December 23, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

Zero Ceiling: A journey to the top 

Eight-year-old program for disadvantaged youth making a difference in people's lives

Photo by Arne Gutmann
  • Photo by Arne Gutmann

Amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, it is easy to get swept up in the commercial frenzy that seems to grip many at this time of year. iPods, laptop computers, digital cameras, Harry Potter DVDs and all sorts of other items are topping the gift lists this year. Here in Whistler, the two weeks around Christmas Day seem to emulate riches as visitors from around the world descend on the resort for fine dining, excellent skiing and fabulous shopping.

Within the resort community, however, are four youth who will be receiving a unique holiday gift: a chance to change their lives. These youth are this year’s cohort of Zero Ceiling Snowboard Instructor Program participants.

Zero Ceiling was established in 1997 by local pro skier Chris Winter, who moved to Whistler from a small town east of Ottawa several years earlier, psyched to ski all winter and mountain bike all summer. The outdoors lifestyle fuelled him and he was keen to share his passion with others. When Winter first envisioned a means of sharing the mountain lifestyle with others, his mind focused on a summer camp for wealthy youth. However, during a discussion with a friend, his idea for a tourist-oriented summer camp evolved into something much bigger and more meaningful.

Winter casually mentioned to his friend that it would be great to share the camp infrastructure with disadvantaged youth during the shoulder season, when the camp was not in session. His friend happened to mention that idea to another friend who worked at a shelter for street youth in Vancouver called Dusk to Dawn – and soon Winter’s phone rang. The counselor said she had heard he was starting a program for disadvantaged youth and wanted to learn more. Winter quickly explained to the counselor that his camp was as yet a dream, but offered to call around town to see what might be done for the youth she was representing. Within 24 hours, a program had been arranged and Zero Ceiling was born.

Zero Ceiling is a non-profit organization that provides disadvantaged youth the opportunity to seek healthier, happier lifestyles through active living. The organization works with more than 15 shelters and agencies throughout the Lower Mainland and the Sea to Sky corridor to assist youth aged 13 to 23 who are looking for an opportunity to change their lives. The catalyst to such change comes in the form of adventure-based learning and outdoor mountain sports, mainly snowboarding.

Zero Ceiling offers two core programs. The first program entails a day-visit to Whistler-Blackcomb, where youth are provided with lift tickets, snowboards, gear, and a lesson. The agencies representing the youth are responsible for transportation to Whistler, lunches, and a chaperone. Zero Ceiling – with the generous assistance of local businesses – provides the rest. The Day-Visit program is geared to provide youth with the opportunity to spend some time outside the urban Vancouver environment, where homelessness, substance-addiction and crime can be a normal part of each day.

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