A Southern California favorite, Bear Mountain Resort is positioned several hours away from sunny San Diego and Los Angeles, making it easy to get to for a weekend, or just for the day. The resort, which has always offered youth and adult beginner camps, launched a new program this season in the hopes of taking riding--and participation--to the next level.
“We’ve done camps with youngsters for years, but for the last few years we’ve been trying to develop a camp in a new format,” says Bear Mountain Snowsports Trainer Artie Castro, who also works as an American Association of Snowboard Instructors certification examiner and USSA/USASA Level 200 Coach.
This season, Bear has launched a freestyle camp, building on the snowboard lesson model and expanding the range of skill levels and age groups it has attracted in the past, says Castro. Those attending the freestyle day camp received a lift ticket and five hours of coaching, which offered a video analysis for campers from their individual coaches who were all equipped with GoPro video cameras throughout the sessions. “It’s had such a great response,” says Castro. “Coaches would video in the morning, come back in and load the footage onto the computer to do a video analysis, and then go back out in the afternoon and work on some of those items that came up.”
Because the program was received with such enthusiasm this season, Castro and the crew plan to build on it for next year, adding new elements and also creating easier transitions from youth lessons to camp involvement. We talked with Castro recently to find out why and how Bear is investing in innovating its camp offerings as a way to foster participation on the hill.
Why do you think it is important for resorts to have this type of program?
The camp serves up park etiquette, camaraderie, technique and even a bit of healthy competition.
What’s your overall take on youth participation in the sport since you’ve been doing this-have you seen an increase, decrease, or has it remained the same?
The trend has been that once a youth rider has learned to turn the need or lack of participation in lessons has been significant. These riders will explore the parks on their own and in most cases their skill level is not appropriate for that level of riding. Youth participation I would say has remained the same.
What we noticed is that kids or even adults they’ll take a lesson and once they get to certain level, and not necessarily and advanced level, that development was stopping. We developed this freestyle camp and started seeing a ton of different levels out on the hill. When we group campers, we don’t mind if there are two or three participants to a coach but we want to make sure to assign it correctly according to skill level and what the campers want to focus on.
Have you seen an increase in participants this season around the freestyle camp?
In years past, we would typically send out a max of two groups of five per weekend, but now we are up to six or seven groups. The camps started in December and we’ve offered them every weekend except for this last weekend (because of conditions), so that’s about twelve weekends this season, and on average we had three groups out on the hill.
What do you think are the biggest factors that influence kids to get on a snowboard and how do these camps help encourage and foster that?
The biggest influence is the fun factor coupled with the thrill and excitement. Camps are a radical departure from traditional lessons in that they are coached with a teaching style of guided discovery and problem solving techniques. Kids are with the same coach all day which helps them improve faster and forges friendships amoung young riders. Packs of six roll through the parks for new adventures based on each groups common interests.
Do you use any other resort programs as a model? Which other mountains besides Bear do you think have a good youth camp program and why?
High Cascade Snowboard camp is currently doing an outstanding job. They have been in operation for several seasons and continue to fine tune their program. They have instructors who become coaches through their program. What we’ve taken from High Cascade as a model at Bear is we ran special coaching certification sessions for our instructors, because we wanted to make sure we weren’t just giving lessons but actually coaching. We had a tryout for our instructors--out of 50 or 60 instructors, about 30 came out to be coaches and we only took six of them. We wanted to make sure they were at a quality level-- that they could rip and that they could also coach.
Does Bear partner with brands for sponsorship opportunities?
All coaches have different uniforms to set them apart from the instructors. Analog donated jackets and pants, so all the coaches are uniform in black. We have some coaches sponsored by Quiksilver and other snowboarding companies, and Signal Snowboards supplied all our freestyle coaches boards from their lineup. Next year we hope to work with Bern helmets, as it’s mandatory that all coaches wear a helmet.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in retaining youth to the sport and in what specific ways do you think camps like these can overcome that challenge?
Price is definitely a concern and so I wanted to make sure it was affordable. Its a reason why most don’t get invovled, or so kids give it a try and don’t return. I think making the camp priced reasonably at $138, and all the coaching you get throughout the day, it is solid. That definitely makes it more accessible.
I think we also need to create adventure. Youth is about excitement and fun. So it’s important to create a social vibe on the snow that is challenging, fun, and exciting, but at the same time is educational for the safety and proper use of resort terrain parks.
This first season of Freestyle Camp at Bear Mountain has been an exciting one for us as coaches, and we feel that the campers who came out this season were stoked on the product that we offered, especially since the return rate was so high. We look forward to next season where we will even have more of a presence and a better product.