“My whole life, I could see the mountains on the North Shore of Vancouver. They were so close but so far, always out of reach. I always dreamed about what it would be like to live in Whistler.”

Dakota, Zero Ceiling Graduate

A teenage boy learns to snowboard in Whistler, BC

There’s nothing like the feeling of making your first turns on a snowboard

Many of us who live in Whistler built our lives here because of the mountains. We’re drawn to the fresh mountain air, the stunning views and the chance for unrivalled outdoor adventure. We spend our time and our money buying outdoor gear, planning trips and getting outside. And we know that our outdoor adventures are good for us: for our physical and mental health, our relationships, our confidence and our wellbeing.

That’s why, for twenty years, our Adventure Sessions have offered young people at risk of homelessness the chance to experience outdoor adventure for the very first time. We believe that everybody should have access to the countless benefits of being in the mountains. The chance to gain confidence, learn a new skill and breathe in the fresh mountain air. To feel the sense of perspective that the mountains bring. To be inspired.

 

Why we need to make outdoor adventures accessible

Sadly, for many young people growing up in Vancouver and the Sea to Sky corridor, outdoor adventure simply isn’t accessible. Despite being so close to Whistler, and the whole Coast Mountain range, many young people simply can’t get outside and explore. Outdoor adventure is expensive, not to mention it requires knowledge, experience and time to play outside safely. For young people growing up in poverty, or at risk of homelessness, it’s a luxury they simply cannot even consider. That’s why the Adventure Sessions were born: to make these life-changing experiences available to everyone, whatever their background.

“As somebody who regularly enjoys skiing on Whistler Blackcomb, it was such a joy to be able to bring my students up there and see them excel at the sports and experience that so many other young people take for granted living in this area. Getting into the mountains promotes a healthy and adventurous lifestyle in these young people that, while common in the Sea to Sky, is certainly not accessible to all.”

Josie Moore, Sea to Sky Alternative School

Working together to make outdoor adventure possible

A group of young people pose for a photo after taking part in a ziplining activity in Whistler, BC

A group of young people experience the thrill of ziplining for the first time

We’re lucky to have incredibly dedicated partners – Whistler Blackcomb and The Adventure Group – who make the Adventure Sessions possible. Whistler Blackcomb donate snowboard and mountain bike lessons, rentals and lift tickets. The Adventure Group offer free ziplining and treetop adventures. For our partners, it’s important to share the outdoors that they love with young people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. After all, we all know the power of the mountains, and to share it with someone for the first time is a pretty special experience. As Nicole Baudisch of Whistler Blackcomb said, “the instructors get to work with a group of kids who are having the opportunity of a lifetime. This special day is not only life changing for the participant but is extremely impactful for the instructors.

“It is humbling for myself, and my staff, to spend a day with these teenagers, knowing they face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives, and to be able to provide them with an opportunity to try something they wouldn’t normally do, relax, and enjoy a day in the mountains.”

Joey Houssian, CEO, The Adventure Group

A day of laughter, adventure and new experiences

A group of young people in snowboard gear pose for a photograph after a successful day of outdoor adventure

Celebrating a successful day learning to snowboard with the Urban Native Youth Association

And so, during winter and summer, we welcome groups of young people to Whistler to get their first taste of mountain life. They come from Vancouver, the lower mainland, and as far north as D’Arcy. For many, it is their first time even driving up the Sea to Sky Highway and taking in the views. Once they’re all kitted up, participants are in the safe hands of professional instructors and guides. They create a fun, supportive environment for young people to try their hand at a new sport for the first time. As the day wears on, the smiles start to grow as worries are forgotten, friendships are made and new skills are learned. Soon, they’re flying down the mountain, laughing and getting excited about their next trip. If the groups start asking us when they can come back, we know it’s been a successful day.

And plenty of these groups have been visiting us for years. We’re proud to have long-term partnerships stretching back decades with youth agencies from Vancouver and the whole Sea to Sky corridor. We love seeing Directions Youth Services, Covenant House Vancouver, Urban Native Youth Association, Sea to Sky Alternative School and so many more groups come back year after year. For every young person they bring with them, it’s an inspiring new experience and a break from their everyday challenges. And sometimes we get to see the same young people again, watching them develop a passion for snowboarding and get more excited every time they return.

“In the last 10 years, I have sent kids snowboarding, mountain biking, zip-­lining and kayaking in Whistler. These opportunities allow youth a brief break from the problems of their lives. Giving them a chance to forget the challenges and thoughts ahead of them and just enjoy an activity they never thought they would be privy to. The stories and memories are never-ending and I’m constantly dogged regarding when the next trip is!”

Steven Smith, Directions Youth Services

Inspiring young people to transform their lives

A young First Nations man dressed in snowboard gear looks out over a mountain range

Dakota got his first taste of the outdoors at the Adventure Sessions. Now, he lives and works in Whistler as a bike instructor

The Adventure Sessions also serve another purpose: introducing young people to our Work 2 Live program. For those that fall in love with the outdoors, and are looking for a fresh start, the Work 2 Live program can be the perfect opportunity. The program combines supportive housing with full-time employment, one-to-one support and lots of outdoor adventure. Through these opportunities and the support of the Zero Ceiling family, participants gain the skills and experience they need to live independently.

That’s what happened for Dakota, who first finally got to snowboard in Whistler through the Adventure Sessions program in 2017. When he heard about Work 2 Live, he knew he had to apply. “I looked at my friend and said, ‘How did I find this?!’” Dakota said. “It felt like it was meant to be”. He was accepted into the program in May 2017 and spent the year working for Whistler Blackcomb, building relationships and throwing himself into the Whistler lifestyle. Now a Zero Ceiling graduate, Dakota is also a qualified mountain bike instructor and still loves working for Whistler Blackcomb, passing on his love of the mountains to the next generation.

The Adventure Sessions: The mountains are for everyone

We love getting to share our beautiful mountains with so many young people every year. And we’re so grateful to our amazing partners and volunteers for making it possible! If you’d like to find out more about the Adventure Sessions or are a youth agency who would like to take part, get in touch at info@zeroceiling.org.