I visited two European snowboard camps in the Alps in July 2003.
RS (Rossignol) Camp was held in Les Deux Alpes, France, and Nitro Camp was in
Saas Fee, Switzerland. Read my first-hand report and get the real scoop!
Not for Wusses or the Out-of Shape
Unlike some snowboard camps, these 2 camps are not for beginners. You should be a solid intermediate rider to feel comfortable there. That means before you go, you can ride fast, in control and of course without falling and are working on some tricks. These camps are not for wusses or the out-of-shape. You may have to carry your equipment a half mile or so to the mountain, and between lifts up the mountain, in thin mountain air. In
Saas Fee there is a half mile flat walk back at the top to get to the train to go down the mountain. And since there is no snow at the summery bottom, you must take the lift. At 10,000 feet altitude and carrying your stick, you feel like you are on one of those planets that has more gravity than earth. Clomp. Clomp. Clomp.
You will have to be a self-starter to go and find yourself a coach. Teaching is on an informal one-on-one basis, which is great if you go after it. If you don’t, you might end up working on your tricks alone.
You have to ride a t-bar the European way, with the bar between the legs. Their t-bar (also called “arbalete” in France, meaning cross-bow) is on a bungee-type retractable cord and goes flying like an arrow from a bow as soon as you remove the bar from between your legs at the top. Or on the way up if you decide to get off early. (Sometimes you get off early without deciding to, if you know what I mean.) Bombs away!
When you are riding down the mountain on your board, you have to carefully cross the path of the t-bar, aiming between the people who are riding up on the t-bar, and have to deal with “hitchhikers” who want to hop onto the t-bar with you so they can get back in the pipe quicker instead of riding down to the bottom and standing in line. Sometimes 3 people jam onto the t-bar made for 2! It’s more fun when it’s boy-girl-boy or vice versa! Woe to you snowboarding down if a t-bar passenger decides to get off before the top while you happen to be crossing her/his path. That thing goes flying! I have never seen this kind of lift arrangement in the US and somehow don’t expect to anytime soon. The t-bar can also leave you sore between the legs and with stiff arms if you don’t stay relaxed.
Snowboard Camp Can Be a Wonderful
Aside from these caveats, and the need to carry lots of luggage with heavy sports equipment through many train and bus connections in countries where not everyone speaks English, snowboard camp can be a wonderful thing. At a bargain price! I had a great time. I’m just alerting you that it was not a pampered existence. It’s for adventurous hearty souls. If you are one, you’ll have a great time too!
RS Rossignol Camp
I attended Rossignol’s first ever snowboard camp in Les Deux-Alpes, France. LDA is about an hour and a half bus ride from
Grenoble, a pretty ride up through the mountains. The bus from Grenoble costs about $10 round trip and goes through two towns that the Tour de France rides through, L’Alpe d’Huez and Bourg d’Oisans.
LDA is situated in a beautiful valley, and is a wholesome family sports paradise, priced relatively reasonably. The downside of the town is that it was built in the 70’s by the
government, and looks it. Parts of the town have a willy nilly layout.
Camp, known also as RS, was the less expensive of the two camps I visited. 490 Euros for 7 nights accommodation, meals, a
6 day lift ticket, 2 hours of coaching per
day, and Rossignol demo board testing is an incredibly good value and was impossible for me to resist.
with small kitchenette. Mine had triple bunk bed and a sleep sofa, and I was assigned to share with 2 teenage boys. I guess “Lauren” is usually a man’s name in French.
Food was tasty, served plated, camp style, with little choice, in a small Italian
restaurant that had a cozy pizza oven which was nice on cool nights. There were shaded outdoor tables overlooking the skating rink, which was great on
warmer evenings and at lunch.
Like Commuting to Work
Getting up the mountains is like
climbing the steps from the underground train, and the sound of people gasping and
gulping for air in the elevator was prevalent. And would have been amusing,
if I could stop panting.
The Park at RS Camp was truly awesome. 2 Pipes, a big one and a smaller one (when I rode them they seemed about the same) were meticulously maintained daily by a large and energetic crew of shapers. Alas, the
pipes soften and close up for the day around noon, so don’t slack and be too late up the mountain! Coaching in the pipe was given by Jean Phi Garcia, pioneer of freestyle snowboarding in Europe and coach to
Vidal, 2001 World Snowboarding Champion in the half pipe (and charming in person.) There were plenty of jumps, hips, and rails too.
I had private lessons with the Swisses
Jonas Emery and Matthieu Justafré who told me to bend my knees more when riding, and the
very handsome Jeremy Jones
(US) who helped me with my Ollie.
here to find out what Rossignol Rider Travis Rice does in his spare time.
Chilling in Les2Alpes
One of the best activities each day was hanging or eating lunch in the “Chill
Area” up on the glacier. Lunch was a meat and cheese sandwich that you fixed yourself at breakfast and threw in your pack. Our camp at the top had a sound system with DJ, deck chairs, BBQ, and best of all, a view of the park. Hip
hop and reggae are just as kickin’ at European mountains as they are in the
US. A really cool feature of the park was the “airbag.” It was actually more like a huge waterbed. You could get huge air or try cool tricks on the jump and then make a safe soft landing on the fluffy moist pillow of water.
After the mountain closed at 2 p.m. there were lots of other sporty activities including tennis, skate park, camp basketball and soccer games, hiking, bicycling, alpine slide, and trampoline. Also a strange sport involving a bicycle going up a ski lift. After-dinner activities ran to drinking in smoky bars, but early-to-bed was also a good choice after all the day’s physical activity in the thin mountain air.
The Most Charming Village on Earth - Saas Fee
Nitro Snowboards holds their camp in Saas Fee, Switzerland. About 4 hours on train and bus from
Saas Fee, known as Pearl of the Alps, is also in my view, one of the most charming villages on Earth. It is located in a spectacular mountain valley, and there are no cars in town. Hotels pick up their guests
at the depot in little electric mini-trucks. Nitro camp was small enough so that most of the group fit into one 4 star hotel and delicious meals were in the dining room on the ground floor. A bargain at
590 Euros for the week,
for sure! And to try out Nitro equipment during my visit, I was taken to
the well-stocked snowboard shop, Wild One, where Stefan gave me my pick of boots and board.
I arrived at Nitro Camp after many of the Nitro team pros
had left, but I was privileged to have private lessons with Lane Knaack of the
US who taught me to ride like a guy, and Daniel “Loop” Loppach of the Swiss Team who coached me to visualize more height and speed in the pipe. Shin Campos, Tyson Carmody (US) Rube Goldberg (Canada) and up and comer Liana Lasut (Switzerland) were also around. Read
what Transworld Snowboarding 2003 has to say about Nitro Camp in Saas Fee
Park, Pros, and Ice Cave
The park at Saas Fee was simpler with less features than the one at Les Deux Alpes. But the mountain was far less crowded, and by the time the half pipe softened up enough for me, I could have it all to myself - no waiting in line. The sunny left wall would get soft and the shady right wall would stay slick, making for an interesting ride. The “Chill Camp” at the top had good tunes and a leatherette sofa for sunning. I witnessed a distant avalanche there and worried a bit about
the cracks in the glacier beneath my feet. The revolving restaurant is said to be the highest one in the world. There is an inviting brick sundeck outside, and a
cool man-made ice
cave below. The cave is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.