Woodward Copper reflects on a decade of progressing action sports in the High Country
My, how far action and winter sports have come since the early days — like three decades ago when Adam Kisiel and his childhood friends would patiently wait for the post office to close in his two-stoplight hometown of Coudersport, Pennsylvania.
Then Kisiel and his pals would do what so many thrill-seeking skateboarders resorted to back in the day while, maybe, wearing the classic “Skateboarding is not a crime” T-shirt.
“We would session the local post office,” Kisiel said. “They had a loading dock that was 4 feet off the ground and you could get a good push off the loading dock and ollie into the parking lot there. We were getting pushed out of areas by the local police saying, ‘Hey, you are destroying this. You need to leave or else we are calling your parents.’”
Kisiel’s first skateboarding experience couldn’t have been more different than the kinds of experiences kids now have at the Woodward Copper action sports facility at Copper Mountain Resort, where Kisiel steers the ship as operations manager in the Woodward barn’s 10th season.
Heck, Kisiel gave a glimpse into the hypothetical situation of his early ’90s kid-self walking into an action sports facility like Woodward’s barn. Back in the ’90s, Kisiel always dreamt of attending the original Woodward action sports camp in Pennsylvania, just an hour and a half away from Coudersport. But with his family lacking the funds, Plan B was for his carpenter father to build a vert ramp in the family backyard. Over the ensuing years, Kisiel and his brothers would beat their bodies up on the ramp learning new tricks.
“Mindblowing,” Kisiel said of what his younger self would have thought of Woodward Copper. “I still get the same jitters I got as a kid when I’m here as a 38-year-old now.”
Kisiel and Woodward Copper will be celebrating the facility’s 10th anniversary this weekend at Copper Mountain Resort. It’ll be a celebration in the barn complete on Saturday with $10 barn sessions, giveaways, a large spray-paint exhibit, dodgeball in the skate bowl and an autograph session from 3-4 p.m., with Olympic snowboarder and world champion Chris Corning of Silverthorne.
The pinnacle of the weekend celebration, though, will follow Corning’s autograph signing, when Woodward Copper will have a time-capsule ceremony in the barn at 4 p.m. The ceremony will speak to the growth, lessons learned and good times Woodward Copper has had since the barn launched in February 2009 as a landmark example of an on-mountain action and winter sports facility at a ski resort.
Back then, Phoebe Mills, an American bronze medalist in balance beam at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, worked with the group that helped conceive the Woodward Copper barn and its action sports offerings inside. Mills transitioned into snowboarding about two decades earlier, after she retired from gymnastics while still in high school. Mills’ newfound passion for snowboarding led her in the late ’90s to split her coaching time between snowboarding in the winter and gymnastics at Woodward Pennsylvania in the summer. During those summers, Mills would recruit snowboarders and skiers to the camp in Pennsylvania.
“And a lot of the other gymnastics coaches were looking at me,” Mills said, “like, ‘What are you doing over there?’ … That connection was always there for me.”
That connection between the aerial-awareness elements of gymnastics and the quickly growing sports of snowboarding and freestyle skiing ultimately led Mills to work on the initial plans for Woodward Copper. As part of that conceptual Woodward Copper team, Mills said her goal at the barn was to develop a dry-surface snowboard and freeski program that could combine with the facility’s trampolines and foam pits.
For the first half of the past decade, the first incarnation of Woodward Copper featured the Snowflex synthetic surface in about two-thirds of the barn’s area. Mills said the thought behind using Snowflex was to provide skiers and snowboarders a riding experience within the barn that most closely resembled what they’d have out on snow. Most of the preexisting applications Mills and the team found for Snowflex were outdoors, but they decided to give it a try indoors anyway.
Snowflex did provide many up-and-coming athletes with an ideal off-snow training facility. But Mills said she learned over time working at Woodward Copper that Snowflex presented difficulties for the Woodward staff and athletes alike, namely beginners looking to learn. So, in 2014, Woodward Copper undertook its biggest facelift of the past decade, adding a super trampoline, getting rid of the Snowflex surfaces and replacing them with a surface called “Skatelite.” Mills and Morrison Hsieh, who worked as both operations manager and general manager at Woodward from 2008 through last year, said Skatelite enabled athletes at every experience levels to do more.
“It was a pretty well-thought-out expansion to kind of leverage more sports,” Hsieh said.
The other major growth point for Woodward at Copper in the past decade has been on-snow offerings, particularly in the summer. Woodward Copper’s Pipeline Park is an unrivaled slushy playground complete with a 1,500-foot magic carpet lift.
But Pipeline Park wasn’t always this expansive or grand. Kisiel, Hsieh and Mills all said Woodward Copper has invested more in recent years to improve the summertime snow offerings. Kisiel said despite last winter’s scant snowfall, last summer was Woodward Copper’s strongest yet for summer camps. And a huge part of that, he said, is thanks to a reimagined Pipeline Park where campers can hit uniquely built features. Last summer, that included a surf wave and sunglasses to go with a beach theme. And while waiting to ride down Pipeline Park, campers can listen to the sound system that lines the entire magic carpet lift, perhaps even next to a pro snowboarder like Corning.
Woodward Copper’s expansion onto the mountain won’t stop there, though. Next year pro snowboarder Danny Davis will bring his Peace Park concept to Copper. Kisiel said Woodward Copper and Davis’ idea for Copper’s Peace Park is to be the kind of creative terrain that is not only welcoming to high-level riders, but to more casual riders as well. Peace Park won’t replace Central Park, but will be a complementary option skiers and riders can stumble across around the resort.
“It’s so much more than just a park,” Kisiel said “We are not setting boundaries. Anything is really possible within that. And it hits on that inclusivity I touch on at Woodward Copper. You can really be anyone, interested in anything.”
For Kisiel, the present and future of Woodward Copper centers around maintaining the facility’s elite-level training offerings while also welcoming in more and more everyday people. For Mills, Woodward Copper is a unique sanctuary of action sports much different than the training facility she grew up in. Back in the ’80s, Mills trained at the famous Karolyi Ranch gymnastics facility in Texas, a place that churned out one Olympic medalist after another.
“Woodward is way, way more open and social and peer-to-peer and interactive,” Mills said. “And the learning goes all which ways. It’s a more inclusive, wholesome environment.”
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