Canadian Working Holiday – Guide to working a season in Whistler

Thinking about doing a working holiday in Canada? Always wanted to do a season in Whistler? Here are some of my tips I’ve learnt since being here. I’m sure there are many many more, so if you have any advice for me, please let me know.

Chilling on Rainbow Mountain

Where to Start

When I first decided I was going to do the Working Holiday in Canada, I had no idea where to start. There are so many resources online for moving and working in Australia, but very little in comparison for Canada. So, not knowing where to start or what to do, I decided I was going to go through an agency. Then I had the dilemma of which one to choose? Where do I start? The two main ones I looked into were, BUNAC and The Working Holiday Club. Eventually I decided to go with TWHC, mostly based on the fact they were a smaller company and therefore I felt that maybe I’d get a more personalised service.

TWHC were great, from the very beginning right through to getting to Canada. They took me through everything from how to apply for my visa, to interviews, questions I might get asked, and what documents to print for immigration. The whole process was really smooth, long but smooth.

One of the reasons I went through TWHC too, was to go work for a tourist/resort area. As mentioned before I’d never skied before coming to Canada, so that wasn’t the appeal for me. But the chance to try and do something new. Plus Whistler is a hub for international people who love to travel. This is a great town to meet people from all over the world. If you’re looking at doing a working holiday in Canada, you don’t have to come to Whistler or go through an agency. There are many other places to try out. Some people I work with actually started out in Banff, which is another very popular area for working holiday participants.

To find out more visit www.theworkingholidayclub.com they work with people from the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

What does it cost?

Getting here was not cheap, think about all the things you’ll need to buy/book before you get here and give yourself a budget. Every time I saved, I had to pay out for something.

Here’s a rundown of my costs

TWHC fee – £699

Visa fee – $230 (£143)

Insurance fee – £676 (for two years)

Flight – £300

Housing deposit – £320 approx

ski jackets and pants – £175 approx

toiletries to take with me – £50 approx

Hostel stay in Vancouver – 1 night free with TWHC + £35 for extra night

Greyhound & extra luggage fees – $19 + $30 for overweight luggage (£30)

These were all my fees before I arrived in Canada/Whistler.

Total cost: £2428

Yes, it’s a lot of money but over the space of the year it wasn’t too bad as it was all done gradually. Keep in mind that the Housing deposit you get back once you check out of staff housing, and part of it will also go towards your first months rent. Apart from the TWHC fee, all of these were essential things that I needed to purchase anyway. I have friends who didn’t go through any agency to get here and paid around 2k to live in a hostel until they were offered staff housing. In the long run I saved money by doing it this way, and had the reassurance that everything was done for when I got here.

Gas Town, Vancouver

How long does it take?

The process of going through this was very long, I didn’t mind this so much because it gave me a while to save more money, which I’m very glad I did! While saving to move to Whistler, I also did weekends away in Europe every so often, to cure my wanderlust. After you receive your work permit through CIC, you can enter the country at any time after the approval date. So I could have entered Canada way back in January or February last year.

Here is a rough timeline of the process I went through.

13th December 2015 – Sent in my application for the visa pool

16th December 2015 – The first round of invitations were sent out

22rd December 2015 – I received my invite to apply

I can’t remember the date that I actually sent in my application but I think it was around the 28th and I had to update some information after that

14th January 2016 – Application approved!

I then had a phone interview with TWHC around Jan time, to see which roles I’d be interested in.

July 26th 2016 – Had my interview with Whistler Blackcomb in London

12th August 2016 – Got offered the job!

6th November 2016 – Flew to Canada

24th November 2016 – the mountain opened and work started

For more information on whether you are eligible to apply for the IEC visit the CIC website here

What to bring with you

Before you start packing you should have a list of the important documents that you might need to bring over with you. I printed out everything just in case immigration officers would want to see them, but also when getting a second job you will also need these documents.

Passport – the most important! Don’t forget it

POE – point of entry letter. This is your work permit, you need this on arrival into the country in order to get your visa. It is valid for one year from the date of issue

Police certificate

Copy of your travel insurance policy

Before I came out to Whistler, I’d heard that everything here is expensive, and it really is. Expect alcohol (go figure). Everything in the supermarkets is bumped up in price. $15 for cheese. Yup.

So with this in mind, and wanting to save as much money as I could, I decided to stock up. Throughout the year I would buy extra toiletries and just put them away in my “Canada stash”. This way I wouldn’t feel like I was spending as much as buying it all in one. Maybe I went a little overboard with it, but the upside is that I’ve had to buy very little while being here. The main thing I’ve had to buy is shampoo.

Here’s what I brought out with me (no wonder I was so overweight)

  • shampoo x 4
  • conditioners x 3
  • face washes x 2
  • face exfoliator x 1
  • packs of razors x 4
  • toothpastes x 2
  • toothbrushes x 2
  • cough syrups x 2
  • sore throat lozenges x 1
  • packs of paracetamol x 2
  • packs of tampons and pads x 2
  • shower gels x 2
  • deodorants x 4
  • bottle of perfume x 1
  • body spray x 1
  • pair of ear plugs x 1
  • shower loufer x 1
  • bottle of micellar water x 1
  • pack of micellar water face wipes x 1
  • pack of plasters/band-aids x 1
  • face moisturisers x 2
  • pack of cotton buds x 1
  • pack of cotton pads x 1
  • makeup bags – too much to detail but this was very little makeup for me.
  • hair dryer x 1
  • hair straightener x 1
  • 2 hairbrushes – 1 round, 1 flat
  • Snowboard or skiis!! If you have your own equipment already then bring it. You can always opt to buy out here but it might not be cheaper if you want to buy brand new. Many people don’t ski or snowboard before they arrive so opt for second hand while they’re still learning.

I’ve been here just over 3 months now and have only had to restock on shampoo which is awesome. Looking at this list I brought out so much stuff, but it did and has saved me so much money not having to go to the drugs stores here every time I need something. I’ll buy the odd thing here and there when I run out but generally if I’m near a dollar store I’ll stock up on extras anyway so it’s there for when I need it.

To give you an idea of how expensive the prices in Whistler are, for a small bottle of Tresemme is $4.99 and in the dollar store it’s $3 for a bottle twice the size. Yes that is my comparison, not rent, not food but shampoo.

I love you Dollar Store

Arriving in Vancouver

When arriving in Vancouver, you’ll probably spend a couple of days doing paperwork. In your first few days in the country you’ll want to get your SIN number, this can actually be done in Toronto right after getting your visa. If you’re connecting in Toronto like I did, I would recommend doing this as it will free up some of your time in Vancouver, meaning you can explore the city! Just remember that the offices that process the SIN numbers are only open on week days not weekends. I arrived on the Saturday so wasn’t able to get mine until the Monday. Just be conscious of this when booking flights and hostel nights.

The second thing you’ll want to do is get a bank account. Without this Whistler BlackComb can’t pay you. You can do this in Whistler if you want to, but it’s so much easier to just do on the same day as your SIN. When you arrive at Base II to sign in they’ll ask you for all these details including branch/transit number of your bank, so make sure you have this ready. Setting up a bank account was an easy process. Because I went through TWHC the particular branch I went to gave me zero fees for the first year (yes, they charge for bank accounts in North America!) and set me up with a savings account (which I’m getting a lot of use of) and a low limit credit card. I’m very happy to say that I’ve not had to use my credit card yet!

The last thing you might want to think about getting is a phone plan. I use my phone a lot. and I also knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with having to rely on wifi all the time. And I can FaceTime my family whenever I like. Many people don’t get phone plans and end up saving quite a bit of money because of it. But this does mean that you’ll have to rely on wifi all the time. Luckily almost everywhere in Whistler has wifi.

Visiting Nanaimo last month

Arriving in Whistler

Depending on whether you’re new to skiing/snowboarding or have been doing it for years, you might want to think about buying your gear over here. You might already have a board you love back home for example, it might be cheaper just to bring it with you, rather than buying a new one over here. If you intend to travel straight after doing the season here and aren’t returning/going home, you might want to think about picking up something here that you can re-sell.

If like me, you’ve never skied or snowboarded and are looking to do a season in Whistler, you have several options available for equipment. You can chance it and buy in Vancouver before making your way up to Whistler – I didn’t want to do this because I have no idea what I’m buying and I wanted to actually try it out before committing.

Buying ski/snowboard gear

  • Buy new with your brand new WB discount! – Not recommended by a lot of people just because it’s so expensive, especially for ski gear to purchase new. For example, my roommate bought new ski boots for around £700. JUST the boots! She works for snow school teaching lessons, so needs a good pair and it’s probably a good investment for her. But for me, I couldn’t justify spending an insane amount just for boots.
  • Buy second hand/used – This is probably the best option, especially for newbies (and possibly for experienced riders too) simply because everyone is always coming and going from Whistler. They come for the season, buy their equipment and then sell it once they leave. There are many Facebook groups selling boards/skis/boots/clothing so definitely check this out before anything else as you might find exactly what you’re looking for in a good condition for a much cheaper price.
  • WB clearance centre – this is in Squamish, about a 40 minute drive south approximately. But you’ll find that you’ll make at least one visit here, whether you have a friend that has a car or someone has posted a ride share there on one of the Facebook groups. Whistler Blackcomb has a clearance store in Squamish where you can buy all sorts for a discounted price, brand new!
  • The re-use it centre – This is located in Function Junction, I’ve never been here as of yet because I’ve heard it’s very hit and miss. Everything here is second hand/used but you can have days where lots of good stuff comes in or lots of bad stuff does. On the up side, this isn’t a 40 minute ride away, and you can get here by bus which takes approx 15/20 minutes.
  • Ex-rentals – this might be the option I’ll go for, simply because other people I know have done this and gotten good deals out of it. Nearly every shop in Whistler rents skis/snowboards and sometimes they’ll sell off their ex-rentals for a cheap price. Which isn’t too bad as sometimes they have skis that are still in good condition.
  • Staff sales – Every so often certain stores which have a staff sale, where all WB staff can take advantage of a bigger discount. Again, if you want to buy new this is a good option.
  • Renting – this is what I’ve been doing up to now. This is something I would only recommend once or twice. It’s going to burn a hole in your pocket. Even after the staff discount, this works out really pricey. The price does drop by about half after 11am but if you rent overtime you want to ride, you’ll have very few funds left.

Clothing

I have yet to purchase any skis – yes I know, it’s mid February already! I do, however have my helmet and goggles, and gloves. My roommate gets a pro discount at both Smith and Burton and was kind enough to let me use it. This worked out incredibly affordable.

I also managed to buy 2 ski coats and 1 pair of ski pants before arriving. I am so glad I did this because I saved so much money. My two coats are from Billabong and were originally £180 each. I bought the first one for £90 in the sales back in February last year and the second at an outlet for £50. My ski pants were from T K Maxx, for around £35/£40 approx.

Finding Jobs & Housing

I have no experience with finding housing, as this was all set up for me before I arrived. But I do know people who have been on the waiting list for staff housing for while, as people that have lived on the campsite as housing here is just so expensive. Finding housing is not a problem. Finding affordable housing however, is a huge problem! Most people don’t want to travel in, but obviously the further out you go the cheaper it’s going to be. Try to sort out your housing situation at the start of the season, or even before. And make sure you have enough $$ saved for all the deposits etc. The nice thing about Whistler Blackcomb staff housing is that the rent will come straight out of your paycheck, so you hardly notice it. All the money you get paid is then yours to spend (wisely)

Finding jobs on the other hand… is relatively easy. Everywhere is always looking. All the time. As people come and go so often here, there are always vacancies. I just started my new job at the Four Seasons, somewhere I never thought I’d be working. And the hiring process took one week and was very stress-free.

Apres at the GLC

What are the perks of working for Whistler Blackcomb?

Season Pass

You get a season pass! Probably one of the biggest perks for people who are keen snowboarders and skiers. Ski resorts are expensive enough so having this for the entire season is great.

Staff housing

Probably the biggest perk. Rent in Whistler is ridiculous. I’ve heard stories of people who pay $1000 just to sleep in a room with bunk beds and 4 people. Staff housing isn’t great but it’s probably your cheapest option and the Glacier complex is on the side of Backcomb mountain. Not going to lie, it’s awesome saying I live on a mountain. And with that I get to take a Gondola to work.

Discounts

Whistler Blackcomb owns most stores here, like the North Face, Can-Ski, Salamon etc. So it’s a great perk if you want to buy brand new equipment. Some people don’t think the discounts are that great but I managed to get 25% off a pair of sorel boots which I practically live in from the Can-ski store, and it’s better than nothing!

Free skiing and snowboarding lessons

This is a great perk for people like me who have never skied or snowboarded in their life. I can now change that and say I have skied! And I loved it. My instructors were fantastic, and very relaxed and patient. I’m happy to say that by the end of the day I was skiing relatively well and successfully dodging all the fallen over snowboarders. I still have yet to try out snowboarding but it’s going to happen. The season is not over yet.

The cons of working for Whistler Blackcomb?

Hourly Wage

The pay isn’t great. Since finding a second job I’ve come to realise that the biggest employer in this town is also the one that pays the least. Almost everyone I work with has a second job and they all pay more. A lot of places here do also offer housing, for example, the Fairmont Chateau and the Four Seasons but just like WB housing there’s not guarantee that you’ll get in there. Also they don’t offer the season pass or free lessons, which some people aren’t overly bothered about. You can always get a spirit pass instead.

Start Dates

They don’t give you an accurate start date. My start date was supposedly November 9th. But the mountain opened the 23rd November and that’s when we officially started work. So two weeks after they’d told us we’d start work. The two weeks previous were for training, most of which we did;t get paid for and was approx 18 hours total. I couldn’t afford my first two weeks rent due to this and the money you spend during this time is ridiculous.

Visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com for more info on the resort

Merlins Apres

Have fun!

The most important thing to remember when moving to a new country, whether it be Canada or elsewhere is to have fun! Whistler is a popular destination all year round. Some people only come for the winter season then go home. Others stay for the whole two years of their visa. I’ll be staying until July, and I’m excited to see what the summer brings! Waterfalls and hot springs? Yes please!

Have you ever thought of venturing over to Canada to do a working holiday?