Since 1989 thousands of young snowboarders, skiers and more recently mountain bikers have flocked to Whistler to get a dose of the good life and spend part of their summer vacation at what has become the legendary Camp of Champions. Hosted by camp founder and snowboard hall of fame member Ken Achenbach, demand for the camp continues to be strong 20 years on.
Starting with a mere 75 campers in the summer of 1989, Camp of Champions now averages a thousand campers ever summer, with young ahtletes spending anywhere from five to 29 days honing their skills on the Horstman Glacier and in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, all under the watch and guidance of an impressive list of professional athletes coaching their development.
The park, for which COC has become legendary for, now takes a month to build in the careful hands of Steve Petrie and Arena Snowparks, and comes with a building cost of a cool half-million dollars — transforming a section of the glacier into eight lanes that make up the largest private summer terrain park on earth.
When camp is in session it takes roughly 100 staff to run the show and keep track of hundreds of campers at any given time. Staff include a wealth of coaches who are well respected athletes, as well as park builders, groomers, photographers, videographers, accommodation supervisors and drivers to make sure each and every attendee is having the time of their life. In fact, over the years quite a few campers have gone on themselves to follow the paths of those that once coached them and some have even returned to COC to coach the next generation of upcoming snowboarders and skiers.
When campers aren’t doing laps in the park or picking lines through the bike park’s Boneyard, they go zip lining, catch the latest movies, take in rounds of paint ball, hit up the skate park, hit some balls at the driving range, or simply relax at the beach with other like minded campers and sample a slice of life in Whistler.
Demographically, most campers hail from North America. In previous years a good percentage of campers came from Japan, while recent trends show that a growing number of Europe’s youth have been migrating over to Whistler for a camp session.
When camp is not on, three full-time year-round staff are constantly planning and setting up the huge logistical framework of hosting a thousand odd youth over the course of a summer by securing accommodation, transportation and activities for the following summer’s batch of attendees. I had the chance to meet up with Ken, who remains the camp director and was caught up in preparation frenzy getting ready for what looks like one of COC’s best years yet.