True, summer camps for skiers are pretty similar to those which thousands of pre-and post-adolescent American kids will be shipped off to this June. Bunkrooms that look like landfills and smell like feet. Catty cliques among socially ruthless campers. Unrequited crushes, mutant mosquitoes, crabby kitchen workers...and the creeping dread that it'll all be over too soon.
In other ways, they couldn't be more different. Start by lugging two pairs of skis and a backpack full of gear-helmet, goggles, body armor and tuning tools-across the country and through two airports to find a patch of snow. There won't be any popsicle-stick trivets to make during arts-and-crafts. And face it, any camp where they make you wear a helmet is going to be a lot more fun than another week of singing campfire songs in the New Hampshire woods.
Junior race camps still make up the majority of summer ski camps. In North America, Oregon's Mt. Hood remains the central locus, and Whistler, B.C., is carving out an ever bigger piece of the action. But there's more to life beyond the rapid gates of Hood's Palmer Snowfield and Whistler's Horstman Glacier. For starters, you don't have to be a racer. Freestyle camps give twin-tippers a chance to safely learn new moves. And you don't even have to be a kid: Many race and freestyle camps have sessions open to adults, while freeskiing camps cater to those who just want to get a few summer runs in while working on their technique. Meanwhile, European camps add a dose of culture, and South American adventures await those who want real terrain and winter snow.
One of the most intriguing camps for adults is the Andes Freeride Camp at Valle Nevado, Chile. Director David Owen and his crew will structure the camp according to the wishes of their clients, but here's the clincher: With a strong dollar, helicopter skiing only adds about $300 per day to the program. That opens up 25,000 acres of high-alpine Andean terrain to explore.
For teens, one of the richest offerings is the Alps Rider program run by America's AdventureVentures Everywhere. Silly name, great camp. With European guides as counselors, campers spend three weeks in Europe, biking and van-riding across the Alps, dropping in for two- and three-day ski sessions on glaciers in Switzerland, France and Italy. Mom and dad are $5,388 poorer, but even the most jaded kid will have plenty of material for the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay.
Kids race camps, more affordable, come in all varieties. The hardest of the hardcore are raceacademy camps, where motivated athletes and their coaches squeeze in summer training and equipment testing. Many are invitation-only. Larger, more commercial programs welcome kids of varying ages and abilities and specialize in good times on and off the hill.
A typical day at a Mt. Hood camp starts early, because the frozen corduroy of dawn-ideal for gate-training-rapidly turns to slush in the summer sun. By noon, it's time for lunch and a rest break. In the afternoons, campers typically fan out to enjoy Oregon's natural wonders-rafting on the Deschutes, mountain biking, swimming, rock-climbing, windsurfing.
Evenings are typically reserved for boisterous communal dinners, followed by studious video-review sessions. Thenit's lights out at 9, because tomorrow's another exhausting day.
Sound like more fun than another week at the beach? Read up, and pick your program. Then grab a Sharpie and start initialing your underwear: You're off to camp.