Big White For Beginners: 101
A season in Canada had long been on my list of things to do before I was ‘done’ travelling. Not long after I met my boyfriend, Brandon, we decided it was an absolute must. By November 2015 we were off. It was not without considerable amounts of planning, researching, stressing and saving that we reached Big White. Here is an attempt to make your planning process easier, and show you all the reasons why a Canadian ski season is an absolute must for anyone even slightly interesting in skiing.
Why Big White?
I get asked this question on a daily basis at work. ‘Why Big White?’, ‘Why are so many Australian’s in Big White?’, ‘Is there a program to help get you here?’… No, definitely not! Not that I’ve ever heard of anyway.
We have been skiing all over for a few years now and within the skiing community Big White is relatively well known. What drew us to Big White were rumours of awesome snow, fun terrain, ski-in ski-out accommodations, a sweet little village and easy access to and from Kelowna (only a 50-minute drive down the road). It is all of these reasons and more that had us back for a second season.
Applying for a Visa.
As always, I highly recommend that you carefully read the Canadian Immigration website to receive up-to-date information.
The Canadian Visa process has changed significantly since we attained our visas. Now Australian’s can only participate in the Working Holiday Program once before the age of 30. The Visa allows you an open work permit for a 24-month duration.
There are two stages to the process. The first stage requires you to create your profile and submit it into a ‘pool’ of entrants. From that pool, you would be selected at random to apply for the visa. In total, the visa will cost you around $250 AUD, plus a federal police check ($50 AUD).
I would highly recommend attaining your police check before starting the visa process to prevent running out of time to submit your documents (I’m speaking from experience here!). Here is the link for the Canadian Immigration Website to get you started: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/iec/index.asp?country=uk
This part will probably be the most frustrating part of the whole process. In our first season, we found accommodation relatively early and easily. However, during our second season we heard story after story of people having to leave because they had no place to live, or living in the Hostel for the majority of the season. Some workplaces will also not hire you without accommodation first. This is because they know how hard it can be and that you may end up ditching your job if you’re out of luck finding a place to live.
Big White also has no real ‘classifieds’ to help you find a bed. Most people post requests or offers on the ‘Official Big White Group’ on Facebook (pictured above). You can also search Kijiji or Castanet for Big White accommodations however most people find their accommodations through the ‘Official Big White Group’.
There are three main areas you will find accommodation advertised: The Village, Happy Valley or Snowpines.
The Village speaks for itself. Everything is in the Village: all the restaurants, bars, the Village Centre Mall (VCM), retail and rental shops. If you live in the Village, the furthest you would have to walk would be around 10 minutes to reach wherever you were going. It’s highly convenient! I have chosen to live in the Village for both seasons and not regretted the decision once.
Happy Valley lies at the bottom of ‘Lara’s Gondola’, and provides some beautiful accommodations. The downside to living in Happy Valley is that the gondola will stop running at 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on weekends, leaving you with a long walk up- or down-hill on a daily basis.
Snowpines is about a 20-minute walk over the resort to get to the Village. If you were looking to live in a party house, or be surrounded by constant parties, I would recommend living in Snowpines. There is almost always something happening over there. However, keep in mind, it’s a long, snowy walk to the Village on a daily basis.
I should mention there is a complimentary Village shuttle that makes numerous stops around all three areas, however it runs on a half-hourly basis and stops running at 11pm at night.
I would recommend getting straight on to finding accommodation in conjunction with applying for your visa. Start looking around June/July before the following season. You won’t regret it!
Finding a Job.
This is the easy part. Big White hires hundreds of staff on a yearly basis. They start to hire around August, however job postings will start to pop up on the Employment section of their website around late June or early July, so keep an eye out for that here https://www.bigwhite.com/employment-centre. There is also a ‘Job Fair’ each year, around the end of October for any left over positions (if you’re brave enough to wait until then).
You do get great perks for working for the mountain, like a free seasons pass and discounts at all the Big White owned retail and hospitality outlets. However, if you have bar tending or waitressing experience, I would highly recommend doing your own research of restaurants and bars on the hill and applying to them directly. While you won’t receive a free seasons pass, you will make excellent money earning tips (tipping 15-20% for good service, on top of your bill is customary in Canada!) and many establishments have other perks they can offer you as well.
Getting to Big White.
Big White is incredibly accessible and getting here is super easy. Air Canada fly direct from most major Australian or New Zealand cities to Vancouver and will provide a quick connection flight right into Kelowna. From Kelowna, it is a quick drive up the hill.
If you arrive pre-season, the Airport shuttle will not be running, but you can use the ‘Official Big White Group’ or ‘Big White Ride Share’ on Facebook to hitch a ride. Alternatively, you can drive from Vancouver (around 5 hour drive) or if you’re coming from the East you’re looking at least a 7-hour drive from Calgary.
Five More Insider Tips.
Just to make sure you’re completely covered and ready for your season in Big White!
- You will need to buy travel insurance for the duration of your stay in Canada. Some people have been denied visas, or only provided a visa for the duration of their travel insurance policy. Also make sure the policy you buy includes ski and snowboard cover. I can recommend iTrek travel insurance. They’re cheap and cover tonnes of adventure activities including ski and snowboard cover.
- When applying for your visa carefully read the terms and conditions for you entry. For example, just because you’ve attained the visa, does not guarantee your entry. You must have travel insurance for the duration of your stay, a return flight or enough money to purchase an onward flight. You also need $2500 CAD to support your time in Canada. I’ve never been asked to prove any of this on both entries to the country, however I know many people who have.
- Aim to arrive in Big White a week before official season opening day. It will allow you to get your bearings, meet your housemates and check out your workplace before you’re scheduled to start work. In many cases, your employer will ask you to arrive a few days before the mountain opens anyway for employment training. You also do not want to miss the pre-season staff sale. Big White will sell last seasons gear super cheap to help anyone needing new gear attain it, at a relatively low cost. You can also get awesome deals on new season retail. Be prepared to wait in line for a longggggg time though (bring snacks… seriously!)
- Come with as much savings as possible!! This is a big one. Even though you will be working straight away, hours are sparse and December’s rent comes around real quick. You’ll also be eating out a lot and partying with your new friends, so don’t leave yourself short. Big White eats money for breakfast if you’re not careful!
- Tipping! Tipping 15-20% for good service in Canada is customary. This can be tipping your waitress or bartender, your hairdresser, beautician or massage therapist, even your cab driver. Basically, anyone who provides you a service will expect you to tip him or her on top of the set amount. It can be hard to get used to, but it is the way of life. No matter if your server is Australian, Canadian or English, they’re all living the Canadian life and it’s important to pay them appropriately. By all means, if you receive terrible service, leave a reduced tip or don’t tip at all. It is by no means compulsory, but be sure to tell them why you aren’t tipping, so that they can learn for next time. If you’re not sure who, or what to tip, just ask! It might feel awkward at first, but your server would far rather you ask, than to leave nothing at all.
By now, I hope you’re feeling well equipped with insider knowledge of the ins and outs of Big White. It really is an awesome mountain and provides a great place to call home! Once you have everything mentioned here organised for your season, head over to Big White Season for Beginners – Part 2 to read about what to pack, things you will need to do once you arrive and what to expect from your season in Big White.