I had been waiting for dates for a female freestyle course but none had come up which coincided with my availability so I had a choice: wait, wait and wait some more or take a plunge with the boys?
I have done mixed camps in the French Alps but not for a long time and never freestyle. I had heard much about the abundant, free flowing testosterone which can go into overdrive when competing with fellow ‘campers’ on such courses. So I was unsure if this was for me but I was prepared to give it a go………
I live in Newcastle and my nearest indoor snow slope is either Castleford or Glasgow, so I decided to combine seeing friends with my freestyle course and headed ‘north of the border’ for a two day weekend camp with Definition Camps. Gav Learmonth, former coach to the British Olympic Snowboard Team and owner of Definition Camps believes anyone should have the opportunity to learn freestyle.
I thought he may have a challenge with me as I never set out to participate in freestyle snowboarding but through a ‘quirk of fate’ had done a bit and really enjoyed it. I was keen to see how far I could go in 2 days and my aim was to overcome my anxiety around box rails (I fell backwards off a small rail in March this last season) and get enough air to enable a simple grab.
Saturday was an early start and we were on the slope by 9.15 am. There were 9 of us; 4 women and 5 men; we ranged from teenagers to 40 plus in age; and experience varied from dryslope learners to experienced mountain boarders with a love of freestyle. It was the most varied group of people I have ever learnt with either as a snowboarder or in any other sport. To say that Andy, the instructor, had his work cut out was an understatement!
In the morning we warmed up with a few runs and then concentrated on improving our general riding with Andy giving tips and coaching us individually. We then tried fakie or switch which is important to master, or at least feel comfortable with, so that 180s are achievable. Before lunch we moved onto a couple of small box rails: a straight rail and an A-frame. I found the A-frame easier as it was wider and everyone managed 50/50s. The more able and experienced boarders were taught and performed successful front side board slides. Inevitably there were falls but ‘no pain, no gain’ and everyone made it through to lunch.
After lunch those who wanted to had a chance to go on a rainbow box rail and this is where the afternoon’s mishaps occurred: the apex of the rail was 4’ from the ground so any fall would hurt. For a nanosecond I did consider riding the rail particularly after a number of people had negotiated it successfully, however there were two incidents within 10 minutes and the feature was shut. Caroline broke 3 ribs (I hope you’re recovering well if you’re reading this!) and Nico had a very sore leg when his board and body became separated by the rail – ouch!
There was never any pressure to do any feature which you did not want to do and there was always something else to practice. After these two incidents we concentrated on flatland skills which were very challenging and physically demanding but also fun. Andy showed us how to ollie, nollie, butter and do 180s. He also took some video to show us all at the end of the day. The big surprise is that I looked better than I felt and my mistakes were not as magnified in ‘real life’ as they were in my head. I returned to my friends tired but happy and in need of a glass of wine!
Sunday dawned with a cold looming and aching limbs: you could say I had better starts to the day. We also dropped in number with only 5 ‘campers’ and the day was much less intense. Day two was all about kickers and practising flatland skills. The biggest challenge of the day was riding switch up the poma lift: apparently is shows how dominant your leading leg really is. I always thought I was pretty ambidextrous and sometimes ride switch on narrow cat tracks but this exercise made me realise that I really am a regular rider.
Andy taught us about pop and what it is: I had never been taught this before and when I managed to pop it did feel very different and much easier than what I was doing previously. We did more switch riding and also learnt how to spin. Once I got my head around how it actually worked it was really easy and I found I could spin the whole way down the slope although I was dizzy and felt sick by the time I reached the bottom! We started practising over a roller or mound of snow to try and get pop and air before heading onto the kicker. I did not want to injure myself or knock my confidence so late in the day so did not attempt the kicker, although almost everyone else did.
Anthony managed a great grab and Frank landed the kicker on the third attempt. Isla was ‘up for it’ and will be back I’m sure to master the sweet spot on landing. I practised getting faster and more air over the roller and started to try for a grab. Although I never fully managed a grab I was almost there which I was happy with. The day ended with some more video viewing and photo opportunities.
So was a mixed camp worth attending even if I really wanted a female dedicated course? An overwhelming yes it was: there were no egos; no evidence of testosterone in overdrive; only a supportive group of people all trying to achieve their own goals and improve their boarding. The main factor when considering a course such as this should be the instruction (Andy was helpful, knowledgeable and encouraging) and not the gender of the group. My fellow Scottish campers were good fun and supportive even though at times I struggled with the Glaswegian accent!
There were things I had not considered which were harder than I anticipated. An indoor slope does not give you a chance to rest between ‘runs’ as there is no chairlift to relax for a few minutes and freestyle uses different muscles to general snowboarding. The course was much harder on my feet and legs than I expected as lifting and bending a snowboard doing 180s and ollies and jumps means you do need some strength and flexibility in your body. However, I achieved my aims and despite a fallen metatarsal in my right foot (old, unsupportive snowboard boots) I can’t wait to get back and try some more freestyle, albeit after a shopping trip to get a freestyle snowboard and some new footwear. No matter what the age, ability or gender mix I will definitely use Definition again.
Check out Definition Camps at http://www.definitioncamps.com