ReTreat Yourself: Beyond the Cult of Girlpower

By Maia Chavez
Originally published in the Mountain Weekly

“Hey, boy, your pants are falling down!” shouts Morgan LaFonte. The lunch table falls into stunned silence. Ten female faces, pink-cheeked with the morning’s hard riding, turn to see the object of LaFonte’s taunting. The boy in question stops halfway out the door of the warming hut, aghast. He is tall, lanky, maybe twenty, decked out in full gangsta gear, snowboard pants hitched to the level of his crotch. He can’t quite believe his ears.

“Yeah, you. Your pants are falling down,” LaFonte repeats, craning over her chairback to point at his rear-end. Her husky, tomboy voice rings out through the lunchtime crowd.

Snickers begin to erupt from LaFonte’s disciples. The boy is too stunned to realize that he has just received a hearty ribbing from an extreme snowboarding legend and virtual star of XGames ProBoarder.

LaFonte’s brand of fun takes some getting used to. This is a girl for whom a fully extended backflip is a “safety trick”, and whose fan-base consists largely of teenage boys. But it took her less than an hour to win over her group of trainees at Barrett Christy’s ReTreat Youself snowboard camp for women last week in Vail. The parochial school girl turned big mountain legend is part Evel Knievel, part girl-next-door, and one hundred percent infectious. Her offerings of bear-hugs, war-cries and waterbottles got a shaky group of beginners through their first half-day on a snowboard, and her steady hand had never-evers linking turns in a matter of hours.

Ultimately, however, it was LaFonte’s gregarious, no-holds-barred personality, and those of fellow pro-coaches Barrett Christy, Megan Pischke and Rhonda Doyle, that made the ReTreat so irresistible to riders of all levels. These are fun girls, girls with energy to burn, girls who live the life you have always wished you could live.

Christy, the camp’s leader, has won more X-Games medals than any other athlete in the history of the competition. She has her own action figure, trading cards, video game characters, a signature Nike shoe and Gnu snowboard. She is also an eminently likable human being. In her spare time, although it’s hard to imagine she has any, she practices yoga, rides motor bikes, and surfs.

“I’d like to see people come back year after year to this camp,” she says. “Because no matter what level you’re riding at, you can get that one little adjustment you need to push you off the next plateau.”

Apart from winning last spring’s Showcase Showdown Quarterpipe competition and riding in Canada’s Molson quarterpipe tour over the summer, film star and X Games veteran Megan Pischke spends her time ripping up the backcountry on snowmobiles and snowboards with boyfriend and fellow pro-snowboarder David Carrier-Porcheron.

“I like to get as much mileage in the backcountry as I can, and it’s nice when your boyfriend can go along,” she says. “Just getting used to tossing around a six hundred pound machine takes some time and practice.”

For Pischke, the ReTreat is not only an opportunity to spread her knowledge around, but also, apparently, a chance to pick up some new riding buddies. “It’s rad — I get to meet new girls that live here and that I can ride with when I’m in town,” she says. “The cool thing is that I don’t have to be a coach to be a friend. These girls are good riders — they rip. I’m out of town so much filming and touring that I don’t get to meet a lot of people in Vail that I can have fun with when I’m here.”

For her students, the opportunity to ride with someone as fast, as skilled, and as accessible as Pischke is unparalleled.

“Megan pushes me within the perfect peak of my ability,” says one ReTreat participant.

“When you see a girl do a certain trick, it makes it seem a lot more attainable. Somehow, when a guy explains a trick it tends to sound too technical. A girl knows how to talk to another girl in a way that she can understand.”

The ReTreat’s 25 partticipants included an almost equal number of beginners, intermediates and advanced riders and covered the age spectrum from teens to ’50s. Women flocked to the camp from all walks of life in search of the extra tweak they needed to boost them to then next level of riding. “I’ve been riding for about three seasons now and my goal at the camp is to conquer the bumps and the trees,” says Laynie Weaver, a Vail resident and former surfer. “All my friends here are skiers, so I don’t have anyone to ride with, to push my limits.”

Lori LeBrant, an aesthetician, says the camp has given her the confidence she needed to be more aggressive on the mountain.”All my friends have babies now, and it’s like, ‘Do you think they’ve groomed Lost Boy?'” she says. “I’m like — what ever happened to the days when we used to ride the trees all day? Keeping up with Rhonda (Doyle) has really given me that edge back, and I feel like my riding has improved tremendously.”

For longtime local Cindy Cohagen, the ReTreat was a chance to rip it up on her home turf, and to avenge an insult that nearly ended her snowboarding career before it began.

“It was my first day on a snowboard,” the former skier recalls. “i was trying so hard, and a ski instructor who was passing by looked at me and said, ‘Aren’t you a little old to take up snowboarding?’ I was crushed. I was in tears. But (Ski School supervisor) Ingie Franberg took me by the arm and said ‘Just give it one more day before you give up.’ She’s the only reason that I’m here today.”

Not only did Cohagen conquer the sport of snowboarding, she went on to become an instructor herself.By the third day of the camp, with twenty-four inches of new powder in Vail’s Back Bowls, beginners were comfortably navigating blues and even black slopes, intermediates were riding fakie with confidence, and the rippers were honing their tricks on the rails and sticking 180s off jumps with their new pro-rider friends.

Whether it’s the camaraderie, the collective expertise of the pro staff, or some sort of subconscious same-sex synergy, it is the general consensus that the magic behind camps like the ReTreat has nothing to do with the nebulous and much-maligned concept of “girl power”. “I’ve gotten so much s___ for that,” says LaFonte. “But that’s not what it’s about. I don’t think that women’s camps are a trend that’s going to go away after a while. Women are always going to need the kind of help that only women can give them.”

After a hard day of riding, ReTreat participants were treated to a session at Yoga For Athletes. The Crossroads studio is a favorite haunt of Vail’s celebrity athletes from mountain bikers to snowboarders and ski racers. Pischke and Christy, longtime fans, were hoping to convert their gaggle of disciples to the church of Ohm. LaFonte, although she is a game participant, says she is not a habitué.

“When I need to relax, I hop on my motorcross bike,” she says. “That’s how I loosen up. That, and there are always a lot of hottie boys at the track