Freestyle Camps are big business these days, and as the Camp Catch-up section in our forthcoming issue shows, there are more people than ever out there getting involved, both in running camps and attending them. But what are these camps actually like? What can you expect from them? And what will they really teach you? Well one reader, Kaz Willmer, recently sent us this account of her week at the Animal Camp in Austria, offering some interesting insights into the whole scene. So if you're thinking of camping it up this season, read on!
They say that if you can inspire just one person in life to do something new then you’ve done something great. Well, I had three inspirers in just one week, and there’s no doubt their inspiration will stay with me for the rest of my riding days. OK, that may sounds cheesy, but I don’t know how else to credit Johno Verity, Dom Harington and Steve Addicott - the three pro riders on the week-long Animal Snow Camp in Nassfeld, Austria.
The Animal Snow Camps bring a group of like-minded riders together, who all have one thing in mind - progression. Whether it’s to pull off a 180, a backflip, or successfully jump off a cliff, everyone has something they want to improve in their riding, and the camps give you that opportunity to progress in your own personal way.
I’ve never had enough praise for Steve Addicott as his technical training is on another level. He starts from the basics, making them so easy they become natural when building up to the more complicated tricks. For those who are new to freestyle he starts from scratch, and for those who’ve been before, he shows slightly different ways of doing things to make you better every time. Watching Steve on the slopes, he’s like a cat, landing on his feet every time - whether in park or bouncing off natural features.
As one of the UK’s top halfpipe riders, Dom Harington is always an incredible rider to not only learn from, but also to watch ride. I admit to not being an easy person to teach, but Dom was always ready to give me that bit of extra encouragement to land the tricks. And when anyone nailed something, he genuinely shared their excitement, which was a really special feeling. But it was Dom who really inspired me to try something new - the half pipe.
The pipe has been like a forbidden oracle for me, having watched Shaun White easily double-cork-1080 the Cardrona pipe last year, but it’s not something I’d ever thought to try. After just the first attempt under guidance from Dom, I was addicted - not just a small addiction, but as though my brain had discovered a whole new side to riding. Each attempt brought a bit more confidence, speed, height and eventually the 180-pops, as well as another adrenaline injection to try again. Although I struggled with the ‘dark side’ of the pipe, I found myself back in the chalet practicing the riding positions Dom had taught me, and unconsciously daydreaming of the pipe again.
But if that wasn’t enough, my final inspiration came from Johno Verity - a rider I’ve always looked up to, but been too afraid to ride with on previous camps as I never felt good enough. Maybe it was because he added ‘…of death’ to the end of every feature he wanted us to tackle, or whether it was his love of publicly singing Journey‘s 'Don't Stop Believing', but either way my fears were quickly reassured, and I cannot give enough thanks to Johno for being so supportive and giving me one of my most rewarding riding experiences.
He quickly read my nervousness and gave me some opening words which stuck with me the rest of the week; that 90% of snowboarding is in the brain, and that he has never told anyone to do anything he didn‘t believe they could do. It wasn’t long before my confidence was building, and he had me jumping off unimaginable rocks, dancing through the trees, and discovering untouched terrain. I’ve always loved Steve’s technical training, but this was my biggest personal challenge - to tackle my lack of confidence, while putting into practice the trick tips Steve had taught me in the past.
On day two, Johno spotted some fresh powder for me and another camper to hit the other side of a vertical ice ridge. However half-way along the narrow ridge climb, I managed to slip, sliding down the wall of ice and very narrowly missing a high-speed tree collision. It was halfway through the following day when Johno told me it was time to face my demons, and that I could make it across the ice wall.
The word ‘demons’ curiously brought black clouds across the blue sky, and my snow-grazed back burned harder than Harry Potter’s scar. But I believed Johno, and he took me (almost) by hand, one foot in front of the other across the ridge, beyond the ice-avalanche I’d caused the previous day, to a snow paradise of sunshine and powder. Whether it was the terrain itself, the untouched powder, or the fact I’d made it across the ridge I feared, it was one of the best rides of the week, and that I can‘t thank Johno enough for.
The three of us were joined by Dom and soon found ourselves in the midst of an indescribable terrain - starting off like the cratered white surface of the moon, and later turning into what we later called Mario Land - a never-ending stretch of untouched terrain which looked like a field of giant white mushrooms to either jib, ride between or jump off. It was one of my most challenging rides, particularly with the very narrow forest path out at the end, just as my tired legs had turned to jelly. But what made it most exciting was watching Dom and Johno discovering this terrain for the first time themselves.
Watching them get excited about possible cliff drops, natural hips, new tricks, different lines through shrooms, or scope out new features was a lesson in itself, let alone watching them push themselves on the big features while they’d guide us towards the best smaller features. It’s not every day you have two pro riders supporting you through such unique terrain, and it really gave me the knowledge that there’s always so much more mountain to explore - and that I should believe in my riding more.
I owed them all a beer at a well-deserved apres-ski - something Austria is always famed for and Nassfeld didn‘t disappoint. We may have been listening to strange happy-hardcore remixes of Kumbaya, but sitting with a beer on a sunny deck after a hard day's shred is always a good feeling. It was then that Johno reassured me that as pro riders, they’re not superhuman - they’re just like the rest of us who have built up to where they are now. Dom agreed and left me with a thought which stuck with me to this day: “Kaz, you’ve ridden that pipe for only a morning and look how much you’ve achieved. Now imagine how much more you will achieve when you ride it fifty times, one hundred times, or more."
It made me realise that camps like this are a must-have experience for all riders. I’ve always enjoyed just cruising the mountain, and whether you’re more a freestyler or free rider, as long as you’re having fun then that’s what matters. But this camp proved to me that with a bit of advice, pushing your limits and breaking out of your comfort zone, there’s so much more out there which will make your time on the mountain more enjoyable.