Destinations, May 1998
I don't think it's until after lunch on the third day that I start to need the patronizing, to ... well, not beg, but silently plead for it. I become desperate for the buttery compliments of my coach, Chuck Pearce: the thumbs-up signs, the over-the-shoulder pronouncements of "killer," "rad," and most unlikely of all, "lookin' good, bro!" It's all fuel to get me back up the hill. Then it happens. Real air. None of that momentum-propelled, three-inch-off-the-ground bullshit, but air. My board touches down on the snow with a thick, soft thud, and I, grinning like a giddy dog, whip around to look for Chuck with eyes that bespeak wanton, unholy joy. And with that, I fall wholly and hopelessly into the synthetic-fiber bosom of High Cascade Snowboard Camp.
Inevitably, so do the 11 other craven souls attending High Cascade's inaugural summer adult camp, held on the year-round glaciered slopes of Mount Hood, Oregon. For the last nine years, the camp has catered exclusively to less, shall we say, wise boarders — those between about 11 and 17 years old. But the 12 of us, ten men and two women, range in years from 21 to 37. We're led by the Three Chiropractors, a beer-drinking thirtysomething trio of buddies from northern California who deserve their own theme music. Though past our prime bone-mending years, we all long for the same thing: to be rad, to taste, if only for a second, that heady, volatile brew of style and ability. Our coaches (never counselors) profess themselves up for the challenge. As Chuck, with trademark good humor, puts it, "We're ready for anything and anybody."
Our group is soon split into clusters according to "experience" — a kind euphemism for ability — with the Three Chiropractors and I, all of very average skill, placed under Chuck's tutelage. Our daily routine consists of being roused by a knock on our lodge-room door at eight and leaving for the slopes by about 9:15. Breakfast conversations tend to focus on issues of attire — or at least of retail: "You really live that close to a North Face outlet? Wow!"
With two lifts operating and bald spots multiplying through our weeklong stay, we get freeriding instruction only in the morning. Chuck boards down ahead of us to position himself. "You're too far forward," he calls. We practice riding fakie and pulling off proper ollies as he watches. Every few runs, he then plies us with new nuggets. "Jumping," he says at one point, "just means bending your knees and, at the same time, lifting your legs." Oh.
After lunch (the brown-bag variety) we follow Chuck to the camp's nearby snow park, which consists of several jumps and a half-pipe filled with daredevil, seemingly unkillable teen campers. Watching them, I realize that the learning curve for postpubescents wanting to ride pipe and land jumps is achingly gradual, not to mention painful. It's also tiring as hell. Each ride means a hike, not a lift ride, back up the hill. By early afternoon our quads are burning and our brows dripping in the searing sun. We're happily spread-eagled in the vans by three.
There are, of course, variations. Chuck agrees to quit early on the afternoon that I'm more than usually hopeless and hungover. But most days follow a routine: board, collapse, nap, wait impatiently for dinner, and then sidle up to one of the area's two bars. (The Three Chiropractors prove especially adept at sidling.) In between, we, as the French say, hang out. That's an integral part of the High Cascade experience. Skills are honed. But the place seems more about, for lack of a better term, vibe. The de rigueur videotape sessions, for instance, always devolve into laugh-a-thons. As Chuck says: "Boarding can be divided into how you want to look — and how you actually look."
It's a cogent point, and one that seems particularly noteworthy on an afternoon toward the end of camp. The Three Chiropractors and I are watching what appears to be a toddler land airs in excess of 25 feet. This is not an exaggeration, and it gets us pissed. I naturally argue for disabling the youth in some way so as to not let him mock us further. The Three Chiropractors, having presumably taken some type of professional oath, think we will be better served by showing the little punk up, with each of us in succession flawlessly executing the most rad air we can, thereby eliciting cheers and admiration from the crowd and generally winning the day. One after another we nail our takeoffs and stick our landings. No one notices. Not even Chuck, who's off riding some well-deserved pipe of his own. But at this moment we are victors. We whoop and smile and jeer our oblivious foe, and if only for a moment, we pretty much look exactly how we want to look.
Zev Borow is a contributing editor of Spin. This is his first article for Outside.
Filed To: Snow Sports