Aboard the Orientation Express: Unique program gets newcomers to explore Fraser Valley
I’m not what you’d call a social butterfly. Despite a budding career in journalism, a job which requires a myriad of cold calls and interactions with strangers, I’ve never been good at interjecting myself into a social group or striking up a conversation devoid of the day’s breaking news or the most recent Broncos meltdown.
So when the opportunity to break out of my comfort zone came in the form of the Orientation Express, a five-day event thrown by the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce meant to introduce newcomers to locals and their businesses, I jumped at the chance.
About 25 others and myself met at the Winter Park Visitors Center where we exchanged pleasantries and awkwardly awaited direction, checking nametags and looking for others we might know (my previous associates included our tour director Maria Chavez, who I’d worked with before, and a woman from my apartment complex).
But as the night kicked off in earnest I was pleased to see that my uncomfortable, gawky demeanor started to drift away, replaced by modest sense of exploration as we ventured into a handful of businesses I’d never visited.
In a way, it was like exposure therapy for a serial introvert, forced into a situation where small talk and graceless introductions moved to the forefront. But perhaps like most who share the unpleasant anxiety of new places and new things, and who brace themselves for the disillusionment of a proposed “fun night out,” I was met instead with a sense of excitement.
Squeezed together on a Lift bus to Adolf’s Tavern, conversation came naturally for a group of individuals with a common, careless sense of the night in front of us. A feeling of camaraderie even fell over the group as the night continued, with individuals purposefully reaching out to those outside their respective groups, cracking jokes and contemplating shared experiences over gelato samples at Charlie’s Frozen Treat Shop or margaritas at Pepe Osaka.
I had never been to Charlie’s before. Nor had I been to Pepe Osaka, Alpine Sun Ski & Sport, Rudi’s Deli, Idlewild Spirits, Local Experience, Epic Mountain Sports or the Viking Lodge. But in one night I was able to hit them all. The Orientation Express provides a wonderful opportunity for those new to the area to adventure past their go-to watering hole or favorite ski shop and see what else the Fraser Valley really has to offer. And I can honestly say that I’ll be returning to several stops on the tour in my free time.
So if you are new to the area, or have an itch to get to know the businesses in the valley and the kind people who own them, consider hopping aboard the Orientation Express. And if you’re someone like me that shutters at the idea of a night out with strangers, give it a shot.
It’s not so bad, I promise.
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