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Surviving the Shoulder Season [PIQUE]

Surviving the Shoulder Season [PIQUE]

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Published by tobias c. van Veen
van Veen, tobias c. 2012. "Surviving the Shoulder Season." PIQUE Newsmagazine 19.18, 03 May: 40–45.
van Veen, tobias c. 2012. "Surviving the Shoulder Season." PIQUE Newsmagazine 19.18, 03 May: 40–45.

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Published by: tobias c. van Veen on Feb 28, 2013
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40 | May 3, 2012 |
www.piquenewsmagazine.com
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www.piquenewsmagazine.com
| May 3, 2012 | 41
Feature
STORY
as we eye the locally-sourced, five-coursemenu. It is 2 p.m., the rain is pounding down outside, and the Village is damp andquiet. Inside Araxi, James and his crew arepreparing for yet another busy night serving mainly locals, many of whom are taking advantage of the 30th anniversary, $30menu. The price is right for the cash-starved.For the last fifteen years, Araxi’s hasbeen sourcing its ingredients locally, notesJames. “In ’97, the farmers were struggling.. . now, they’re bursting at the seams,” hesays, citing Pemberton growers North ArmFarms, Rootdown Organics, and Acrossthe Creek as “supplying 100 per cent of our salads” and other produce, to not only  Araxi but nearly all eateries in the Valley.I turn back to the menu. BC Albacore Tuna Tataki, says one dish. That soundsdelicious. And it’s basically six bucks. Yet while I and others enjoy Araxi’s finedining service — a quick glance aroundreveals at least a dozen locals recognizableby face, clad in the attire of a Canadiantuxedo — others struggle to make endsmeet during the off-season’s snailpace.
 The Hunger Games: provisions forprovisional labour
 Whatever our intrepid weather gurus say and they have promised much this season— chances are the merry month of May willbe wet and dreary down to the last drop.May is the heart of the shoulder season.Diehard parkrats and manic backcountry skiers take to the alpine, with corn snowand superhero slush enticing the rest of us when the sun fights its way through theovercast grey. The month of Taurus andGemini is when Whistler’s ski shops swapout their planks for bikes, storing away theiron and wax for chain lube and torque wrenches. The starsign of this bullishmonth gives way to the double-identity schizophrenia of late May, when sun onceagain promises to grab ahold of June by the nards and shake it loose into summer. The shoulder season is offside for the winter game, the big break between thetwo influxes of sports addicts. The transient snowkids and powderhounds, if they haven’t already left, now flee Whistler, leaving their tiny rentals and staff-housing encampmentsfor the incoming flood of rubber tireenthusiasts. Apartments abound. It’s alsoa time of stretching budgets to the limit.Many businesses offer off-season specials worth taking advantage of; for others, theshoulder season means loss of employment. The results are tangible: the Whistler FoodBank has seen an increase in visits from1,800 in 2010 to over 2,900 last year. TheFood Bank ended the year $22, 000 in thered, with most of the food budget spent in the first three months of the 2011 fiscal year, explains Lorna Van Straaten, executivedirector of Whistler Community Services. Though numbers have begun dropping inearly 2012, the Food Bank is calling for increased support from the community infood, money, and volunteers.“Since the [2008] recession hit, the FoodBank has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people accessing our services, says SaraJennings, Food Bank Coordinator. Whenbusinesses struggle, residents also struggleas there are less jobs to go around, andpeople’s hours are cut. The busiest periodsfor the Food Bank are the shoulder seasons,spring and fall as there is less work in theresort. However, for the first time in four  years, the numbers have started to go downat the Food Bank. This is most likely due tothe increase in business in Whistler this year. As businesses do better the food bank seesfewer people.”
Feeding the need—of the lowly-paid andprecarious labourer
 The shoulder season is a strange study incontrasts. While fine dining and off-seasondeals might be on the radar for some,others struggle to gulp down a regular meal. The struggles of the offseason mirror theincreasing gap between rich and poor in our society as a whole, which in 2011 hit a recordthirty-year high, according to a December report by the Organization for EconomicCo-operation and Development (OECD). According to Van Straaten, Whistler’s lowest-income families and those with addictionsand mental health issues are the long-termusers of the Food Bank. However, most usersneed the service only one to five times to get “through a short rough patch,” says Jennings. About half of the overall users are newcomersto Whistler, with the majority (67 per cent)being males between the ages of 20 to 29.Only about a quarter are unemployed, andseeking work; a third are underemployed,putting them in an ever-growing category of  what economists call “precarious labour.”“Transients tend to have the lowest paid jobs and have their hours cut first,”says Jennings. “However, we also do see alot of people coming to Whistler without the resources to meet their needs whilethey look for employment.” This of course raises larger questions: what level of “resources” — which is to say,cold hard cash — are now necessary for theski bum to weather a season in Whistler? Isit still feasible to depend upon lowest paid,transient labour as the frontline workforceat a world-class ski resort? Can Whistler expect transient workers to sink thousandsof dollars to live here, only to receiveminimum wage in a position fraught withprecarity — and possibly ending with a tripto the Food Bank?It is possible that Whistler is in for a labour crunch. In Fall 2011, the lack of low-paid labour was evident for localbusiness. Whistler’s trends echoed those of the province’s own findings, published inthe B.C Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020,a joint initiative between BC Stats and theMinistry of Finance (Pique Sept 1, 2011).Despite seeing fewer numbers in theearly quarter of 2012, most troubling isthat 25 per cent of food bank users havebeen in Whistler for three or more years,suggesting what might be a trend towardoverall precarity — meaning less jobsecurity for previously resilient positions—in Whistler’s seasonal economy. Thisis not surprising, given that Stats Canadasays that many eligible workers, especially  youth, are no longer seeking work due to alack of job growth, reflected in a fall of theoverall participation rate to 66.5 per cent in February, the lowest since 2002. Derek Holt, an economist with Scotia Capital,predicts that the rate of job creation in2012 will be half that of 2011, at 11,000 jobs per month across the country.How these greater, national trends willaffect the resort bubble of Whistler willperhaps be most acutely felt over the next few months, as the Food Bank and other  Whistler Community Support Services feelthe pressure of the offseason. We won’t really know, however, until the fall. If national trends play out here, then wemight see fewer users at the Food Bank not because businesses are doing better, but because there are fewer transient workerscoming to Whistler. These are the deeper concerns of the offseason.But for the psyche that is wrappedin Whistler’s long winter, May is a sighof relief. Huddled figures running frombar to bar become strangely familiar.
“The steelhead is from Lois Lake,the duck is from Yarrow farms,and the mushrooms are from Ponderosa,”says Araxi Chef James Walt,
 
42 | May 3, 2012 |
www.piquenewsmagazine.com
Friends from months past seep out of the woodwork like bloated worms onthe sidewalk. Everyone who has made it through the dark, cold months has grownlumpy in the waist, though lean in thelegs. Greetings are exchanged, summer plans made, and the great local traditionbegins of eating, drinking, and taking inall the attractions Whistler has to offer — at quietly reduced prices. Welcome toSurviving the Shoulder Season.
Step One: Admit You’re Bored
 With options dwindling for the adrenalinejunkies, boredom reigns. Traditionally,back before social media permeated every single waking (and sleeping) moment of the Valley’s denizens, local ski bums woulddevise new smokeable contraptions andthen proceed to watch all seven seasons of Star Trek: TNG and/or the Original Series,available for free on these near-obsoleteshiny disc things (known as “DVDs”) that are, incredibly, still available today at the Whistler Library. Indeed, show up withproof of local residence, and you will find yourself in possession of a neat and newLibrary Card, which you may utilize to your heart’s delight, partaking in the ancient socialist pastime of renting and returning free media. You can even take out tomes of  words that are printed on dead trees calledbooks. Just watch those fines — for unlikea download, you actually have to give it back. This dropping-off-thing works wellfor actually meeting people in the flesh —give it a go, and explore what it means to“get lost in the stacks.”But there are other things to do besideshole up and study the secondary charactersof Star Wars (remember Admiral Akbar?)so that you can trounce your friends at theGeorge Lucas edition of Trivial Pursuit…though, come to think of it, it’s not abad idea, and occasionally copies surfacedown at the Re-Use It Centre, conveniently located down in Function Junction’srecycle and garbage depot. This time of  year, the Centre is chock-full of end-of-season rejects,including the occasional neonBogner one-piece that willhave you perfectly attired for Gaper Day on Blackcomb, as well as hundreds of VHS tapes, which…. oh hell, nobody has a VHS player anymore.So let’s face it: you’re bored.
Step Two: Becoming-Tourist in Your Own Town
It’s time to take the strategy to what philosophers call theontological level: you need tochange your state of being tofight off the boredom. Luckily this overdeveloped Valley ispacked with alternative activities, many  with an ecotourism focus, and they’ve allbeen engineered to entertain you whatever the weather. Heck, the Bike Park opensMay 18th. But until then, options abound,from Cougar Mountain’s Wildplay Zoomziplines and Monkido courses—where you climb around above the groundlike a monkey through suspendedobstacle courses—to getting out on foot and exploring the melting snows of Garibaldi Park.No one has lived well in Whistler until they’ve stripped themselvesdown to their skivvies and flung themselves off a bridge with Whistler Bungee — an experience that I can proudly attest to as absolutely terrifying. Leaping headlong toward the cold river belowmakes an ideal first date for the newbie you’ve just picked up at the Longhorn.Or, if your date appears a tad more sedate(think Buffalo Bill’s), grab that proof of local coolness (i.e., you gotta live here) andclaim that 20 per cent discount at Ziptrek.Ziptrek is like some elvish fantasy for  you Lord of the Rings fans, or a slightly more perverse furry dream for those of you who dig Ewok battlescenes. Even getting tothe ziplines puts some perspective on thesize of the hemlocks and other Really Big  Trees in this coastal temperate rainforest—ecological concepts that I actually learnt thanks to the edutaining dialogue fromDan, one of two guides for the escapade.* With platforms and bridges suspendeda good fifty feet or more among lichen-draped canopies, the sheer strength of therainforest is as impressive as what you’reabout to do, which boils down to clipping  your corps(e) to a coiled steel zipline andhurtling through open air, wind whipping at your face, as you squeal with delight, theriver rushing below. A few adults appeared tied up in knotsof anxiety — from what I could tell, thanksto the facial recognition software on my iPhone that scans for signs of nervous tics,these aging boomers were entertaining nightmares of the entire assemblage
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