When we left our grown up lives in the UK for a winter season in Banff, Canada we had only the experience of a few snowboarding holidays in France to go by. Unlike a lot of those we met out there, we had a home and job lined up before we left thanks to Gap Year Canada. Despite our comfortable start, we entered the experience almost blindly.
After 3 winter seasons, here are a few things we wish we had known before we left:
1) You instantly become a ‘local’
Most ski resorts are in isolated towns rather than big cities. Often, the houses are owned by absentee landlords who use third party businesses to rent out their property. There are often few long term locals who own business’ and homes in town and so the new wave of seasonaires will instantly fill that local community gap. We quickly discovered ‘locals’ deals on mid week bars and restaurants. Most of these did not require proof of residence but many retail businesses asked for proof in the form of a rental agreement or pay stub to get you a ‘locals discount’. This is extra useful when dropping $100’s on that seasons snowboard.
2) 90% of the people you meet have exactly the same mindset – regardless of age
We arrived in our late twenties and the majority of those we met were fresh faced 18 year olds. Hanging out with kids who were barely 5 when the Spice Girls were around was daunting at first. We had lived through university and the start of promising careers and carried all of the life experience that had to offer. We had a handle on sending tax returns (or just paying them), reading rental agreements before blindly signing them, and how to cook more than noddles (more on that below). None of that actually mattered or really counted. The 18 year olds we met were there for the same reasons as us – to play in the snow and put off that idea of growing up for a few more months. Many were on their second season or ending a year long trip. Many (like us) had just begun travelling and 3 years on I know some who have yet to stop. Personalities differ but the concept remained the same; have fun, make friends, live life.
3) You don’t have to have ever touched a snowboard or skis
We can snowboard. Mostly. I assumed that every person hitting the hills were doing it because they just wanted more. Why on earth would you purposely follow a winter? Well no, I knew PLENTY who had never touched skis before – one of them became my ski rental supervisor! Complimenting point 2 the whole point was to have fun. Those who could not ski or board and got jobs on the hill in the end were boarding like pros. One of them pointed out that spending $100’s on a snow holiday when you can’t ski is pointless – why not get paid to learn!
4) Your entire wardrobe will change
I used to have office clothes. I really did. Pencil skirts and blazers. I had handbags and heels. Don’t get me wrong, when we arrived in Canada I had packed jeans and tshirts but my entire sense of style changed. Gone were the days of dressing for a night out in cocktail bars (told you we were grown ups), now it was bars with peanut husks on the floor and $2 basket of wings. Fitted tshirts were replaced with baggy ones. It was ok to wear jeans until they fell apart. You end up wearing beanies (toques) EVERYDAY to the point of styling hair seems ridiculous. You could even tell who the tourists were as they were the only ones who would go out on weekends in -20deg wearing short skirts and heels. We all wore trainers and our ski jackets. A plaid shirt is a must to be truly accepted as a local, btw.
5) Your healthy diet will be a struggle
Pre Canada I used to cook. I would buy ingredients because of their quality. At the end of the season I was buying anything in bulk. 2 boxes of cereal for $5? YES! Living in a mountain town means food has a harder time getting to you. The price reflects this greatly. Living in the UK with easy access to food from around Europe meant that spending more than £0.16 for a tin of beans seemed excessive. A bunch of bananas should be £1. Oh no. Now suddenly we were living off Kraft dinners at 24 packs for $9.99. That’s almost 3.5 weeks of dinners for $0.41 a meal! When you earn $9 an hour, rent at $1000 a month, food definitely takes a back seat. Besides, who needs nutrients? It’s lots of calories you need – you’ll be burning a lot on the slopes!
6) You will become a snow snob
*6am alarm sound*
Si “Did it snow last night?”
Laura “Yes, a bit. About 12cm it says”
Si “Is that all? What’s the temperature?”
Laura “-10 C”
Si “Ugh, I’m staying in bed. Maybe it’ll snow more tonight”.
Seriously? On our holidays in France we would have been ecstatic to get 12cm over night! We really did get to the point of only making an effort to be on the hill early on the really big dump days. Trust us, you’ll be the same by the end.
7) Your idea of rent prices will change
As I mentioned above, our rent was $1000 a month. This was for a double room in a large shared house. Now, EVERY resort will have different rent levels. If you are living in New York City or London and moving elsewhere you will instantly think the rent is cheap as chips. However compare that to salary and instantly $125 a week in rent compared to $288 a week earnings suddenly sounds like a lot. But hey, the house down the road is charging $750 for a tiny single room! Ours is so much cheaper! We’ve got a huge house too and we can just about see mountains from our bedroom window! Bargain! (Honestly, a close friend paid $650 a month for a single bed room under the stairs WITH NO WINDOW).
8) A house party will become the norm
Living with 4 other 18 year olds you become accustomed to having people over. Sometimes we would get up and there would be a stranger asleep on the sofa. You know there were a few people watching tv when you went to bed, and you heard a few voices at 4am, but this face is alien. Oh well. Head to work and leave door unlocked. Rinse and repeat most nights. Some nights are just a few beers and the tv. Often it’s a birthday, bank holiday, a Sunday Funday or a Tuesday…
9) You’ll end up selling almost everything at the end
Oh, the things we spent our earnings on. Some was saved, most was spent on new bindings, boots, boards, goggles… beanies. Turns out you can’t really test boots and bindings till you’re on the hill and then there is no chance of returning them. When it’s time to leave you realise there’s no point keeping any of it so it gets sold. On kijiji, craigslist, trademe… whatever online site the 100’s of seasonaires are flogging their gear. People sold their bedsheets to those arriving for the summer. You’d be amazed how much second hand stuff sells for in remote mountain towns!
10) Your friendships will only last a few months – but be some of the strongest
We were lucky to arrive on a program which instantly had 90 members. These quickly became friends and filtered down to quite a few close friendships. As mentioned above, everyone is there with the same mindset and so unlike the friends you grew up with you form new bonds based on new life experiences. You meet people from all over the world. We’re lucky we built up a little family in Banff before we had to leave Canada. We still keep in constant touch and I know they will always be there for me.