By Brad Farmer

Windell’s Summer Camp is an absolute paradise for kids looking to get in some mid-summer snowboarding. But for snowboard companies looking to target the core snowboarder market, it’s an invaluable place to collect marketing research.

The one-time Shamrock Motel cleverly transformed into Windell’s base-camp is covered with snowboard company banners and stickers. The industry presence is overwhelming at first glance, but the kid’s don’t seem to mind, and for good reason: They have the opportunity to try the latest gear from as many as fifteen different companies before the finished products ever hit the store–and it doesn’t cost them a penny.

According to Brad Fisher, Windell’s demo center manager, about 75 percent of the campers use the service. “The kids rely on the demo center. Most of them don’t bring their own equipment. They can now choose products from Burton, K2, Ride, Flow, Nitro, Jeenyus, Forum, World Industries, ThirtyTwo, Airwalk, Smith, and more,” he says. Fisher explains it’s simple for the kids to roll in, pick out what they want, fill out a quick survey, and they’re set up for entire camp session. Or they can return the equipment and check out something different.

According to Owner Tim Windell, the camps are the perfect place for companies to get product feedback. “I’m surprised more of the industry isn’t up here getting involved in providing demos and creating a presence. There’s a broad group of kids from around the country and the world here on-site. All they want is to get stoked-out with some cool new swag to take home and show off to all of their friends. Some of the industry is just now getting it, and most are collecting good survey information. A few, such as K2, Smith, Bonfire, and Transworld are actually setting up focus groups.”

Chris Engelsman, on-hill marketing director and “Digger-Dog” sales manager, agrees, “There are too many great opportunities for companies to do a large amount of marketing research at the camps to not take advantage of it.”

Windell also feels sponsorships are very important for the camps and the industry. “We provide them with a forum to do just about whatever they want.” The different levels of sponsorship can include banner placement on-hill and around base-camp, favored product placement in the demo center, and “sponsor nights” where companies have the opportunity to come on-site to give out free product. Brands can also have teamriders sign autographs, or can do whatever they can dream-up that will have an impact on the kids.

Snowboard companies with more money to spend have even more options. They can sponsor a house with the freedom to decorate, put in entertainment systems, video-game systems, a pool table, or provide anything that might win over the kids. The final alternative is to sponsor one of the transport vans, gaining high visibility with logo placement on the vehicles that transport the kids to the mountain, airport, and to other camp activities.

The industry converges on the town of Government Camp–better known as “Govie”–located just down the hill from Timberline Resort where the camps hold their snowboarding sessions. Govie is home to the Vans-owned High Cascade Snowboard Camp and several demo test centers set-up by Rossignol, Salomon, and Burton, among others.

Burton’s demo center has been in place for three years. According to Mike “Chaka” Gardzina, team coordinator for Burton, the storefront gives Burton a good presence and much more: “The center is a place for campers, public, teamriders, and industry folks to meet and hang out. Just about every pro rider comes through at some point to use our services. Having the only grinder in Govie helps insure that.”

The High Cascade campers get to test the latest products fresh off the Burton production line. In return they are asked to fill out a survey that requests demographic information and product performance questions. “Thanks to the demo’s and prodduct feedback, we do, sometimes, catch product flaws and make adjustments on the production line,” says Chaka. “The product that becomes popular at the camps often leads directly to higher sales.”

According to Chaka, there are two main reasons why Burton is a camp sponsor. The sponsorship creates a solid presence for the brand, but more importantly, it gives Burton access to the mountain and the camps, which is necessary for testing product, athlete training, filming, and photo shoots.

The market leaders are dominating the influence at Mt. Hood this season. However, with some good guerrilla marketing skills, smaller companies can get in on the action. Up-and-comers like Grenade are getting teamriders up on the hill, throwing down, overshadowing larger companies, and ultimately creating a lot of interest in its product among the campers. Or in Chris Engelsman’s case, he has become an important part of the Windell’s Camp and thus has a lot of opportunities to promote his new snowboard line Elevation.