Go to almost any snow resort in North America and you’re guaranteed to hear some foreign accents. Australia is usually in the lead, followed closely by other Commonwealth nations, New Zealand and Britain. It’s almost a rite of passage for young people from overseas to do a season in Canada. In fact, the snow sport industry would feel bland without the seasonal influx of foreign workers, all keen on living the dream in Canadian resorts.
One group that is giving Australia a run for its money, in terms of representation, is Denmark. For the past several years, Sun Peaks has welcomed a large contingent of Danish youth. These Danes make Sun Peaks their winter home as part of a program called Snowminds, co-founded by Christoffer Vorre and Ottar Hjollum in 2012. Both had been teaching skiing in Austria and decided to find a way to share their love of the mountains with other young people who were hungry for adventure.
While there are other gap-year programs operating throughout Western Canada, and abroad, Snowminds is fairly unique in that the graduates of the multi-week instructional program go on to become instructors with the Sun Peaks Snow Sport School. All of the program participants become certified through either the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance, or the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors.
I spoke with nineteen-year-old Nikolaj Brix who grew up just north of Copenhagen. Brix learned to ski in neighbouring Norway as a youngster. Most Danes travel to Norway, Sweden or the Alps for ski holidays. Denmark is a flat country, with only very small hills, and no real skiing to speak of. The fact that so many Danish kids are attracted to mountain sports is contrary to their environment, but there’s no doubt they are in love with skiing and snowboarding. The kids I’ve met over the years are some of the most dedicated skiers anywhere, they’ll often ride nearly every day of their trip and they never miss a powder day.
When I asked Brix what the most exciting part was about coming to Canada was, his reply was the opportunity to be on snow every day. He had been planning this trip for over a year and said it would be an opportunity for him to learn life skills, as well as ski skills. He said he was most nervous about having to buy groceries, pay rent and be responsible for organizing his life, so far from his family.
Another student, Lea Ajslev, from the small town of Fredensborg, was both excited and nervous about the chance to become a ski instructor and work with children. She said she was looking forward to seeing a child she had taught progress and find the same love of skiing that she had. She didn’t expect that she would be homesick, considering her parents and uncle have a trip to Sun Peaks planned for later in the winter.
Having an influx of Danish youth into the Sun Peaks community is an opportunity, both for the Danes and for community members. These kids bring a passion and enthusiasm that is tangible and contagious. It gives our other instructors, and our mountain guests, a chance to meet people from another country and culture.
My recommendation is that you listen closely the next time you find yourself on a chairlift with some strangers. One of my favourite questions is, “Where are you from?” I constantly find myself amazed by the answers I get, and better for having the opportunity to learn about someone else’s home. I hope you’ll do the same and enjoy our winter for what it is, a melting pot of likeminded people from all over the world.
In the end, us winter people have much more in common than that which divides us. The rest of the world should follow suit and take a winter off to chase the snow and discover what “living the dream” is all about.