The charitable Zero Ceiling Society of Canada was founded in 1997 in Whistler, British Columbia by Chris Winter, who was then in his 20s and making his living as an athlete, instructor and guide in the ski and mountain bike industries. Winter had roots in Vancouver, and was troubled by the city’s homelessness – and in particular by what he saw of the city’s “street kids.” Winter’s big idea: Mountain experiences have the capacity to expand horizons and fuel empowered lives.
CHAPTER 1 – THE BEGINNING
Winter launched Zero Ceiling by organizing free day visits to Whistler’s mountaintops for disadvantaged and at-risk youth living in Vancouver’s urban core. He gathered donations of lift passes, instructors and rental equipment, then partnered with Dusk to Dawn, a program for homeless and at-risk youth operated by Vancouver’s Directions Youth Services Centre. Zero Ceiling’s day visits initially ran bi-weekly, bringing vanloads of Dusk to Dawn’s inner city teens to Whistler for a day on the slopes. During that first winter, 75 young people from challenging circumstances in Vancouver spent a day in Whistler’s majestic outdoors, learning to snowboard – and, in the process, expanding their sense of life’s possibilities.
From the beginning, Zero Ceiling was built on a foundation of four core beliefs:
- The intrinsic worth of all people;
- Access to opportunity regardless of circumstance;
- Transformation through self-discovery;
- The power of individuals to change their own lives when given the opportunity to do so.
Since 1997, Zero Ceiling has continued to be guided by those key values as it serves regional youth-at-risk with innovative, transformative, mountain-based programs that work.
For the first few years, Zero Ceiling’s day visit programs were its primary focus. While programming and scope have expanded significantly from those humble beginnings, providing circumstantially challenged kids with a fun break from their day-to-day world – a break that inspires them with an expanded sense of life’s possibilities – remains a key component of our charitable work today. Our Daily Shred, Adventure Sessions and multi-day Progression Sessions enable approximately 300 homeless, under-served and at-risk youth per year to immerse themselves in mountains, nature and healthy adventure while participating in snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, high ropes courses and /or zip-lining. Since 1997, Zero Ceiling has hosted more than 4,000 youth, ages 13 to 24, through these day visit programs.
SNOWBOARD INSTRUCTOR TRAINING PROGRAM
In 2000, Zero Ceiling’s charitable work expanded into the larger realm of life skills development – thanks to a visionary idea from Bruce Irving, a onetime tough kid turned snowboard instructor. Irving, a pioneer in Canada’s snowboard industry and Whistler Blackcomb’s Snowboard School, suggested that Zero Ceiling develop a program to enable selected street youth to move to Whistler to become snowboard instructors themselves. It proved to be an idea that would change lives.
Zero Ceiling’s Snowboard Instructor Training Program ran for eight years, providing homeless and at-risk youth with learning, life skills and employment experience in Whistler’s majestic mountain environs. Today, Whistler Blackcomb’s Snowboard School still staffs instructors who built upon their start in Zero Ceiling’s Instructor Training Program to transform their circumstances, craft careers and make the mountains their home.
CHAPTER 2 – WORK 2 LIVE PROGRAM
In 2008, Zero Ceiling’s Snowboard Instructor Training Program was overhauled, and new components were added to strengthen the focus on life skills, learning and personal growth along with stable housing and engaged off-work programming, better supporting the youth and their profound transitions. Renamed Work 2 Live, this life-changing program now includes housing, support for day-to-day basics, one-on-one mentorship, counselling, life coaching (including articulation of goals and practical tools for how to reach goals), structured fitness and recreation sessions, community service and more, all while participants work in various jobs for Whistler Blackcomb.
The Work 2 Live Program is open to at-risk and homeless youth ages 19 to 24 who are referred by youth agencies. To date, the Work 2 Live program has offered its significant, transformative support to more than 65 otherwise marginalized youth from Greater Vancouver and the Sea to Sky corridor.
CHAPTER 3 – TODAY
From its quiet launch in 1997 to today, Zero Ceiling has made a significant impact, providing opportunities for at-risk and homeless youth from Vancouver and the Sea to Sky corridor to learn new life skills through adventure-based programs and training. Some of our success stories are subtle – kids who leave a day visit with an expanded sense of life’s possibilities, or simply an appreciation for fresh mountain air. Others are more dramatic. Before Zero Ceiling, one participant was living on Vancouver’s urban streets, making small change by wielding a squeegee to clean windows of drivers passing by; after Zero Ceiling, he went on to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional helicopter pilot. Another Zero Ceiling alumnus has become a chef, and another a respected butcher who runs the show at a large, busy Whistler supermarket. Other alumni are now working as bank tellers, youth workers, miners, massage therapists — and, of course, as career snowboard instructors. Whether our alumni have returned to urban environs or made a life in the mountains, whether they are travelling the world or are hard at work winning best employee awards, all have been empowered through our programs to craft new ambitions and confidently pursue their dreams. In short, Zero Ceiling delivers experiential opportunities that both enrich and empower the lives of underserved and at-risk youth, providing an important and singularly powerful resource to the communities we serve.