Photo Credit: Contributed Natalia Jasrzab

People from ‘Down Under’ are taking over Big White Ski Resort and people from the hill couldn’t be happier.

Big White has a history with Aussies dating back 30 years.

Desmond Schumann and his company, Schumann Resorts, purchased Big White Ski Resort in 1985 and upgraded the mountain to the status it’s at today.

Schumann also owned Mount Hotham resort near Melbourne, Australia, having purchased in the early 1970s. In the mid '90s, Schumann sold Hotham to focus entirely on Big White.

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

Big White is still owned and operated by the same family today, with a third generation President and CEO.

I guess you could say, they have a soft spot for Australia.

Big White senior VP Michael J. Ballingall went over to Australia to be a ski instructor when Schumann started an exchange program between the two mountains the first year he owned both. Ballingall met his wife there the same year.

"I think the last time we counted, there was over 47 relationships that started at Big White or Mount Hotham that have ended up in marriages, with kids, whether they're living in Australia or they're living in Canada,” said Ballingall. “That's always a pretty interesting thing when people meet, and fall in love and have a life together.”

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

Despite the different owners now, they still place Canadian instructors at the mountain, something that helps them fill all their positions.

“We can't survive in the ski industry in Western Canada without Australians who are here on a two-year holiday visa,” he said. “There are just not enough Canadians who want to be the traditional 'ski bum' any more.

"When you need to find 1,200 people, and it's only for a five or six month contract, it's very hard to find that many Canadians.”

The hill just finished orientation for new employees this week, welcoming 600 Australians to work at the resort.

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

Natalia Jastrzab, communications manager from Big White Ski Resort, and an Australian herself, said the relationship between her home country and the mountain gets them many Australian guests as well, especially in January.

"Australians have the month off and that is when they just flock to the resort and absolutely take over,” she said. “We celebrate Australia Day in the resort and that's when we see a whole lot of Australians out on the mountain dressed up in Australian flags and eating Australian delicacies, such as Tim Tams and Vegemite, and skiing around with our Australian mascot who comes out for one day.”

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

Their mascot, Boomer the Kangaroo, even comes out on January 26th to celebrate Australia Day with visitors.

For those looking to stay a little longer, The International Experience Canada allows Australians to get a two-year working visa, which Jastrzab says is a straightforward process.

Jastrzab herself came to Kelowna in 2013 for a visit, and admits she was obsessed with the snow.

"The snow in Australia is nothing like what we get here. So I headed over for a couple of months and I just didn't want to leave,” she said.

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

She soon started working for the resort and hasn't left since. Now in her fourth season, Jastrzab is on her second visa.

"I absolutely love it,” she said. “I think the Okanagan is the best place in Canada to live and work and enjoy the lifestyle, and the work-life balance.

“It's just as incredible in the summer as in the winter.”

The benefits go both ways, according to Jastrzab, who said Australians bring a whole new atmosphere to Big White.

"Their enthusiasm really rubs off on all the visitors that come to see us," said Jastrzab. "When you walk up to the concierge desk, you have a really excited, helpful, friendly Australian who's there to help you out and we get a lot of feedback about that.”

Photo Credit: Contributed by Big White. Workers and visitors celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, 2015.

The mountain also tries to hire as many locals as possible, many of whom stay in the year-round positions.

"It tends to be that the locals don't go for the seasonal positions,” she said. “You're much more likely to get international workers looking for seasonal positions that last around six months.”

According to Ballingall, they have employees form a total of 17 different nations including New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Chile and Switzerland.

Photo Credit: Henry Suttor

"People from those countries that come to the resort feel very welcomed,” he said. “It also makes for a very good mix of staff and people in your resort who can exchange different cultures.”

Big White’s events supervisor Abby Hayes has been working at Big White for seven months.

With a mother who is Canadian, she easily scored a two-year working visa and is also eligible for citizenship.

Photo Credit: Abby Hayes - Learning to Snowboard

After meeting many Australians who had went overseas, most to work for ski resorts, she decided to take the plunge herself.

"They all had gotten a lot out of it and later found that working overseas has then helped them in the future,” Hayes said. “That was pretty much my biggest call to come over here.”

Hayes said she always wanted to try snowboarding, but never had the chance until she came to Canada.

"I had actually never even seen snow before I got to Big White,” she said. “I was really lucky last season. As we drove up, I saw like the white trees and everything and it blew my mind and I jumped out of the car and started doing snow angels.”

Photo Credit: Abby Hayes - My Birthday

A few snowboarding lessons later, now she can ride the mountain whenever she wants, as all employees are given a season pass.

Besides learning a new skill, Hayes also said the job has helped her decide what she wants to do later in life.

"(My bosses have) supported me so much,” she said. “It's a really good company to work for. It's more like a community, really.

“It's very family orientated. I love it.”

Photo Credit: Abby Hayes - Snowmobiling

While Kelowna is a little more snow-covered for part of the year, Hayes said there aren’t that many difference between here and home.

"I actually feel like Canadians are like our cousins. I think that's why a lot of Australians come over here because it honestly does still feel like home being here. And Canadians are lovely,” she said.

Hayes lives on a house on the mountain with nine other people.

"It's kind of like you have a family away from family. You have Christmas and Easter and everything over here with them. They're your friends for a day and your family after a week.”

Photo Credit: Abby Hayes - Dog Sledding

Henry Suttor, a newly-hired snow reporter at Big White, just moved to the mountain himself at the beginning of October.

After finishing university, he was working as an event manager for an agency in Sydney, but decided to go for a change of pace.

"It's fantastic," he said, describing the white covered mountain as "Absolutely beautiful."

He rated his own excitement as a 17 out of 10, as he waits for the mountain to open. It will be the first time he'll experience winter.

In the meantime, he’s enjoying life on the mountain.

"I just feel like I'm sitting in the middle of heaven.”

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