling reaches new heights By Oona Woods The Zero Ceiling program spearheaded by Whistler Freeride Team member Chris Winter is gaining momentum with recent sponsorship from Whistler/Blackcomb. The program, run in conjunction with the Dusk To Dawn youth shelter in Vancouver, is helping to make dreams come true for city street kids by giving them a taste of life in the mountains. Participants in the program are brought to Whistler, where they are given a chance to try snowboarding or skiing with equipment, lift tickets, outfits and instruction supplied. With the Whistler/Blackcomb sponsorship deal the program has expanded to include training youths to become snowboard instructors. Out of eight kids involved in this new program the first four were given official accreditation on Tuesday, Feb. 23. "The four week program was a complete success," says Winter. "It’s all been really exciting... Whistler has so much to give, you just have to look around. We can share. "My vision was to tie together our different social strands, or something deep like that. This is a world renowned, world class resort. Bringing disadvantaged youth here works as a kind of recreational therapy. I thought of our recreational facilities and then I thought of the proximity to Vancouver. It's simply sharing with those less fortunate youth. "You know how the divisions between the lower class and upper class are becoming more distinct? Well I'm just trying to make that less defined." Bruce Irving, manager of the Whistler/Blackcomb snowboard school, came up with the idea of offering more than just a taste of the slopes, but also an opportunity to turn their experience into a career and a chance at a fresh start. "We realise the positive effect the day visits were having and wanted to do something more which would give the youth a chance to turn a rare day’s riding into a full-time job," says Irving. "We saw how passionate some of them are about snowboarding and they also have the people skills necessary to succeed as instructors." Since its conception last year Winter’s program has welcomed over 90 youth, counsellors and volunteers. Dusk To Dawn's Program Assistant, Randall Ducharme, says the value of this project can't be measured. "What (Chris's) done is provided us with an opportunity. Not only do we get young people away from Granville Street and the downtown and take them to a real pretty place, we also get out of Vancouver and do something positive, something fun." Winter is delighted with the success of this program. "Helping people really is contagious and creates a positive situation for everyone. It’s great to see the effects on the youth who come up here and see them realize that sport can be a better alternative than drugs — they’re getting a bigger and healthier rush from being up on the mountains than they do on the streets." Alanna Maclennan, Dusk to Dawn’s co-ordinator of volunteers and fund-raising, says she is also happy with the results of the initiative. "The program is very positive for the youth. It energizes them and excites them and has inspired them to challenge some of their existing patterns and take a new look at life. The program already boasts several success stories, including one youth who now lives and holds down two jobs in Whistler. The visits also provide a positive environment for counselling, rather than in the confines of the centre, and are a great form of recreational therapy." Ducharme says the importance of opportunity can't be underestimated. "What Chris recognized was the value that diversionary things like sports have. You can change a lot of people without doing anything apart from providing them with the opportunity. One day may not seem like a lot but everyone comes away happy, tired and grateful. You've given people a glimpse of whatever else is out there." Whistler has also done a great job of welcoming the young people. The donation of equipment and clothing ensures the youth don't look any different than anyone else in town. "This means they didn't have to worry about being different," says Ducharme. "They could just be themselves. They go up to Whistler and are treated really well at this world class resort. They have their boots and boards fitted and they have front of line priority because they're with the snowboard school. They feel important, they feel special. When they come home it's almost sad, but what's better? Not getting it at all or getting it for one day?" Winter plans to expand the program to include summer trips and would like to encourage similar ventures at other Intrawest resorts. Zero Ceiling is run voluntarily by Winter. Anyone wanting to help sponsor the Zero Ceiling youth program can contact Chris Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 604-905-4404.