Today in Whistler, BC and Banff, Alberta, two of Canada's most picturesque, prominent ski towns, thousands of Australians have collectively taken to the mountains to snowboard, smoke weed, do coke, and drink excessively for Australia Day, their home country's national holiday. Some are waving big dark blue flags, others are wearing kangaroo or koala onesies while shotgunning beers, and still others are half-naked despite the fact that they're surrounded by snow. But Australia Day is not the only time of the year when Aussies are partying in towns like Whistler and Banff; in fact, it's just as common, if not more at times, to find them amongst Canadians and other tourists. But why the fuck are there are so many of them here in the first place?
"It's a big, big part of the culture out here; if you come to Whistler on Australia Day, it's pretty much bigger than Christmas," Amy, a 26-year-old Australian living in Whistler, told VICE.
The explanation for why can, at least in part, be chalked up to the Working Holiday Program that Commonwealth countries take part in. Though the specific regulations depend on your country of origin, if you currently want to go to Canada on this kind of visa, you must be between 18 and 35 years old to be eligible. If you get a visa, you're allowed to work temporarily in Canada for two years—and what you do in your free time while you're not working, well, that's up to you. Though the minimum wage is pretty damn high in Australia—over $17 [$12 USD]—many young Australians choose to temporarily leave their home country behind to go traveling or on working vacation as a rite of passage. When it comes to Canada specifically, the country provides them with something their home does not have much of—snow.
"I left a ridiculously high-paying job I loved, my friends—hell, I missed the birth of my best friend's first-born child by coming here—left family to move to the other side of the planet to play in Neverneverland and act immature and just work, party, and snowboard," Dean, a 23-year-old Aussie living in Whistler told VICE.
You'll meet the odd Aussie traveling elsewhere in Canada, though no destinations in the Great White North are quite as popular as places like Whistler or Banff. In fact, the proliferation of Australian people in Whistler is so intense that it has even earned the town the nickname of "Whistralia."
There are no official statistics recorded about what percentage of Whistler's population is Australian at any given time, but most inhabitants of the town who spoke to VICE estimate that currently it's roughly 40 to 50 percent.
Rafaella Avalon, a 24-year-old Canadian who works a retail job in Whistler, said she often has tourists come up to her, surprised they've found someone who isn't Australian.
"I've never gone out on Australia Day because it is absolutely fucking insane," she said. "You can just hear Australians going apeshit all over the place. Everyone gets naked; it's completely out of control." Avalon also said when it comes to some Aussie bros, she has experienced a lot of misogyny and lame attempts at picking her up when she's out partying, including one pickup line a la How I Met Your Mother that ended with an Aussie offering to "paint a pretty picture all over my cunt."
Is this the back cover of a Ween album or Whistralia? You decide. Photo courtesy of Dean
"When boys get out here, they get Peter Pan syndrome, where they feel like they don't have to grow up, and they feel like they're getting that experience because our colleges aren't as crazy as America or Canada," Amy, who works at a nightclub in Whistler, told VICE. "I've also heard it said that the girls feel like they've fallen down the rabbit hole like Alice because all of the sudden they're in this world that doesn't make any sense and is absolutely crazy... you survive off $10 a day, and you're living from paycheck to paycheck... and then the drugs."
While the Venn diagram intersection of snowboarding and drug culture has long been established (thanks, Ross Rebagliati), the situation is exacerbated in these towns by the fact that there is such a great number of young inhabitants. In both Whistler and Banff, according to Stats Canada, an overwhelming majority of each town's population is between 20 and 30 years old.
On top of all of that, when it comes to Australia, their drug scene is a lot different. According to the Aussies who spoke to VICE for this article, you'd pay about $250-$350 [$180-$250 USD] for a gram of cocaine in Australia. In Canada, that price drops significantly to $80, or $100 [$55, or $70 USD] if you're getting really good shit (or just getting ripped off). An MDMA capsule will run you $20-$30 [$14-$20 USD] in Australia, whereas in Canada it's common to get better quality ones for $10 [$7 USD] each, sometimes even less if you're buying a good amount. Then there's the fact that weed is completely illegal in Australia, but in BC, you can easily get access to premium-grade kush typical of the medical marijuana industry.
"When I came out here, it was really kind of a culture shock because I had never had anything to do with drugs before," Amy told VICE. "One of my first house parties I went to out here... someone asked me if I wanted coke, and I went, 'Yeah, I'd love a can!' and everyone laughed at me." Though she herself stays away from doing drugs, she said the majority of people she knows in town smoke weed, do coke, MDMA, mushrooms, and "everything under the sun."
Just another day on the mountain. Photo by Daniel O'Keefe
For Dean, he has taken advantage of how easy and cheap it is to get good drugs while in Canada. "There was a wedge-rafting rodeo afterparty, beyond ridiculous amounts of alcohol, and people dressed in [their] stupidest outfits, which ended in a three-day bender at my house," he told VICE. "There was also once a random Monday night out where myself, my now ex-girlfriend, and two buddies consumed way too many MDMA caps and couldn't work out how to open any doors." He also mentioned a night in Whistler when he consumed a bunch of Ritalin he had gotten from Central America, forgot how to walk, and had to be carried home by a bouncer.
A Canadian woman who goes by the name Kassa Nova and used to be a go-go dancer at a club in Whistler remembers having a lot of her own interactions with Aussies while at work. She says she's seen Aussies fall down stairs and out of taxis, and has also dealt with some of them trying to get on her dancing podium and pushing them off into the crowd.
"Aussies are fun, they know how to party—I'll give them that," she said. "We're all here to party. Aussies come here to party and bang a bunch of bitches, and then they leave."
She says she once went home with one after her shift and had a "confetti party," wherein they ran around her house shooting confetti guns at each other and blowing bubbles. After they were done, she says she kicked him out. "I don't think I could ever date one, personally I think they're kind of arrogant. I've come to almost not like the accent—it's annoying to me now when I hear it."
Since drugs and drinking, as well as skiing and snowboarding, are a big part of the culture, injuries can be a common occurrence.
Sam, a 27-year-old Aussie who came to Whistler on a working vacation with a group of his friends, says he's seen injuries happen every now and then. "Sometimes people go too hard or snowboard when they're drunk—that's happened to a couple friends of mine," he said. "Another friend of mine was just rolling around on a skateboard in a skate park, fell over, broke his arm, and had to go home. It's pretty common especially during the summer... you get lots of people riding around drunk on their bikes coming home from the pub."
Emergency physicians and nurses who work in Canadian ski towns say Australians make up a big part of their clientele.
"You can say they pay down a significant part of our mortgages," said one ski town doctor, who spoke to VICE on agreement of anonymity. "But we love them. They are awesome, hilarious, and usually super sweet. Mostly." The doctor added that nurses look far ahead in their schedule in hopes of avoiding working the night of Australia Day.
But for all the Aussies who come to Canada to party like Lemmy, there are also those who seem to be here for more wholesome reasons. For Olivia, a 25-year-old Aussie originally from a small town who has lived in both Banff and Whistler, she said her and her Aussie boyfriend "fell in love with mountains, which were just so different from home... we knew this was a great place for snowboarding and adventures."
Sam also mentioned how he loves waking up every morning and being able to hit the slopes, and was able to sum up why exactly the experience of going on working vacation in a Canadian ski town is worth it for him: "I get to snowboard, party all the time, meet great people. I'm going to be 60 years old one day, and I am going to look back and remember this as the best couple of years of my life."
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