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It’s all about the kids

By Michel Beaudry She’s the quintessential energy bomb.

By Michel Beaudry

She’s the quintessential energy bomb. Soccer coach, private ski instructor, and longtime school trustee — not to mention mom (and confidante) to three highly talented kids — Andrée Janyk is like no other woman I have ever met. Always up, always ready for an adventure — and never far from the action when something at Whistler needs to be done — Janyk brings a level of commitment and passion to her life that raises the performance bar for everyone around her.

Yet she comes across as one of the happiest, most positive people I know. Sure, she can make people uncomfortable with her energy. And she’s not afraid to ruffle feathers when she needs to get things done. But it all comes from the heart. And it rarely fails to produce results. Consider her latest mission.

“My goal is to become one of the first women to be appointed chief of course at the Olympics,” she tells me in her usual near-staccato delivery. And then she giggles like a little girl. “I know. I know. It’s a totally male dominated position. And the old boys at the FIS aren’t that keen to challenge the status quo.” She pauses for just a moment. Laughs again. “But I believe there’s gotta be a way for women to break into that club…”

Indeed, Whistler has always attracted strong females. Whether Myrtle Philip or Nancy Greene, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden or Cathy Jewett (to name but four), the women who have chosen to make this place their home over the years have been outstanding in a variety of categories. But even among these women, Janyk stands out. Clearly, if there’s anybody who can break through skiing’s Old Boy bastion, she’s the one…

And she certainly has the right pedigree.

“My earliest ski memory is of riding on my dad’s back at Grouse,” recalls the former national ski team member. “I couldn’t have been much older than two. We were skiing off-piste, in deep snow just off the Cut. Suddenly my dad brushed a big fir, lost his balance and fell backwards — right on top of me.” She laughs. “I don’t know why I remember that episode so well. I guess it just kind of stuck with me.”

Growing up in North Vancouver with her two brothers, Andrée considered Grouse Mountain an extension of the family’s backyard. And given her dad’s role as the pre-eminent ski area builder of his generation — not only was he the one to put up the first double chairlift in Western Canada at Grouse, he was also involved in the development of Red Mountain, Silver Star and a host of others — it wasn’t surprising that she remembers her time on Grouse so fondly.

A quick aside: For students of Canadian skiing history, Peter Vajda is a towering figure. A European ski champion who immigrated to this country in the late 1930s, Vajda was a passionate proselytizer for the new sport. A member of the original board of directors at Whistler Mountain — and an enthusiastic promoter of Whistler’s early Olympic bids — he passed away in 2003, at the ripe old age of 90. What fascinates me in this story is to see how his enthusiasm for mountain sports was picked up, not only by his sons and daughter, but by his grandchildren as well.

“The skiing community was just like a big family,” remembers Andrée of her early years at Grouse. “People took care of each other back then. All you had to do was call out “Mom”, and someone would be there to take care of you.” Another chuckle. “We did a lot of hiking in the old days. But we never thought anything of it. To us, climbing was just part of the skiing experience…”

It’s an attitude that she still brings to her ski teaching. “I’ve got longstanding students from Hong Kong and Singapore,” she explains. “And I get so excited to see them climbing with me to get some fresh tracks. It’s not about getting extreme or anything. It’s all about sharing a passion for the mountains…”

Her kids also benefited from that perspective. “I’d tell them: ‘anybody can get A’s and B’s. So if you bring me a report card with A’s and B’s, you can come and play hooky in the mountains with me.” She laughs. “It was a great way to make sure they kept their marks up…”

When it comes to her views on the Whistler community, Andrée doesn’t mince her words. “I think there is a lot of confusion in this community right now,” she says. “We walked into being a world-class resort somewhat naively. And now we’re not really sure who we are.” She pauses. “Unless we figure it out soon,” she adds, “we’re going to miss out on opportunities to re-enforce what we really want this place to stand for!”

For Janyk, community starts with the kids. “My focus has always been on youth — setting up opportunities for the next generation,” she explains. “Why? Because I believe a community is best perceived by the way it treats its children. If we want to end up with good adults, we need to come up with good models. We need a strong school system and a great sports and arts program.”

She pauses again, just enough to catch a breath. “The community itself has to set the values for what it believes are the important things in life. And that’s one of our biggest problems at Whistler — our ‘party town’ image...”

While she acknowledges that this is a reality for most resort communities, she still thinks there could be more done locally to mitigate its impact. “We have pretty good programs for elementary-school ages,” she concedes. “But when the kids move into the teenage years, they get confused about what’s important in life.”

And to be honest, she adds, many adults are confused too. “Most parents in this valley are working really hard to pay for a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly expensive. Not only that — but more and more families have two working parents, which makes the volunteer pool quite small.” And that, she says, has a huge impact on extra-curricular programs.

“For me, that’s the biggest question for Whistler: How do we put things back in balance? How do we provide enough experiences for our kids — from sports to music, from art to film — so that they have the tools to make it on their own in this world.”

Like so many other people in this valley, Janyk believes that a strong community makes for a great tourism town too. “We often underestimate,” she says, “just how much our visitors want to get in touch with our community. They want to experience the unique connections that make Whistler such a special place. After all, to feel part of something real — whether you’re a first-timer or a long-time visitor — it really pulls at your heartstrings…”

That’s why she’s so keen on her latest project. “I now know what it feels like to be the parent of an Olympic athlete at the Games with no support and no local contacts,” she says. After her experience in Torino last year (where she and her husband were cheering on son Michael in the technical skiing events), she came back to Whistler with a brand new mission. “I decided to spearhead a new initiative for the 2010 Committee for School District 48,” she says. Her plan, she explains, is to weave together a network of local families to host parents and siblings of Olympic competitors for the 2010 Games.

“Just think what a great thing this could be,” she tells me, her eyes bright with excitement. “It will be an amazingly rich experience for both local kids and visiting families. The visitors will get a backstage pass to the Whistler community and the participating families will get an insiders’ perspective on what it means to be an Olympic athlete — not to mention some great contacts all over the world!” She giggles again. “To me, that’s what community is really all about!”