In September 2019, four young seasonaires from Bournemouth embarked on the journey of a lifetime as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to their new home on the slopes of the Alberta Rockies. Work-holiday visas in hand, Sophie, Sam, Joe, and Ollie set themselves up in the town of Banff, Alberta, and secured jobs working in the local ski resort.
“We have our working visas but the primary reason we came out here was to ski,” explains Sophie, “we came to do two ski seasons but then also wanted to stay for the summers as well, do mountain biking and things like that.”
For young people, working a ‘ski-season’ in Europe or Canada is an increasingly popular way to spend a gap year. But this year, many resorts have closed early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Listen to what Sophie and Joe had to say about their experience seeing the ski resorts close:
Having travelled all the way to Canada, rented a house, and secured a 2 year-visa, travelling home wasn’t an option for these seasonaires.
“I didn’t really think about coming home, to be honest, I thought I’d just have to stick it out here,” says Sophie. “There was quite a lot of panic for the Australians, though. I think like half the town are Australian workers; and Australia said they were going to close their borders for a long time.”
” A lot of our friends, who are Australian, had to go home.” Joe chimes in.
“The Canadian government has been looking after us really well.” -Joe
Money was a real concern for a lot of seasonaires, but the Canadian government put several schemes in place to keep people afloat.
Among the support available was the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit or CERB that provides CA$2000 to anyone who lost their income as a result of the pandemic.
“I probably would have gone home if I hadn’t qualified for that benefit” says Sam.
Also of concern was living in such an isolated mountain town.
According to Sophie: “the hospital near here doesn’t have an Intensive Care Unit. The closest one is in Calgary, about an hour and a half away. So the general feeling among the locals was that if the virus gets in here, then we’re really gonna suffer.”
These concerns about the virus led the Mayor of Banff to advise local businesses to close and local residents to practice social distancing. The local mountain rescue team also asked people not to ski off-piste – any accidents could take up valuable ICU beds.
The mood among the seasonaires is that they’d rather be isolating in a remote mountain town in Canada than in the UK.
“I’m more worried about people at home. The numbers in the UK are horrific compared to here.” says Joe “I’d rather be in a mountain town, it’s a beautiful place to live and it’s safer.”
For more personal stories from the coronavirus crisis, check out this story on a graduating junior doctor.