Camp Woodward is helping propel the next generation of pro-circuit and recreational action and snowsports enthusiasts to new levels of performance.
By Jahla Seppanen
From free climbing and surfing, to ultra-running, skating, freeskiing and more, a steady increase in extremism has propelled action sports as athletes complete new challenges that shock preconceptions of what is humanly possible.
Look no further than Scott Jurek breaking the record for his endurance run on the Appalachian Trail; Chris Sharma climbing the giant Redwoods in California; or Morgan Rose (aka Coonman) landing the biggest drop ever attempted at Mount Baker.
What enables these athletes to do the impossible is a mix of training and practice, along with a large dose of calculated risk. It is easy to forget, extreme users were once their recreational counterparts. With the rise of improved athleticism for both pro and seasonal users, via progressive programs like Camp Woodward, pretty soon the mark will be raised and the backflip won’t hold its exclusive merit on the mountain.
The Secret Is Step-by-Step Progressions
A look into the facilities and training programs at Camp Woodward at Copper Mountain, CO, allows a glimpse into the “extreme” future ski, snow, skateboard, BMX, mountain bike and scooter sports will potential take.
Its summer camp – comprised of youth enthusiasts of all skill levels – that takes place over weeklong sessions where campers train from morning to night, honing the skills that shape prospective pro athletes. “This is a kids summer camp built for extreme athletes,” said Camp Woodward at Copper Mountain GM Morrison Hsieh.
These campers see training more as fun, with Snow and Pavilion Terrain Park sessions, Barn sessions and village activities from rock climbing, paddle boating and SUP. Other Woodward locations, like the original camp in Woodward, PA, Woodward Tahoe and Woodward West in Tehachapi, CA, also offer fun outdoor activities for attendees, although at its origin Camp Woodward was exclusive to pro athlete and Olympian training.
Created in the 1970’s, Camp Woodward began as a gymnastics training facility. Hsieh explained, it used to be that camps and training facilties like Camp Woodward were reserved for already sponsored and established action sports athletes as venues to train for global sporting events like the Olympics.
In fact, Camp Woodward at Copper was named 2013 Best of Denver: Best Place to train for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Now, the once exclusive opportunity to master the backflip is open to all recreational users via first-class, custom built training centers like Camp Woodward.
The facilities are sponsored by leading ski, snow, bike and board brands, like Burton Snowboards, providing cutting edge technology exclusive to Woodward, to maximize the Woodward Barn’s progressive Skatelite jumps to foam pits.
It is here, at The Barn, that campers practice “progressions” and the art of safely landing nerve-wracking jumps. “When kids go through the progressive process, they feel a great sense of accomplishment and build self confidence,” said Hsieh.
By progressions Hsieh means the design of the Camp Woodward facilities and step-by-step instruction allows campers to progress through stages of practice in order to land the trick, first-try, on the mountain. “You’re going for the trick knowing you have all the practice and skill under your belt to land it…although sometimes you get hurt, you have confidence and it is less of a guessing game.”
Campers are also visited by action sports professionals like JP Walker, “The Don” – pro snowboarder from Salt Lake City, UT, who helped revive the jib movement. Pro and sponsored riders come to participate alongside Woodward campers to encourage and inspire. They are also welcome to use the facilities for training purposes.
Hsieh himself learned his first extreme jumps at the age of 30, using Camp Woodward’s progressions. “It’s the best feeling in the world. Recreational users assume it’s impossible, but now there’s an engine to learn that,” he said during summer camp with SGB editors. “Overall, this increases activity and sets new and impressive limits for users and the industry.”
Benefits of Going Extreme
But is it a good thing that 11-year-olds are doing backside shiftys, wildcats and supermans? Should users, parents and the industry at large look forward to extreme sports becoming more intense? The answer is a booming yes.
Eric Brymer, a psychologist who has spent most of his career exploring the motives and affects behind action sports – or sports that are typically considered dangerous – found that although associated with risk-taking and daredevil personalities, participating in extreme sports is good for your health. His 2005 study concluded, “The implication of these findings is that the young, male, thrill-seeking, adrenaline junky stereotype is exposed as an over simplification.” Years later, Brymer’s 2013 study looked at the correlation between experiencing and understanding fear, as produced from extreme pursuits, and the advent of self-transformation. The result was the “phenomenological understanding” of anxiety proved to manifest itself in meaningful and constructive ways.
In another study performed last year, Brymer found that increased connection with nature resulted in lower levels of anxiety. This study comes after a similar one performed in 2010 on “The Role of Nature-Based Experiences in the Development of Maintenance and Wellness.”
Based off these studies, the increase in extremist action sports among next generation youth, like those participating in outdoor sport camps like Camp Woodward, will yield a healthier and happier crop of pros and skilled recreational users.
Furthermore, progressive training makes the benefits of extreme athletics attainable for any skill-level user at any age. You don’t have to be an 11-year-old at summer camp. “This year we had a 55-year-old man do his first backflip on the mountain,” said Hsieh.
A Global Push for Active Fun
Breaking this year, Camp Woodward will partner with All Inclusive Collection, a brand seeking to reinvent the all-inclusive resort experience, launching two Hard Rock resorts with built-in Woodward features.
Both will debut in 2016 at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana.
The goal of this collaboration was to redefine the terms of the family “vacation”. Guests will be able to try many of the sports offered at Camp Woodward, in decked-out facilities that include over 20,000 square feet of new equipment and Skateboarding/BMX parks, tumbling floors and foam pits, second floor viewing promenades where families can watch, a DJ booth and other tricked-out additions.
“We’re trying to be the most progressive entity out there,” said Hsieh about the partnership with Hardrock.
Gary Ream, founder and president, Camp Woodward, said, “Paring The Woodward Experience with the premier all-inclusive resort destinations is an awesome opportunity.”
The Woodward/Hard Rock model may also prove to be a prediction for the future, in the area of vacationing – where families forego heavy dining and lazy sunbathing for a Gatorade and hours on the trampoline (USA Today stated one- hour jumping on the tramp burns around 1,000 calories).
The push for expansion from their training camps to vacation resorts seems to be inspired by Camp Woodward’s high-octave aesthetic, which matches the electricity of the Hard Rock brand, a motivation to reach into family markets where customers already exist but need more or better offerings for youth members, and an overall goal to cultivate the active lifestyle.
“Our programs really do help the next generation fall in love with the outdoors,” said Hsieh, as he discussed the mounting issue of indoor videogame recreation overshadowing active/outdoor sports and play.
Park Rats Rule
Woodward and its campers pride themselves on being “park rats,” as one Cooper Mountain skater defined it, and this self-proclamation stays true even as the brand expands its corporate reach.
The lasting impression at Camp Woodward at Copper Mountain, one of four Woodward camps across the U.S., appears to be one of epic times, don’t-quit attitudes, supportive staff and excited campers. And its progressions program seems to be working. One look at the skill level of most of Woodward campers (we’re talking 10- to 13-year-olds) would make the average recreational boarder shy away with embarrassment.
However, a sense of pride and awe is more accurate a response to seeing these young boys and girls rock the jumps with a big, drooling grin on their faces.
It may be that these campers become the next ski or snowboard star, but what’s more important is their excitement about being active is contagious and ever growing. This joy is the fuel that will hopefully turn the tide away from inactivity to an outdoor industry that just won’t quit. Camps like Woodward have the potential to expand the industry to encompass more customers and devoted enthusiasts, while raising the level of performance achievable – and that is an exciting future to look forward to.