April 18, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Blue skies ahead 

Zero Ceiling captures the imaginations of street youth and mountain people

You fall down, and then you get back up again.

It’s a fitting parable for life, and a true test of character. It speaks to our ability to find the silver lining in bad situations, and to rise up to meet our challenges. Most of all it’s about persistence paying off.

Getting back up again also happens to be the whole key to snowboarding – a parallel that wasn’t lost on Chris Winter, the founder and president of Zero Ceiling.

More than five years ago, in December of 1997, Winter decided to share some of his own good fortune, his wealth of experiences and passion for the mountains, with the less fortunate.

In his trips to the city, Winter had seen what was happening in the poorer communities of Vancouver, such as the downtown east side, which ranks among the poorest neighbourhoods in all of Canada.

Every time he drove through these areas, it seemed there were more homeless and at-risk youths on every corner, and that less was being done to help underprivileged kids move ahead with their lives.

"These were not all bad kids," explains Winter. "They’re smart, they’re funny. They’re not all that different from everyone else, they’ve just had a few bad breaks.

"Some of them left home because of a bad situation there, some were kicked out for things. And then you have kids who have some of their own problems to work out, and just fell into the lifestyle, being on the street. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

"There really aren’t that many opportunities for these kids to get ahead in the city. There are a lot of programs, but funding is an issue, and there are just so many kids out there. Nobody is going to walk up to them on the street and offer them a job and a place to live."

Winter didn’t set out to start up a charity, it just kind of worked that way.

At the time he was thinking about starting up a tour company that caters to the youth market. He was going to buy a van to transport his young clients around and came up with an idea to use it for youth groups whenever it wasn’t being used for business.

The tour company never materialized, but word got out on Winter’s plan to bring underprivileged youth to Whistler, and found its way to Whistler-Blackcomb.

"The phone rang and rang, and within 24 hours I had passes, I had equipment, I had instructors. It all happened really fast," says Winter.

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