Youth worker and Snow-Camp Founder Dan Charlish was 21 when he first got the chance to try snowboarding, and was instantly hooked. Over a five-year period, he juggled his day job with an initiative aimed at giving vulnerable London youths the chance to experience snowsports for the first time. Thanks to some early lottery funding Snow-Camp became his full-time occupation, and 11 years on has expanded its work to Cardiff, Glasgow and Yorkshire – supporting over 4000 young people to date. It also offers a viable opportunity for participants to go on to forge a career in the snowsports industry. Here’s the Snow-Camp story in Dan’s own words:
The idea came to me at a youth project in Stockwell, where the kids were playing a snowboarding computer game. I got chatting with them about snowsports, and whether they thought they’d get the chance to do it for real. The response from all of them was, “it’s never going to happen." I thought it’d be amazing if they got the chance to try it – at that stage I just wanted to get these kids out to the mountains to see what would happen. The environmental shift would also present a really good opportunity to do some youth work.
...After we came back we saw such a massive change in the kids that we thought ‘we could be on to something here.’
Our first trip saw us take thirteen kids to Les Deux Alpes on a shoestring budget. We taught them all to ski and snowboard, and monitored how snowsports affected them. It was really amazing to see the impact. Even after we came back we saw such a massive change in the kids that we thought ‘we could be on to something here.’
You can teach people a lot about themselves, and their potential, through snowsports. At the start, most young people might lack confidence and feel out of their comfort zone. But they progress, and on that first run where it finally comes together, when you see the massive smiles and hands in the air…. that never gets boring. You can say to them ‘at the start of the week you were throwing snowballs, shouting at me, saying you want to give up. But you persevered and now you’ve achieved this.’ The message is that if they apply the skills they’ve learnt in the mountains to other things in life, they’ll get the same levels of success. It’s a nice moment, when that penny drops.
As well as giving them the chance to snowboard, we also provide a pathway for young people to forge a career in the snowsports industry. Our first trips were a bit like opening Pandora’s Box – we’d get back and they’d say ‘now what?’ That drove us to start our Graduate, Excel and Apprenticeships programmes, providing a clear journey for young people to advance from beginner to instructor level. Determined participants can remain involved in the industry. We’ve got people who are working at Skiplex, Skiworld and The Hemel Hemstead Snow Centre, for example, who came through our programmes and now have their own qualifications and contacts in the industry that can help them carry on. It’s great when they update us about how they’re doing.
The ones who make it all the way to being instructors are the ideal people to motivate and inspire the next lot of beginners. It’s so much more effective. When the youth projects turn up to Hemel for the first time they can be apprehensive, but then they see that they’ll be taught by someone who is a lot like them. It inspires them when their instructor says “listen, a year ago I was in the position you are now."
Our Patrons and Ambassadors play a crucial role. They’re all very busy, but they use the opportunities they have to promote what we do, and that’s absolutely invaluable. Ed Leigh always does what he can from wherever he is, like sending us things to auction and promoting the work we do. Jenny Jones has been involved for four or five years, and I always said to her ‘If you win an Olympic medal, you need to come back and be one of our patrons’ – and she honoured that! She’s also going to help us launch in Bristol next year.
I always said to Jenny Jones ‘If you win an Olympic medal, you need to come back and be one of our patrons’ – and she honoured that!'
It’s easy to get involved and support Snow-Camp. We do loads of snowsports-based fundraising events, including the Alpine Challenge in Morzine and the UK Snow-Camp Rally that goes around all of our indoor slopes. We’ll also be launching our ‘Ski 2 The Moon’ fundraising app at the end of October, stay tuned for more details about that…