I KNOW I'M OUT OF THE RUNNING FOR CLASS president of the Southshore Soldiers Ski and Snowboard Camp halfway through the first après-park-session party. Maybe it's the half-naked snow nymphs wrestling in baby oil, or the 50 frat boys in trucker hats and NorCal hoodies cheering them on. But when Ashton Kutcher look-alike number 487 barks, "Dude! These chicks are slick!" into my beer, I'm absolutely certain that I don't fit in.
Soldiers is the biggest adult-focused new-school camp in the country-and the only one that mixes partying and riding with equal gusto. Taught by high rollers like pro freerider Shane Chandlee, the weeklong sessions are designed for skiers and snowboarders who want to twist, tuck, and tumble like X Games gangsta Tanner Hall (who stops by on occasion to boost morale and do shots). Our training grounds for the week are in Heavenly's private Soldiers park, a half-mile of terraced rails, curving boxes, buffed kickers, and a 15-foot-high wallride that regularly turns campers into heaps of wreckage. Our daily itinerary is simple: rally by nine, raid the park all day, and party till the rooster crows.
Open during three consecutive weeks in March, Soldiers caters to college and high school spring breakers. But the likes of me-virtual grown-ups who don't own twin tips or the fearlessness required to get inverted-are welcome too. I've come to conquer my terrain-park demons: an affliction born of watching too many on-screen wipeouts and a mommy's-boy wussiness that mocks me to this day.
Coach Chandlee won't tolerate pansies. As Southshore's bro-in-command, his job is to make 360s look doable. He throws one, steps aside, and watches as I smash myself trying to nail it. Trouble is, even when I stay upright, I look like Bambi on ice.
On day three, I volunteer to test Chandlee's theory that you can boost a 15-foot wallride and survive. "Straightline it from there," Chandlee yells from the bottom of the park. I follow his orders, race down the ramp, and boof into space, putting 20 feet between me and the landing below. From the air, the park rats look like-rats. But not me: I'm a badass. And for a second, I couldn't care less about how I fit in-which is exactly why I do. But tonight, I think I'll skip the greased babes.
THE METHOD: Soldiers follows the tested group format-state your ability, run a few laps with a coach, and get nudged in with skiers of similar talent. Small groups ski with one pro leading the charge. We start off easy, and then graduate to harder tricks on biggerfeatures as the week progresses.
THE UPSIDE: Day Franzen, Heavenly's park designer, spends a week building the High Roller Park specifically for this camp. Though the 75-foot gap jumps and the variety of boxes are impressive, the park is suited for all abilities: Pros work big-air lines while intermediates and beginners gain confidence on smaller boxes and hits.
THE DOWNSIDE: Amenities take a backseat to riding and partying. Your home for the week is the Super 8-broken towel bar, dank carpets, and all. Lunch is BYO or a $7 brown bag scarfed at camp HQ-a basic open-air awning-as your hands go numb.
TAKEAWAY: After four days, I could spin a 360 (though I never stomped one), ride boxes, and hit a 25-foot kicker, minus in-air acrobatics. The camp didn't convert me into a jibber for good, but I can ski into a terrain park without looking like a schlub.
SOUTHSHORE SOLDIERS SKI AND SNOWBOARD CAMP
STUDENT/TEACHER RATIO: 4 to 1FITNESS LEVEL: Low ABILITY LEVEL: All levelsCOST: $649. Includes four lift tickets and lodging.LENGTH: Four daysCONTACT: southshoresoldiers.com
WINDELL'S; MT. HOOD,OREGON
Cost: $850-$1,800Length: 4-10 daysSkill Level: All Synopsis: Winter, spring, and summer sessions at one of freestyle's oldest camps. Off-hill activities include sushi nights and hikes through the Columbia River Gorge.Contact: windells.com
MOMENTUM SKI CAMPS; WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Cost: $1,560Length: 9 days Skill Level: All Synopsis: Park-n-pipe gurus Rory Bushfield, TJ Schiller, and Dave Crichton join bump mavens Shelly Robertson and Toby Dawson at these mogul and freeride camps. Contact: momentumskicamps.com
EMPIRE FREERIDE CAMP; MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, CALIFORNIA
Cost: $700-$1,350Length: 4-8 daysSkill Level: AllSynopsis: Past coaches at this camp-new to Mammoth Mountain this year-include Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Nick Mercon, and Jessica Baker. Contact: empirefreeride.com
WORLD SUMMER SESSIONS FREERIDE & MOGUL CAMPS; WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Cost: $1,510Length: 9 daysSkill Level: All Synopsis: Jeremy Bloom and Tanner Hall headline the list of superpros who teach this summer camp tailored toward 12- to 18-year-old tricksters. Contact: summersessionsbc.com
45 NORTH CAMPS; STOWE, VERMONT
Cost: $500-$650Length: 7 daysSkill Level: AllSynopsis: Geared toward groms (age range is 10 to 17), these summer camps use water ramps, trampolines, and mountain bikes to forge freestyle skills and balance. Contact: 45northcamps.com