If you’ve been around Zero Ceiling — or even around Whistler Village — for a while, you’ve probably seen Dakota. His love of tie-dye, infectious grin, and easy laugh are easy to remember. He’s also been the poster-child (according to him) for our programs. Just last week, he took part in our Family Dinner fall fundraiser, speaking about his experiences and telling his story live to our virtual event guests. And now, Dakota will share that story here, in his own words…

I originally came up to Whistler when I was in grade 9 through Zero Ceiling Adventure Sessions back in 2011. We came for a day of snowboarding; I had never been snowboarding before but always wanted to. We spent the day on the bunny hill learning how to side slip and ride one footed. I may have fell and hurt my knee a bit but that did not deter me from getting up and trying again.

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’s a permanent staff member.

When it came to the end of the day a couple members of the group got to ride down the mountain to meet us at the bottom and we had to ride the gondola down as a bunch of us were beginners. I was dumbfounded by the idea of riding all the way down the mountain at the time.

Fast forward to 2016 I had saved up for a car with my summer job. I had been living in Vancouver my whole life, transit was good down there, so we did not really need to drive anywhere. I decided that I did not want to buy a car, that I wanted to try snowboarding again. I went to go buy some second-hand gear at a store in the city and then got a Night Seasons Pass for one of the local mountains.

I started really getting into snowboarding when my friend invited me on a trip to Whistler with the Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA). We ended up doing an Adventure Session again with Zero Ceiling, where I learned more about openings in Work 2 Live, which blew my mind as I was looking for an opportunity to move up to Whistler!

I moved to Whistler May 2017 through the Work 2 Live program with the intentions of staying up in Whistler. I spent the summer learning how to mountain bike. I took my Professional Mountain Bike Instructor certification course at the end of summer to become a bike instructor and passed it!

The winter was just lots and lots of snowboarding. I lived near the base of the mountain in staff housing from my work with Whistler Blackcomb which was amazing!!! The end of winter was my graduation through Zero Ceiling could not believe I had already been here for a year! It blew my mind.

I started bike instructing for the mountain and volunteering for adventure sessions and ride days as an extra bike guide. I also volunteered in the winter at the ride days snowboarding with the youth in the Work 2 Live program.

In my second year being in Whistler I also sat on the Board for Zero Ceiling. I gave useful input that other board members couldn’t as I came through the program and had first hand experience of what youth go through. I took this opportunity to learn more about what goes into running a non-profit organization. I eventually want to run my own non-profit in the future.

This summer, I worked for Zero Ceiling as a peer support worker running adventure sessions welcoming youth up here and bringing the stoke! We went hiking and did tree top adventures with The Adventure Group, facing our fears of heights and challenging ourselves to hike part-ways up the mountains. I also took part in ride days mountain biking and doing dinners with the crew.

I want to take time to reflect on my whole experience living up here in Whistler it has really made me humble and in tune with living in nature. I now think of this town as my home and will always return here after future travels. Zero Ceiling has provided me with an opportunity to grow and learn how to successfully live on my own.  An important part of the program for me was being able to have a support group that will help me however I need be. Coming full circle has given me ideas to one day run a non-profit of my own and help low income families experience the great outdoors together.

Dakota has had an incredible journey, starting out as an Adventure Sessions participant, then a Work 2 Live participant, a Work 2 Live grad, a Zero Ceiling Director, and this summer as our Peer Support Worker, working with folx in the Adventure Sessions and Work 2 Live. You can read more about him in this article that first appeared in the National Post. And he is now on our staff permanently as a Support Worker!! Congrats Dakota. We are so lucky to have you on our team, and we can’t wait to see where you go from here.

Dakota and Chris pose in front of a gorgeous lake. This photo first appeared in the National Post.