The Birth of a Camp — a Riches to Rags Story
By Victoria Ransom (dvancecamps.com)
There are places in New Zealand, where time stands still. Where the land is so wild and rugged and beautiful, that even humans dared not leave their mark there. Where the absence of mankind makes it impossible to tell the year, or even the century. These are places where the mountains rule supreme and aquamarine lakes lap their bases. Places where the trees are so dense with moss, and vines and dripping undergrowth that they appear to be in hiding. And where even the animals are scarce, unless you have a careful eye. They’re also places where there’s no cell connection. And this is where I found myself one winter’s evening with a flat tire and no idea how to fix it. I was delighted!
Okay, delighted is probably not the right word. I was not happy about the flat tire. But what did make me happy in that moment was that I finally realized how dramatically my life had changed, and I felt free! Just three weeks ago I had been trapped on the 21st floor of a Wall Street office building. Starved of sunlight, nearing the end of a 31-hour working marathon, checking (for the fifth time) there were full stops at the end of every footnote on a presentation that would barely get looked at anyway, and listening to the usual banter about lay-offs and low bonuses, I felt I had reached a low point in my life. So I made up my mind: I would quit my job the following day. And I did.
My decision to quit my high paid Investment Banking job was greeted with shock, to say the least. In an environment where people were getting laid-off on an almost daily basis, voluntarily leaving one’s job was almost unheard of. Leaving it to start a snowboard and ski camp was positively insane! (“snowboarding — isn’t that the sport that’s injuring skiers all around the world?, “But how will you afford to buy the latest cell phone?, “How on earth will you manage without 24-hour food delivery?). But I didn’t care. I wanted out of that rat race! And so it was one stifling day in late August that I packed my bags, met my good friend Alain (a former pro snowboarder from Switzerland who had also recently quit his highly paid Wall Street job) and set off for fame and fortune as a snowboard and ski camp operator in New Zealand!
That was a year ago. I am not famous and nor do I have a fortune. But I’ve had a helluva good year!
Upon arriving in New Zealand, we began searching for the perfect camp location. We quickly realized that there was no perfect location – there were many! We decided it would be criminal to limit people to just one of New Zealand’s mountain regions, so we decided to show them all. And in doing so, we created the world’s very first road-trip style snowboard and ski camp! A camp that takes all the usual good stuff: coaches, pros, tons of happy riders, loads them into vans and sets of to explore a given region and experience the very best that it has to offer, both on the mountain and off. The result was a two-week, nine mountain, three ski village, snowboard and ski camp extravaganza which also included sky diving, bungy jumping, go-carting and swimming with dolphins! Not bad!
At this point I should probably explain why we chose New Zealand in the first place. One reason is that I am a New Zealander and it was in this country that I learned to love the mountains. But the principal reason is that New Zealand is a magical land of unbelievable beauty, one of the few places where you can experience true winter riding in the summer (the Northern summer, that is), and the home of the South Pacific’s greatest resorts. Knowing how much people enjoy the limited and slushy terrain of Northern Hemisphere Summer camps, we figured they’d go crazy to experience the wide variety on offer in New Zealand.
And we were right. Having just finished our debut camp, I can safely say that every one of our campers had a fantastic time. Be they the ones from the US, or the ones fromm Europe, the freestylers or the freeriders, the under twenty year-olds or the much older than twenty year-olds, they all had an absolute blast! And for many, it was the trip of their lifetime. It went something like this: powder on the first day, more on the next, dolphin swimming on the third day, pipe and park session on the next. Move to Wanaka. Rail and pipe session on the sixth day, new powder and kickers on the next, sky diving on the seventh day, sunrise pipe session on the next. Move to Queenstown. Bungy jumping and cat-boarding on the ninth day, freshies and kickers on the next, heli-boarding on the eleventh day, flying home on the next! Everybody enjoyed them self so much, we’ve decided to run a similar camp in Switzerland next spring.
What makes New Zealand so perfect for road-tripping is that each of its three principal mountain regions has a totally different vibe. Visiting the Cragieburn region, where we started our camp, is like journeying back through time. Made up exclusively of small club fields, this region has barely changed since the pioneers of skiing rolled up in the 1930′s and decided to form ski clubs. People no longer wear leather boots on their skis, of course, and hiking is no longer necessary for every run, but everything else is much the same: crowd-free slopes (on a week-day it’s not uncommon to be the only person on the slope), ungroomed, unmarked trails, friendly staff, many of whom are volunteers, and archaic rope tows instead of lifts. But getting back to the ‘roots’ of skiing is not the only appeal of this region. When the snow is right, it houses a multitude of fresh lines and these have caused both Glen Plake and Transworld Snowboarding to name the region one of the best freeride areas in the World.
The Wanaka region is an entirely different story. It’s the freestyle capital of the Southern Hemisphere and is home to six superpipes, scores of jumps and rails and the world’s only resort exclusively dedicated to freestyle. It’s still pretty laid-back, but instead of back-to-the-roots freeriders, it’s dominated by young snowboard and ski bums from around the globe. Add to these the hippies who also inhabit the region, and you’ve got yourself a pretty interesting mix of people!
After spending time in Craigieburn and Wanaka, the Queenstown region can be a bit of a shock. It’s not commercialized in Northern Hemisphere standards, but it is New Zealand’s premier international destination and it bustles with bars, restaurants and entertainment. It’s also a mecca for adrenaline sports, so there’s no shortage of wild and crazy things to do, in addition to great freeriding and freestyle, of course! But it’s the perfect place to end our camp because it allows campers to go wild in their final days downunder and to get out and party with all their new friends.
So this is how I’ve spent the last year of my life. It sounds like one big holiday, but I can assure you that it hasn’t been. In between all the fun days on the slopes, there have been budgets to build and marketing plans to create, bills to pay and emails to write, clients to phone and deadlines to make. I’ve spent considerably more time sitting in front of my computer than outside having fun, and I have worked many long nights and weekends. So do I recommend leaving a well-paid and respectable job in New York for a snowboard and ski camp startup that’s yet to pay the bills? Unless you like back-to-back winters and endless conversations about snowboarding, I’m afraid I don’t. But what I do recommend is following your dreams, taking risks and finding a career that suits your lifestyle instead of the other way around. It sounds like a cliché, but I can assure you that it has worked well for me.
By the way, I never did manage to fix the tire on that cold and lonely winter’s evening. But Alain did – thank goodness he was with me!