Welcome to the guide to ‘doing a season in Whistler’. I was meaning to write this straight after I finished there so that it was all fresh in memory, but fortunately it’s all come back pretty easily.
I guess the advice here could apply to any season in general, but the info I’ve given is based on my time in Whistler during the winter 04/05 season. Incidentally 04/05 was the worst snow season on record! Which means that all you lucky people are gonna get KILLED with snow. Damn.
Ok here we go….
As you may or may not already be aware there are only two things that you really need to sort out for the season – JOB, and HOUSING.
Basically there are two choices when it comes to jobs. Either you work for Intrawest, or you don’t!
A big mistake that many make when they come here is to pin their hopes on one specific job. This is a very bad idea. I would say that only about 50% of people got their first choice, so don’t be too picky!
Good jobs are:
- Ski school (if you’re competent you can get a job even if you have no teaching qualifications)
- Caf’s (second cup, moguls, java etc.)
- Mountain Hut Bistros (unfortunately you can only apply for general food & beverage positions, but if you blag it maybe you’ll get put here.)
- Taxi driver (the company will pay for you to get a BC drivers license, and the money you can make is much better than average)
- Concierge (you probably need some hospitality experience, or make it up, but you can make good tips here too. Only downside is you end up working quite a lot)
- Housekeeping (there’s usually loads of this type of work around ‘ if you work for a private cleaning company it’s pretty kushy, plus you often get to take home supplies that people leave behind!)
- Restaurants (often evening hours = major bonus, plus everyone generally shares tips from the night’s takings)
It’s very difficult to get bar work unless:
- you’ve been in town for years ‘ i.e. you’re a ‘local’
- you’re a super hot female ‘ this will get you FAR in Whistler
In general, most jobs are pretty okay. Some are definitely better than others, but if you get down just remember that it’s not forever and try to make the most of your time in Whistler! It’s easy to become blas’ about the whole thing as time goes on, but when you leave, it’s pretty much a certainty that you’ll think, ‘damn, if only I’d made more of an effort to get up early on those powder days’, or, ‘I wish I’d gone out that night instead of worrying about being late for work, it sounded AWESOME’. Well, you get the picture :)
If you get a job with Intrawest (the company who operate the resort and own about 60% of it) then you are eligible for their staff housing. There are a few locations but almost everyone lives up at Glacier (park?), next to Base II on Blackcomb. This is about 10 minutes walk up the piste from the village centre, and there is a bus service that goes every half hour during peak times. Note though that if you’re out on the piss, which you invariably will be, then you’ll have to walk home. This isn’t all bad though as the climb is quite sobering! Plus it gives you good training for skiing/boarding ;)
The standard of living in staff housing is generally ok. You’ll either have bunk beds, or a single if you’re lucky (or book early enough and don’t mind paying a bit more, see below). The staff buildings are very much like university halls of residence ‘ rooms are pretty basic and cramped but very liveable, with cooker & bathroom in each unit. There are communal areas in the buildings too, with internet facilities. Don’t expect everything to be squeaky clean and new ‘ it isn’t ‘ but the atmosphere in staff housing is fantastic and you can party pretty much every day if you want to.
If you ARE going for a job with the mountain (Intrawest is commonly referred to as ‘the mountain’), then you’ll want to pre-book an interview ASAP after they open their recruiting lines. There’s a ratio of about 2 or 3 applicants for every job available, and in some popular areas this ratio can be as high as 10:1. DO NOT LET THIS PUT YOU OFF THOUGH! If you don’t get a job with the mountain straight away it is BY NO MEANS the end of the world. There are plenty of other jobs around – you just have to stick it out for a while until something comes up.
Likewise with staff housing – you WILL need to book this as ‘appointments’ to get a place there go pretty quick.
So, if you haven’t called yet, and you’re planning on going for a mountain job, or staff housing, or both, CALL NOW! Those who get in early will be best rewarded. They will tell you otherwise, but it’s definitely beneficial to have an interview earlier rather than later during recruiting week. This is not to say if you have an interview on the last day you’re definitely not getting hired, on the contrary, just that if you get in early you’re giving yourself a better chance of getting hired as they won’t have seen so many faces at that point.
Within the Intrawest sphere, people who work retail generally get a lot more perks than the rest of the divisions. These include lots of staff parties, great discounts on equipment, and a certain amount of freebies. This ‘favouritism’ is kinda out of order, but it’s how it is. Incidentally, those in food & beverage (F&B), particularly in the large restaurants such as the Roundhouse and the Rendezvous, generally get a pretty bum deal. Having said that, in the large locations there’s an excellent social scene among the staff, so it’s not all bad. Plus, any mountain job you get entitles you to a free lift pass. This is compensated by the fact that you are often paid minimum wage. If you’re working for Intrawest, don’t have any savings, and you’re getting minimum wage, the only way you’re going to have any spending money is if you don’t drink ever, or you live in staff housing. So try to get in staff housing. After the initial crazy period it’s generally pretty easy to get a place in there, so just keep on at them. More on that below.
The best thing to do when you arrive in Whistler is get out there and start job hunting. If you do this early you will potentially save yourself a lot of hassle later. Try to talk to everyone. Even if you’re not feeling in the mood for job hunting, get out there and visit the places you already dropped CVs (or r’sum’s, as you will be referring to them). Do NOT rely on people to call you back, it simply doesn’t happen. You have to harass them continually if you want to be sure of what’s going on! The system of recruiting there is VASTLY different to here, and this is only made worse by the fact that so many people will also be doing the same thing as you that it’s difficult for the guys who are hiring to remember everyone, so try and stand out somehow!
Also, don’t feel bad about holding a number of jobs and stringing people along until one you like gets sorted out. Employers will do the same to you (in reverse) as that’s the kind of market it is; their business is largely dependent on visitors, so if it’s a quiet time, you might not get any shifts, i.e. you won’t be getting paid. This becomes less of an issue as the season goes on, but it’s worth being aware that you might not be required to work all the time, especially in early season. Of course the only people likely to have lots of job offers are aforementioned hot females (hot girls might even get headhunted ‘ seriously), although it’s not unheard of for us normal folk.
If I were going to do a season now, I would probably try and get a job NOT with the mountain. The reason for this is freedom. If you buy your lift pass yourself, then it’s yours to keep should you wish to quit one job and take another half way through the season. If you’re working for the mountain and living in staff housing, well, you’re pretty stuck. If you quit your job you lose your house & pass. Ouch. You CAN transfer between departments with Intrawest if you want, but this is dependent on what comes up internally, plus you have to get approval (probably), which might not be straightforward.
In fact, I would advise you, if you have the money available, to buy a lift pass in advance. Once you gain employment you can get your money refunded, whether you get a free pass through Intrawest or a ‘Spirit Pass’ through your employer (basically a quite heavily discounted season pass). Plus, this way, you don’t have to wait around for your employer to arrange your pass (it can take a while at the start of the season, or they might be stingy and say you have to work for a certain period before they’ll allow you to have it ‘ stand up Four Seasons hotel :) so you can go skiing/boarding as soon as the lifts open. Yay!
It’s also good to take this route just in case you don’t get a job straight away, as you’ll have the pass already so it won’t be an issue that you’ve already spent all your savings on alcohol and can’t afford to buy one there and then, plus it’ll keep you out of trouble when you’re fed up of job hunting all day every day.
You’re probably going to be at least a little confused about the variety of communities that exist in Whistler. E.g. how far is each area from the village? How long does it take to get there? How often are the buses? And so on.
Basically, the housing situation in Whistler is pretty crazy. There is no regulation over how much people charge, and what the quality of the housing is like. In general, the standard is pretty good, although at least a few of my friends ended up in places where they had waaay too many people sharing the space (think 15 person dorms). You should steer clear of these! Something better will come up. Also, be wary of a landlord called Ivan Beller, he is a ripoff merchant and you should avoid renting from him if at all possible!!
Ideally you should look to pay about $500 per person per month. This may prove to be infeasible because all the best houses generally get taken in August/September, but there are still good places around, you just have to get lucky! Finding a house will involve placing MANY phonecalls. If you have not heard of the ‘Pique’ yet ‘ you will be referring to it a lot over the course of the season ‘ then you should check it out right now: http://piquenewsmagazine.com. In this paper, which comes out every Thursday (website publishes a day early on Wednesdays at 5pm), you can find out the lowdown on what’s on around the village, read articles etc. but you’ll probably be more interested in the classifieds section. This is a great resource for house & job hunting, and you should start looking right away! Like I say competition for housing is FIERCE at the start of the season, it might be pretty okay looking individually, but if you’re in a group then it’s a bit of a lottery. It may or may not be worthwhile calling ahead from home to try and get some viewings; I’m not sure what the landlords are like for waiting on people to get out there. You can certainly apply for jobs from home though, take a look at the classifieds in the Pique or try searching on the ‘net, e.g. try contacting Spicy sports and Affinity rentals if you’re after rentals ‘ Spicy especially seemed like a wicked bunch to work for.
As far as the different districts go, well, Whistler Village, Nesters, White Gold, Whistler Cay, Cay Heights, Tapleys, Brio & Blueberry are all within walking distance from the village, though Tapleys and some parts of Whistler Cay might be a bit of a hike. Being able to walk to the village is a definite plus as it means you don’t have to fork out for a bus pass every month, not to mention the fact that it’s great being able to walk everywhere.
For some reason they don’t have a season pass type thing for the buses, so you have to fork out $50 for an unlimited 30 day pass if you’re taking the bus a couple of times every day. You can also buy 10 & 20 ride passes, if you live centrally and like going to the gym, for example. There is a free shuttle service that runs around the central village area and up to Blackcomb, handy for getting around if you’re feeling lazy or carrying gear.
All the other areas (if I haven’t forgotten any) you have to ride a bus to, or be prepared for walking a long way. The three most common outside the central ones are Alpine Meadows, Emerald Estates and Creekside. These look kinda far away on the maps, but they really aren’t. I mean, if you’re on a bus, you’re on a bus, so what’s 5 minutes.
Creekside is better serviced by the buses (more regular plus express services), there’s a gondola which runs up to Whistler from Creekside base, there’s some local bars, and you can ski in/out – conditions permitting. The downside is that the main road between Vancouver & Whistler goes through here, so the traffic is pretty heavy. Last ride home to Creekside is at 3am, I think. The buses take about 10 minutes from the Village. There’s an area called Nordic which is between Creekside & Brio ‘ that’s on the bus route and slightly closer to the Village. Out past Creekside are Tamarisk (also a nice place to live but a bit further out), Westside (about a half hour trip), Function Junction & Spring Creek. I wouldn’t advise living in the latter two places as function’s a hole and spring creek is faaaar.
Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates are pretty serene. There’s some awesome houses around and the scenery is fantastic. Buses from here take about 15 minutes and the last ride home is around 2am (which is when all the clubs close anyway, but doesn’t give you much time to go get some food). There are no bars out here, it’s pretty residential, but the vibe is cool. The sports centre in Whistler is adjacent to Alpine, so if you’re into gym/squash/ice skating/swimming/hot tubbing ‘ maybe that’s a plus. Actually quite a few of the houses in Whistler have hot tubs, so maybe you’ll get lucky.
Out past Emerald is Pemberton. This is a serious commute and I’d only advise living there if you’re holding out for somewhere closer temporarily, or you’re on a tight budget! The bus service sucks too so expect to be crashing on friends’ floors a lot of the time if you’re out for the night.
In Whistler, having somewhere to live is almost more important than getting a job. Employers WILL ask you if you have somewhere to live for the season ‘ if it’s the case that you’re still looking for somewhere then just borrow a friend’s address and tell them you have, cuz if you don’t then they won’t wanna know. If you’re struggling to find a house, job or both, then it’s really a case of hanging in there until something comes your way. It WILL HAPPEN if you stick at it and don’t lose faith. Do whatever you have to ‘ sleep on sofas on rotation, become a hermit, whatever. Once you’re set up it will all be worthwhile. Most people I know who were struggling to start off with ended up with a pretty sweet deal, they just had to wait for things to work themselves out. I didn’t meet anyone who went home because they couldn’t get set up, so fear not! (Although I knew plenty who had to go home because of injury ;)
If you can’t find something you like right away, try and get on a month-to-month arrangement as you can always move later in the season. Lots of people start moving around as time goes on, so keep checking papers, boards & asking friends if you’re wanting to shift.
You’ll need a Social Insurance Number to work in Canada, your organisation (e.g. BUNAC) will be able to sort you out with this in the arrival meeting. Likewise, you need a SIN to open a bank account. You’ll have to do this when you get up to Whistler, as they won’t let you open it in Vancouver if you’re not going to be living there. In Whistler village, there are branches for TD Canada Trust (at the marketplace), and Royal Bank of Canada, or RBC, next to the conference centre. There’s a couple other smaller ones, but TD & RBC are the main ones. In Creekside there is a Scotiabank branch, so if you end up living there it might be better to go with them. The banking in Canada is kinda antiquated compared with the UK – they charge you for having an account & charge you for withdrawals from machines etc. Same with mobile phones, or “cellphones”. It might be worth getting a contract if you use it a lot – you can get a month to month contract which is basically like a prepay thing. Anyway, you don’t have to sign up for 12 months. One particularly good one was with Fido and let you call or text free on the same network locally (almost all BUNACers will have Fido phones as they sell it to you in the welcome meeting :) make sure you ask for a Whistler number though, because if you get a Vancouver number then you’ll be calling long distance (in America, there’s not really a distinction between mobile phones and landlines like there is in the UK). If you’re taking your phone with you from the UK, you’ll need to get it unlocked. If you have a Nokia, you can get this done for free on the internet. Maybe you can for other makes too, but you might have to pay someone to do it. Don’t pay more than ’20, if you have to pay to get it unlocked.
Social networking is very important. Knowing the right people can land you all you need. When you arrive, talk to everyone. If you need something, let people know! You never know whose friend of a friend can help you out. By the end of the season, you’ll probably be connected with everyone in resort somehow anyway!
Canadians ID harshly. Way more than in the UK. If you’re blatantly old enough to go drinking, take your ID anyway. I’ve seen them turn away 50 year old people, no joke. If you’re underage, you might have some problems. I knew a couple people who got fake ID made up – this worked for a while until a guy who knew his shit busted them :) still, if it’s your only chance, so be it. Either that or borrow someone elses ID, although this isn’t reliable either and could get it handed in to the police if they don’t believe it’s you!! Note that they will ask for 2 forms of ID, one government issued i.e. passport or driving license, and something else with your name on. A credit card will suffice.
TIPPING. There is a HUGE tipping culture in North America. Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t. It was certainly one of the hardest things to get used to when we were there. Basically, you are obliged to tip servers, taxi drivers, and hairdressers. They are big on table service in bars, but even if you go up to the bar and order yourself, they will expect you to tip. 10% is expected on anything, and is a base amount. If you’re happy with something, it’s polite to tip 15% or even 20%. To be honest, I never really tipped the ‘bartenders’ in Whistler, as they’re not really going to remember you, plus a lot of them in the clubs are dickheads. If a girl is serving your table though, you really should leave a tip. You see, in almost all places the girls get paid minimum wage, i.e. they make their money on tips which is supposed to encourage them to give better service, which it kinda does, and if they have a shortfall in their tips for the night, they have to compensate out of their own pocket. This system really sucks, I know, but this is why you should always leave at least 10% for your servers!
There’s probably more to know than that, but at least it’ll get you off on the right foot :)
TODO: ski areas; bars & clubs