Zero Ceiling reaching new heights with new status 

Whistler summer recreation businesses willing to help disadvantaged youth are being sought by the Zero Ceiling Society of Canada, as part of a move to turn its successful winter-based program into a year round community service.

Since its conception in December 1997, the program has hosted more than 350 youth in Whistler through referrals from the Dusk to Dawn youth shelter in Vancouver, and more recently, North Shore House. The goal: to inspire young people into seeking a healthy and happy lifestyle despite their tough starts.

The stepping-stone for youth in the program has, until now, been learning how to snowboard. However, program founder, Chris Winter, says companies offering summer activities such as rafting, mountain-bike riding, horseback riding and even golf are being sought to expand the good lessons that sport can bring.

"A lot of people could view Zero Ceiling as a free day's snowboarding on the mountain without realizing the huge difference it can make. You just see their faces light up," he says. "Sport teaches self-reliance, teamwork and confidence – it's more than just fun."

One of the many success stories from the Zero Ceiling program is Tyler, a snowboard instructor with two seasons under his belt in Whistler. He was one of four youth chosen to undertake the annual instructors' course offering by Zero Ceiling and Intrawest in 1998. He says three of the four have branched out to new things because of the program, although one of the group returned to his old ways in the city 18 months after completing the course.

"It's a chance you are given to get off the street and one chance is all that some people need," says Tyler.

Tyler believes 75 per cent of people who go through the program use it to turn their lives around, and he is happy to lend a hand with the new entrants.

"If Chris gives me a call I take a day off work to help take care of the new group," he says. "I like to explain to them the potential of being up here and how they can change their lives."

Most of the kids in the program live on the streets of Vancouver but try to collect enough money to rent a house together during the winter months, he says. The shelter is where they go for food and to relax away from traffic.

Tyler says his personal goal is to work on his snowboarding in winter, and toward being a chef during the summer. "I'm now a third cook in the lineup and like working in the catering business. Zero Ceiling is a great program and should be supported."

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