"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."
- Mother Teresa
I'm not sure I've ever seen her in a bad mood. And given her (often stressful) job managing the phone lines at Whistler Mountain's Alpine Office, that's probably a good thing. Always positive, mostly smiling, Becky Wenger is one of those rare people who seem eminently unflappable.
And considering the quirkily adventurous nature of her Swiss-born husband, Yves, that's probably a good thing too...
A woman with a deep — and profound — appreciation for mountain life, the forty-something mother of two boys is a cycling, riding, snowmobiling dynamo. She never stops. "I just love playing in the snow," she admits. "It's become a big part of my life. And the fact that we can all do it as a family..." Pause. A quick breath. "Well, that's really important to me too."
She's a lifelong skier, right? Somebody who grew up on the slopes. Ate ski technique for breakfast. Read all the magazines. Spent her youth living only for the next turn...
Not quite. "I didn't really ski as a kid," explains Becky. "Sure, I would go up to [Collingwood's] Osler Bluff from time-to-time — my cousins had a place up there —still, all I can remember are painful experiences..."
But it's not like she was inactive. "I biked," she says enthusiastically. And laughs. "I loved biking. I biked everywhere in Toronto." And she paddled too. "As a teenager, I attended a canoe-tripping camp in Algonquin Park. And that was awesome. To be a 13-year-old girl paddling and camping in the Northern Ontario wilderness — it really had a big impact on me."
More than anything though, Becky wanted to travel; she wanted to see/experience the rest of the world. "I already spoke fluent French by the time I graduated from high school," she recounts. "So I decided to move to France and become an au-pair girl." The year was 1986. And Becky was about to learn her first overseas lesson.
Only 19, and far from home, the young Torontonian soon realized that being the housebound slave of bourgeois Parisians was not exactly what she'd expected. "It was terrible," she says. And laughs again. "I had taken care of kids all my life — but this was really challenging. No matter what I did, it seemed that Canadians just couldn't live up to the standards of Parisian French. But I loved Paris — I was a little girl in a big city — just not the job...."
Fortunately, her eight-month stint in au-pair hell eventually passed. That's when she made a life-changing decision. "My godfather had just bought a club in a Swiss mountain resort called Leysin," explains Becky. "It sounded beautiful — just above Lac Lehman and surrounded by some of the most stunning peaks in the Alps. So I decided to check it out."
Turned out her godfather's new acquisition — the legendary Club Vagabond — was the favoured hangout of young Leysin ski bums, and a home-away from-home for the vast Anglo community that called this Vaudois village home. Becky thought she'd died and gone to mountain heaven. "It was such a change from what I'd just left in France," she says. "I'd had my 20th birthday in Paris, sad, no one else around to celebrate with. But in Leysin... hey, every day was a party day."
And there was a certain Swiss snowboarder from Geneva... "I guess you could say I started skiing because of Yves," she reveals, a happy grin spreading across her face. She says she still remembers the first time Wengy asked her out. "There he was, all decked out in what he thought was Canadian style — with a wool toque on his head and his pants tucked into his boots."
Becky's response? "Not tonight." But the young Genevois refused to give up. By the time he screwed up his courage again and asked her to join him for a late-night wine-and-cheese party, Becky was more positively inclined.
To make a long story short(er), let's just say the Canadian gal and her Swiss paramour spent the rest of the season playing together on Leysin's sunny slopes. By the time the winter ended, they were definitely a couple. But with vastly different summer plans. "Yves set off for Alaska to work on a fishing boat," she remembers. "And I returned to Toronto. But Yves's boat broke down soon after he got there, so he decided to fly to Vancouver and hitchhike across Canada to meet me in Toronto." Another pause. Even more laughter. "He arrived on the very day that my parents were leaving on a three-week trip to England. They were not impressed."
Still, the two young lovers made the best of their summer idyll. "Yves eventually went back to Europe and I enrolled at Concordia University," she says. "But by the end of that year I missed Yves too much. Figured I'd continue my studies in Geneva."
School soon took a back seat to adventure however. And thus began Becky's real initiation to mountain life. "I learned to snowboard on the fly," she says of her 1988-90 journey. And smiles. "You know, like following Yves down Chamonix's gnarly Vallée Blanche without really knowing what I was doing. "Yes, she admits it was scary from time-to-time. "But the best part of doing stuff with Yves, is that he's so positive. He likes to push it to the limit, but he never lets things get out of control..."
Becky and Yves were married in the spring of 1990. "We held the ceremony in a beautiful little village just outside of Geneva called Bagnins. You know, with a 13th century church and an old chateau. It was a serious wedding, but it was lots of fun."
Then came the next big question: Where to now? "We were both intrigued by Western Canada," explains Becky. "So we decided to buy a van and head west from Toronto. Our first real stop was Vancouver. But we soon realized the city wasn't for us. After two weeks, we were ready to move on..."
During their time in Chamonix, the young couple had met and become good friends with Trevor and Tanya Petersen. "And they always spoke so highly of Whistler," says Becky. "So we decided to give it a try." She sighs. "I still remember our first day at Whistler, sitting at Wayside Park and thinking: 'This is the place where we want to be.'" She pauses. Smiles. "Really — it was that fast!"
They also saw the potential for raising a family here. "Contrary to our gypsy past, we really did come to Whistler to settle down," explains Becky. "I wanted to be a mum, wanted to have children. And Whistler — particularly in those days — seemed like just the place for that."
Their first son, Robin, was born in 1992. His brother, Nicolas, came along three years later. Now established in Function Junction — where Yves could have his carpentry shop right next door — the Wenger family thrived in their new environment. "We had everything we wanted right outside our door — riding, skiing, cycling, you name it. And we had loads of friends who loved the same things we did."
Meanwhile, Becky had established her own work path. "Soon after we arrived," she says, "I got a job with Guest Relations at Whistler Mountain. What a great team that was: Dawn Titus, Heather Linsky and so many others — wonderful memories..."
The newcomer slowly moved up through the ranks, eventually took on the role of supervisor for the Guest Relations team at Creekside and then, on a whim, decided to transfer to Reservations. "It wasn't for me," she admits. But fortune was still smiling. Out of the blue, she got a call from a friend who worked at Whistler's Alpine Office. "Becky, I'm retiring," she said. "You should apply for this job. You'd love it."
So that's what she did. And — except for a few brief interludes — she's never left. "It's kinda like being in the mountain's mission control," she explains of her job. Perched high in an office located just above the big clock on the Whistler Mountain Patrol shack, Becky's main task is to make sure the right information gets to the right people. "You work with the patrollers and lift mechanics and groomers. You receive all this data over the phone — everything that goes on in a day — and your job is to make sure it goes through the right channels." She laughs. "It can get pretty stressful, sure. But it suits me perfectly."
And the future? "Because of our early beginnings," she answers, "Yves and I find that we're coming into our 'empty-nest' period relatively young — and still keen to experience more adventures together." She offers up one last happy grin. "So I'm really looking forward to the next few years. And all the new paths opening up to me and my family..."