Windell’s Snowboard Camp has just come off its biggest summer yet: 60-70 new people per session, so around 200 people on site during the peak months. That’s a lot of hormones a raging, even with more than 70 employees. And besides the lodge getting toilet papered, and the townies who wanted to throw gas on the end-of-the-season bonfire, Windell has managed to pull it off again. Yet, here he stands at the crossroads.
He has been a shop owner, rider representative, and of course, a successful World Cup Pro racer and freestyler. Now he’s come into his own as one of the most authentic purveyors of a true action sports lifestyle. That term is tossed about a lot, but you need only visit Windell’s Shamrock Motel “campus” to really feel it¿a huge skateboarding facility, BMX track, mountain biking trails, stocked demo and pro shops¿it’s sideways heaven in Hood’s shadow.
And it’s all built on a model Windell had in mind as a pro in his 1989 TransWorld SNOWboarding interview, “That’s what I try to teach in my camps: Fun professionalism. It all goes together, snowboarders teaching snowboarders,” he said.
That was then, and now he says, “I guess initially, it started when Craig Kelly and I went to José Fernandez’s camp in Stubai, Austria and ran a freestyle segment back when it was primarily Alpiners racing gates. The main thing was there were no halfpipes anywhere. So we got a lot of the Europeans to come over and train with us. It started off in 1989 as the ‘Sims Summer Shred Session.’ My first year at Hood I had seventeen campers, a good amount of them were pros, like Bertrand Denervaud, Reto Lamm¿a whole bunch of guys who were hot at that point in time.
“When Sims got in trouble. That’s when I started looking at it, going, ‘I need to have a life after being a professional snowboarder,’” Windell continues. “I started concentrating on it more and thought it would be a wise marketing decision to call it ‘Windell’s.’ It was ‘Windell’s Shred The World’ there for about four years. Then “shred” wasn’t cool anymore so in ’94 I just called it, ‘Windell’s.’ And so it be today,” He chuckles.
From there, he says the camp became a full-time job, “Pretty much right off the bat.” To make the chaos run without a hitch takes an enormous amount of planning, preparation, and now, a staff of seven working year-round. In addition, Windell has winter camps and adult-only sessions, then things really kicked into overdrive.
“It was kind of a fluke,” Windell says. “Three years ago we were in the process of building a lodge at the Ark motel where the coaches now live where we have 25 acres of land. It’s a perfect property¿flat, lakes¿all kinds of potential. But sometime in December our motel business just started exploding. Finally I asked a customer who was checking in, he was like, ‘Shamrock Motel down the road is in bankruptcy court.’ So I ran down there, found out who was selling it, put in an offer. Next thing you know, four or five months later we picked it up with a month-and-a-half to get it ready. It was kind of … good karma!”
Having a centralized location apart from Government Camp has enabled Windell’s camp to evolve his own brand of snow/skate culture. They’ve built world-class skateboarding facilities and are now building an indoor recreational facility. Too, the common snow/skate language helps Windell select a staff that can genuinely maximize the campers’ freestyle potential. “It’s pretty cool to watch the camaraderie between snowboarders and skateboarders alike,” he says, “Everybody’s out there being possitive and pushing each other.”
Maybe it was his competitor High Cascades selling to Vans last year, but Windell has always seemed restless, always poised for growth and scanning the next horizon. He is at that crossroads now¿looking for investors or an outright buyer to enable his camp and its prospects to go even bigger.
Always willing to take chances in pursuit of his instincts, Windell did the unthinkable this summer¿having seen the “freeskiing” boom and all the Alpine race campers drooling over his giant kickers and halfpipes, Windell invited skiers to snowboarding’s party of the summer. “When we announced that we were actually going to do a ski camp, we had kids writing us who were signed up for camp saying, ‘You sell out! Can’t believe you did that.’” he laughs. “We just canceled those kids out of the camp, and brought the skiers on anyway. Out of the two sessions that we had, we had the best freeskiers in the world out here. The snowboarder kids were stoked! It was just an added energy up there.”
No matter what tool is used, the energy remains the same, and that helps Windell retain his stoke, season in and out. “It’s rewarding when you have parents and kids who have gone through the program doing so well,” he smiles. “Shaun White came to my camp when he was six years old, came back for six years, now he’s pro, placing in the top sixteen, and he’s thirteen years old. Then we’ve got these junior national champions and their parents are patting me on the back saying good job and just being really psyched. Parents drop kids off at our campus and go, ‘This place is cool. It’s the place to be for a kid.’ It definitely makes it all worthwhile.
“You get to talk to people and build a lot of friendships,” he concludes. “Having staff members like Sandy and Nordie and John and Harper and E-Tree, and so many others, it would be hard to mention them all. There’s a lot of loyalty. It’s like college all over again. Hanging out, Groundhog Day every day. It’s a big family. I love it. I don’t know what I’d be doing¿except for fishing.”