Landing his first backflip at the Woodward Copper on-snow summer ski camp |

Landing his first backflip at the Woodward Copper on-snow summer ski camp

Skiing and snowboarding in summer is usually more about the novelty of riding in summer and not the quality of the snow. In other words, it’s not going to be a powder day, and actually reaching said snow usually requires hours of walking with winter gear in the heat.

Enter Woodward Copper at Copper Mountain, where the summer riding experience is totally different.

For the past eight summers, since the first season in 2009, Woodward Copper has made summer riding a possibility with their easy-to-access ski and snowboard camp. The week-long camps has run for nine sessions, from June to Aug., and gives campers the opportunity to twist, flip and turn on a pad of snow roughly 500 feet long littered with creative rails, tubes, jumps and an inflatable airbag.

New this season, Woodward was also home to one of the longest magic carpets in North America. The just-installed carpet replaced the old system of shuttle vans and ushered riders quickly back up the hill, making for quick laps — and maximum on-snow time.

“It’s pretty wild,” said Samantha, a camper from Florida. “It’s just fun to get away for a week. Snow this time of year is hard to get to.”

Snow for all

Samantha and her husband were fish out of water at the start of the week, arriving to their first summer ride day in full winter gear and with no past terrain park experience. But, over the course of their time at Woodward, their coaches and counselors turned them into summer park rats. By the end of the week they were throwing 180s and sliding boxes in T-shirts and shorts.

Progression is the name of the game at Woodward, no matter the age of the camper.

“Everybody here is here for progression and it’s just good to get that from everybody, even if I’m 10-15 years older than everybody else,” 35-year-old Andrew Frederick of Denver said. He and his adult group were clearly the minority in the adolescent-dominated camp, but their excitement and progress matched those half their age.

“The progression here is awesome,” Frederick said. “It’s really great that they cater to more of a beginner base, where Breck and Keystone are more like a pro scene.”

Progression and backflips

I didn’t just meet beginners at Woodward. Take, for instance, 12-year-old Blake Thomas of Aspen. Thomas first started attending the camp when he was 8 years old and could only do basic tricks. Now, he has a wide repertoire of flips under his belt, including his first misty 450 off a rail at Woodward this summer.

“Since Woodward helps a lot… I learn new tricks every year,” Thomas explained nonchalantly.

For a summer snow session, groups of five to seven campers are paired with one coach in the morning. They are organized based on age and ability, which puts campers in a learning environment with their peers and coaches — the people who push them the most.

“You need to go faster,” coach Kevin Sundheim advised a camper trying a backflip onto the on-mountain airbag. “Speed is your friend.”

The camper nodded in understanding, but couldn’t resist:

“Speed is my girlfriend,” he said and got chuckles from the group.

I only rode with this group of campers for a run or two, but that was enough to see and understand the Woodward progression first hand. Through constructive criticism and managed, incremental development, the coaches help campers develop the skills they need to do the next trick safely, again and again until they reach their goals.

“It’s all about keeping that chest up,” Sundheim said to his group after a flip attempt onto the bag. “Back down, forward and up. He was going down-up.”

Camp days

A typical day at Woodward starts with breakfast at the base, a morning meeting and then a short bus ride to the on-snow park. After around three or four hours of skiing and snowboarding, campers and coaches return to the base for lunch.

Once off the hill, campers have a plethora of activities to choose from, like mountain biking, go-karts, bumper boats and the Barn: an enormous indoor facility housing trampolines, foam pits and a skate park. If they still want to get more snow time, the public hike-to park at the base of American Eagle lift is open to campers during the week.

“You learn so much here because they have everything,” 15-year-old Iowan Brett Johnson said. “My friends were like, ‘You’ve got to send us pictures.’ It’s hard though — there’s so much to do.”

Coaches are around all day to encourage progression in the off-hill activities.

“I haven’t skateboarded in 15 years, so I was tooling around a little bit, just getting a chance to go back and try things I haven’t done in a while,” Frederick said.

Back to backflips

With any luck, progression at Woodward ends with landing a new trick for the first time ever.

“I had two of my kids get some firsts this week: a back cork five (540) and then a wildcat (backfilp),” Sundheim explained. “They’d been trying in the airbags, trying it in the barn, and when that time came and they finally tried it on snow, they both didn’t learn it perfectly the first time. But that moment when they bring it to their feet and somewhat ride it away — that’s the best moment as a coach right there.”

Towards the end of the day I approached a camper anxiously staring down the jumps.

“I’m about to attempt a backflip,” Cole Unicume of Denver said.

“No pressure at all,” he sarcastically added. Landing a backflip was one of Unicume’s goals for the week, and since this was the last day, it was one of his last opportunities to stick it.

The young skier pushed onto the soft snow of the run-in and bee-lined straight for the jump, without a worry or speed check in the world.

And he landed it — the second time. The first time he landed on his back, but the second time he came up skiing with a smile from ear to ear.

“I got it!” he exclaimed, stretching out his arm for a high-five.

Progression accomplished.

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