Sports » Features

COC bankruptcy raises questions

Competing camp says glacier in fine shape as sessions start



The Camp of Champions (COC) abruptly filed for bankruptcy last week, but another camp operator is questioning the reasoning behind the move.

In a post on its website made June 7, COC founder Ken Achenbach announced the camp would file for bankruptcy.

In an interview, Achenbach was audibly crushed by the decision, which he said was necessitated in part after receiving an email from Whistler Blackcomb (WB) on May 31.

The email, Achenbach said, claimed the snowpack on the Horstman Glacier was not as dense as it might have appeared and the size of jumps would have to be limited. Unable to build a park that would meet his standards, Achenbach didn't want young snow-lovers travelling long distances to find unsatisfactory conditions.

His own measurements done prior to WB's email suggested that the glacier might not be in ideal shape.

"I didn't want it to be true but I could read between the lines," he told Pique on Thursday morning, June 8. "We measured it about a month ago.

"There was four-and-a-half feet (1.4 m), and it wasn't enough snow."

Momentum Ski Camps will continue to operate on the glacier this season. However, Achenbach said Momentum's terrain is on a different part of the glacier, which was less affected by WB moving snow.

"There's snow on that side of the glacier because Whistler Blackcomb didn't have to move snow to get that last pitch going," he said. "Whistler Blackcomb needed the snow to keep the T-bar operational and there wasn't enough left for the camp.

"It's not Whistler Blackcomb's fault. It's global warming."

Momentum camp director John Smart explained while his camp might have a somewhat more favourable location, the conditions on the glacier are far from dire as they kicked off their first of five sessions on June 9.

"We're in a better position than they are with the lower snowmelt, but there's no reason to cancel a camp and tell these kids they can't come out after they've already booked," Smart said on June 8. "They could have put on a good camp. I'm confused because I look at it and it doesn't look so bad on their side either.

"I read (Achenbach's) whole (post) and I'm confused by it. Of course, we just finished building our park in probably the best conditions we've had in years, so from our point of view, things are excellent up there," Smart added.

Smart also expressed some exasperation over the Camp of Champions' announcement, as they've fielded a number of phone calls from campers expressing concern over the conditions.

"We're having to combat it now, putting out pictures and saying 'No, no, everything's fine. As a matter of fact, it's never been so good,'" he said.

Achenbach said in his post that he's noticed glacial loss — estimating the rock on which he sat to do up his bindings in 1989 is now roughly 40 metres up from the highest reaches of the Camp of Champions' park. He said it's accelerated in recent years, with the entrance to the glacier moving down about 12 metres last year. Last season, he noted, the T-bar couldn't open until the later part of January.

While snowmaking has regularly occurred on the glacier the past two years, the cost of creating enough snow to make up the shortfall was prohibitive, Achenbach said.

Whistler Blackcomb has been changing some of its policies in regard to building on the glacier, with Smart noting he had to submit his park plans for approval for the first time this year. He understands the need to be cognizant of the potential impact, but reiterated that at the current time, there's plenty of snow.

"(WB is) being cautious because they're trying to save the glacier at all times, and we have to be the same way," Smart said, explaining that the traditional 65-foot (20-metre) jump was moved to allow for a longer landing, while Momentum also built its first-ever spine hit because of the extra snow their part of the glacier enjoyed.

Smart said it's likely too late to capitalize on the void left by COC in the snowboarding world this season because Momentum's preparations were skiing-specific. He didn't rule it out, however.

"There's a side of me that says, 'Hey, can we help these guys do something so they're not hung out to dry?' They've got (plane) tickets they've paid for," he said. "It might be a tough one to pull off this year.

"I don't know if we can handle all of them, but some of them, maybe."

Achenbach said he appreciated the opportunity to operate in the community and is proud of what the camp accomplished in its time, including having some of the biggest names in snow sports, like Shaun White, come through the camp.

"It was the best job in the world and the most fun job in the world," he said.

When he decided to shut down, Achenbach said filing for bankruptcy was the best decision in order to ensure those who had enrolled for 2017 instruction would receive a refund. His post adds these people should hear from the receiver in the coming days with more information about how to claim the refund.

Achenbach said going forward, he'll focus on his Pro Standard line of GoPro mounts.

In response to requests for comment, Whistler Blackcomb released a statement about the closure.

"We are disappointed by Camp of Champions' decision to forego hosting its camp this summer at Whistler Blackcomb. Whistler Blackcomb looks forward to a great summer season of camps on the glacier, as well as offering great overall skiing and snowboarding to guests visiting outside of the camps. Whistler Blackcomb is scheduled to host several other camps throughout the coming months. To find the list of additional options for summer glacier camps at Whistler Blackcomb, please visit," the statement read.