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Sarah Jane Hornes-Living the dream

Alta States

Some people just have it. You know what I mean? Enthusiasm, a zest for life — a way of looking at the world that sees opportunities far more often than obstacles. And in a tourism economy where personal interaction is just as important as a resort’s physical attributes, that attitude is worth its weight in gold. Why? Because these are the magicians who can transform “just another holiday” into a story-filled adventure. These are the Pied Pipers who can convince guests to return time and time and again. And we all have our favourites. Whether Mike Varrin or Mikki Homa, Colin Pitt-Taylor or Rob Boyd, Whistler wouldn’t be the same place without them. Fortunately for us, the world keeps sending us more…

Consider the magic of Sarah Jane Hornes. “Hey, I was skiing with this gal the other day,” my Toronto-based friend, Graydon Oldfield told me on a recent visit to Whistler. “She was just awesome. She’d jump into stuff without any hesitation. And she ripped, man. But she was really fun to be around too. She was a total energy bomb. You’ve got to meet her — you’ll be really impressed.”

And I was. A Calgary-born dynamo who coaches skiing in the winter and golf in the summer — and serves sushi at Sachi in her spare time — Hornes (pronounced horn-ness) exudes a sense of happy energy that is virtually impossible to ignore. “My grandfather always had a saying,” the vivacious 30 year old tells me. “Live for today. Plan for tomorrow.” And then she laughs — a clear, happy sound that holds nothing back. “Well — for now I’m really concentrating on the first part of that dictum…”

She says she’s living her dream. Wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. Or living anywhere else for that matter. “Whistler is such a dynamic place,” she explains. “It offers so much.”

And then she pauses for a second or two, giggles like a little girl. “You know, when you walk through Whistler, you recognize others who have the same spark, the same energy — the same perspective as you do. And you don’t have to explain it or anything. You just feel it.” And it has nothing to do with age, she adds. “Whether young or old, people share a common sense of energy and excitement here. And that’s really stimulating to me. I mean, there are as many Whistlers as there are characters in this valley. And everyone knows just how many characters live here.”

Sarah Jane grew up immersed in the culture of skiing. “Both my mom and dad were in the business,” she explains. Her father, a former pro football player and ski racer, was involved in bringing K2 skis into Canada in the early 1980s. Her mother, a flight attendant, was the social convenor of the family. Together, they repped a variety of ski products. “My dad’s the kind of guy who never grew up,” she says, a smile playing on the edges of her lips. In other words, he was a great role model for her own life. “It was a pretty active household,” she says with a straight face.

A keen ski racer as a youngster, Hornes admits that her progress up the performance ladder was not as quick as she’d hoped it might be. When her brother joined the local hockey program, her parents decided that one winter sport was enough for the family. So they convinced Sarah Jane to take up golf. “In a way it was a super-random decision,” she explains. “Suddenly I went from this passion for ski racing to a sport that nobody in the family had ever done.”

But her parents must have known something about their daughter. For she connected with the new sport in a way that still surprises her today.

“I guess I picked it up pretty quickly,” she says. Indeed. That first summer of golf revealed an aptitude for the sport in the 15 year old that she didn’t even know existed. “My dad would drop me off at the club at 7 or 8 in the morning and then he’d pick me up at 7 or 8 in the evening. Sometimes I’d get three rounds of golf in one day.” Another peal of happy laughter. “It was awesome. I was the only girl and doing fairly well. So there were a lot of people ready to help me out. I was really fortunate to be in the right place at the right time…”

Right place or right time, it still doesn’t account for her meteoric rise in a sport notorious for its long apprenticeships. Little more than three-and-a-half years after hitting her first golf ball, Sarah Jane Hornes was on her way to the U.S. on a golf scholarship to a NCAA Division 1 school, James Madison University in Virginia. “It was an amazing experience,” she says. “But a really demanding one too.”

Hornes, who was used to putting her clubs away for the winter and going back to skiing, suddenly found herself playing golf 12 months of the year — and at a highly competitive level. “We had eight tournaments in the fall and eight tournaments in the spring,” she explains. “And then I’d come home and do the summer circuit.”

After two years she’d had enough. “Tournament golf is really intense,” she says. “It’s not a social sport at all. You’re in your own little bubble — the only thing that counts is your score at the end of the day.” But it wasn’t just the intensity of tournament golf that had her down. It was the lifestyle of the girls with whom she was living and travelling. “I’d always hung out with rough-and-ready ski racer girls,” she explains. “But now my teammates were these very civilized, very urban girls from up and down the Eat Coast. I mean,” she says bursting out in laughter again, “I just couldn’t relate to spending 45 minutes putting on your make-up before going out for a workout…”

So in September of 1997 she packed away her golf clubs, returned to Alberta, enrolled at the University of Calgary — and fell in love with skiing all over again. “I got a job on the sales floor at the Ski Cellar,” she remembers. “There was a whole group of us there who were really keen to ski. And we’d really go for it.” She pauses. “You know, I’d never been a Weekend Warrior before. And I loved it: skipping school for an extra day on the mountain, hanging out with friends. Just having fun. It was exactly what I needed.”

School was never easy for Sarah Jane. “Call me socially distracted — or suffering from ADD. Whatever. Getting through university was tough.” But she did it. Only when she graduated, she really didn’t know what she wanted to do. So she fell back on the “family business”. “My parents had always been sports reps,” she says. “So I decided to explore the possibilities there.”

The next few years went by in a blur. She worked for a sports agency selling Fischer skis for a while. Explored the possibilities of becoming a golf pro. Still, nothing twigged for the young athlete. And then one morning in February of 2003 she had what she can only describe as “an epiphany.”

“I was driving home from a Fischer gig in Fernie and I started thinking about how much skiing meant to me,” she recounts. “I realized I wanted to be more involved on the slopes instead of just selling. And then it hit me — I decided: ‘Oh my god! I can really make this happen’. I didn’t know how it was going to happen. But I knew I was going to find a balance between skiing and golf.”

For the rest of the drive home she considered different living options: “Banff? Been there done that. Fernie? Too small, too isolated. Kicking Horse? I liked the mountain — but the town was just too redneck for my tastes. I’d visited Whistler recently on a business trip — even played 3-4 days of golf — and I’d met a woman there who’d given me her business card. The night of my epiphany, I got home and her business card was pretty much the first thing I saw. And I decided right then and there — I’m moving to Whistler!”

Suddenly things started to click. “I’d never experienced anything like this before in my life,” she says. “Everything that I’d worried about, all the problems that I’d focused on — I realized none of it mattered. Everything became super clear to me. It’s not like my life was all defined or anything. I just felt confident that it would all work out…”

And work out it did. That summer and fall she earned her golf pro certification through an LPGA program she’d heard about from a female colleague. A friend from her Ski Cellar days agreed to sub-let her his apartment in Whistler. Soon after, she found a job coaching adults with Extremely Canadian and another one coaching kids with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. “I’d heard horror stories about trying to move to Whistler,” she says. “So I was really prepared for tough living conditions. But it was like it was all meant to be. In fact, things were turning out better than I could have ever expected them to be. It was obvious I’d made the right choice by coming here.”

That was four years ago. Today, she says she’s even more confident about her decision to move west. “Whistler has provided me the opportunity to create a working environment for myself that reflects my lifestyle,” she explains. “It’s allowed me to keep challenging myself — on all levels!” She smiles. Her face glows with the pleasure of living the life she’s always dreamed about. “Whistler is magical, you know. It’s given me so much. I only hope I can give something back over time.”

According to people like Graydon Oldfied, she already has…