High Cascade Snowboard Camp, a snowboard institution and the summertime home of snowboarding on Mt. Hood's Palmer Glacier, has been on the receiving end of premature eulogies this past week with rumors swirling about an end to operations. We spoke with Kevin English, CEO of We Are Camp, the umbrella company for Windells and High Cascade, to set the record straight.
In short, High Cascade is not closing. English says, "We're having all of our youth campers stay down at the Academy campus, which is the Windells campus." He clarifies that the adult campers and teams will continue staying in Government Camp and that there are ongoing negotiations to work out a deal with Cascade Ski Camp, the iconic main High Cascade lodge, which would ideally operate as a hostel to house and feed riders on the camp access program.
This slow merger between the two camps has been ongoing. Windells was established in 1989 and High Cascade in 1990, both as snowboard camps. Windells’ off-hill facilities are based in Rhododendron, while High Cascade has been located further up the mountain in the town of Government Camp. In 2009, Windells began welcoming freeskiers to its camp alongside snowboarders, while High Cascade remained a snowboard-only camp.
A healthy rivalry between the two camps existed, so it was big news in 2014 when High Cascade and Windells joined forces to form a parent company called We Are Camp. English has been running that company since then, overseeing both camps. As a result of that merger, Windells transformed into a ski camp, while High Cascade continued on as a snowboard camp.
According to English, the campus change has been the plan since as far back as October 2016. This lodging change begins with the final camp session of the summer beginning on August 5, and is part of a long-term restructuring plan, which includes merging on-hill facilities next summer into one big park for High Cascade and Windells.
The two camps currently operate two completely separate on-hill facilities for freeskiers and snowboarders, which includes a full progression of features from beginner terrain to 22-foot Superpipes and 70-foot jumps. English maintains that financially it's just not possible to justify. "I'm determined that High Cascade and Windells will carry on, and that sometimes means you have to make some very tough decisions that hurt emotionally," said English, "but overall we want to ensure that we have a place each summer where snowboarders and skiers can continue to come."
These changes are in response to continued shrinking camper numbers. He cites a long-term trend over the past five years of a 40-percent reduction in camper numbers across both Windells and High Cascade.
We spoke at length about the possible causes of the decline of participation at the camps. English cited everything from the possible impact of the Woodward camps at Copper and Tahoe, which offer easier access in those locations, to larger societal issues like "scared parenting" resulting in a reluctance for parents to put their kids on a flight to Oregon, as well as sports specialization, which is having an effect on all youth sports as kids specialize in a sport much earlier than in the past, at the expense of participating in numerous sports.
It's easy to see why the snowboard community could be spooked by the facilities change at High Cascade — Whistler's Camp Of Champions abruptly closed at the start of summer, while overseas Austria's Superpark Dachstein, a mecca for the local and international freestyle scene, announced its closing this July due to glacial retreat.
As for High Cascade and Windells, although the two camps will now share an off-hill campus and on-hill facilities, English is adamant that both camps will retain their independent identity: "We've gotten along this far because of passion and singular focus,” he said. “While there is a lot of overlap between ski and snow, they are different."
Marketing Director Jason Arens will continue overseeing the Windells brand, while Jake Howell at High Cascade was recently promoted from Session Video Producer to Marketing Coordinator.
Shrinking camp participation numbers should be an eye opener for the whole industry. English believes the solution lies in figuring out how the industry can more effectively expose youth to skiing and snowboarding and create that love of snow. And it’s clear that finding the answer to that solution feels more urgent now than ever before.
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