Dear Diary: FREESKIER goes to summer camp

Dear Diary: FREESKIER goes to summer camp

All photos: Meghan LaHatte

This week, FREESKIER’s Erin Spong, an ex-ski racer with zero terrain park experience, is on location in Whistler, British Columbia, attending Momentum Camps’ first session of the summer, Adult Week. Since 1992, Momentum Camps has been operating on the Blackcomb Glacier, providing campers from national team athletes, freestyle up-and-comers to adult-aged amateurs a unique, high-quality learning experience.

Growing up in Minnesota, skiing has been an integral part of my life since I could first stand on a pair of planks at the age of three. By the time I was five, I was competing in the junior race league at my home hill and continued racing through my senior year of high school. Since my competitive alpine days, I’ve always admired the technical skill and, excuse my French, massive cajones it takes to send it in the terrain park. After so many years being trained how not to get air off of features in speed races, I had no idea where to even begin in the terrain park. So when Momentum invited me to camp, I jumped at the opportunity to make the trek up to the Great White North to try my hand at boxes, rails and jumps with their superior coaching staff.

Day 1

It’s the first day of camp, my palms are sweaty, knees weak and my skis are feeling heavy. Heading up to the top of the Blackcomb Glacier, I can feel my stomach rise to my throat as I assess the terrain park, outfitted with jumps that ranged from mild five-footers to a massive 65-foot launch pad and rails that kinked, turned and rainbowed. After a few warmup groomer laps and a group stretch, the 60-skier camp ranging in age from 20 to 72 (you read that right) is broken up into groups based on skill level. Having zero experience in the park, I’m put in the beginner group with coach, LINE athlete and Level 1 Productions star, Sandy Boville. Not just an incredible freeskier but coach as well, Boville takes our group of park novices, step by step, through the approach of hitting a jump and sliding sideways on a two-foot-wide box. Between the upbeat mentoring of my coach and the support from my fellow campers, I’m able to muster up the confidence to huck my meat. By the end of the day–not without my fair share of crashes and burns–I secure my Japan grab, land a 180 and progress to hitting narrower boxes. Covered in bruises and riding an addicting high from day one’s successes, my anticipation for day two is palpable. Rotating coaches every day, I’m eager to see who will be my coach for day two and whether today is the day I’ll land my first 360.

Coach Noah Morrison getting greasy on the Rainbow Rail.
Assistant Editor, Erin Spong, limbering up before the first day of camp officially kicks off.
The terrain park setup at Momentum Camps is the largest summer park in all of Canada.
Bruised but not defeated, Erin Spong brushes herself off for another lap.

Day 2

Waking up this morning, I’m a little tired and definitely sore–a painful reminder of the tumbles I took yesterday–but my spirits are at an all-time high. Heading up the gondola, I can’t help but smile thinking back on day one’s successes and visualizing my next set of goals for day two with Sandy Boville’s tips from last night’s video review burned in my brain. While on the glacier every day, the coaches each get a GoPro to film their group of skiers. That video is then reviewed by the coach with the skier every night before dinner, assessing body position, technique, speed and control. I’m determined to not only hit the skinny boxes, I want to grease them and I want to evolve the 180s from yesterday into a full 360. Today our coach is Armada athlete and four-time X Games competitor, Noah Morrison. After the first warmup lap with our new, high-energy coach, everyone in my group is feeling psyched and ready to attack our second day in the park. By lunch my approach to the narrow boxes is dialed, I’m landing sideways, my feet are wide and my weight is always over my front foot. Oh so smooth. And my 180s are near perfect. I’m heading into the takeoff in a wide, aggressive stance, my head is up, I’m initiating the turn with my hips and letting my shoulders follow through. After successfully stomping two 180s, Morrison gives me the green light to huck it 180 degrees further and go for the full 360. Fear, however, is holding me back from that full rotation.

After lunch, Morrison takes our motley crew of beginner park skiers to the giant air bag to practice bigger airs and experiment with different tricks. Holy fun. After hitting the bag straight the first run just to get a feel for the landing I’m ready to try something a bit more technical. Two more hits and I’m confident with my 360. I’m ready to hit the snow. Luckily, I’ve got time to squeeze in two more laps before the T-bar operators call it a day. I almost have it on the second to last lap, if it weren’t for that final speed check before the takeoff. Now it’s game time, we quickly head back to the top, grab our packs and swiftly make our way down to the jump for one last huck. Morrison grabs my backpack from me, I take a few deep breaths and then I go for it. Stance wide, speed manageable, shoulders level, I time my takeoff perfectly and like Tonya Harding busting out a triple axel, my hips initiate the rotation and my entire body from my head to the tips of my skis follows suit to complete the entire spin. I land on my feet. I did it. I actually freakin’ landed my very first 360 on the second day of camp! Cue high-pitched screaming and arms flailing. Riding an incredible high on the last lap of the day, I’m eager to get to the water ramp and trampolines located near the upper Blackcomb parking lot, less than a mile up the mountain from the base. Taking a few turns on the tramp and getting fitted for boots and skis to hit the water ramp, I’m ready to go full send. Of the three hits, I was able to attempt a backflip on two of them, rotating almost completely on the second try. With another new coach tomorrow, I plan on honing in my 360, continuing to progress my grinding skills on the skinny boxes and maybe, just maybe, try a backflip on the air bag.

Erin Spong getting twisted and stomping her first 360.
Erin Spong and Coach Noah Morrison are all smiles on day 2 of camp.
Coach Noah Morrison getting the shot to review with his camp group at the end of the day.
Erin Spong clogging arteries with that grease.

Day 3

My body is riddled with bumps, scrapes and bruises to the point I can’t lie on my left side—but each and every one is worth it. Despite the beating I’ve taken the last couple of days, I’m stoked to get back up to the glacier and continue progressing my new-found park skills. No pain, no gain, right? I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. It’s a bluebird day with summertime temperatures–the best weather we’ve had, so far. I slather on my sunscreen, grab my glacier sunglasses and head to the Blackcomb Gondola. At the top of Momentum’s lane, the music is bumping, the boys are shirtless, babes in bikini tops and there’s a double-wide smile on every face I see. Today my coach is Matt Margetts. Legend.

Sporting swim trunks and a barely-there unbuttoned shirt, the Canadian Olympic halfpipe skier takes my crew for a warm-up lap. Hearing about my 360 success from yesterday, Margetts wants to see me throw another one. Morning challenge accepted. Going bigger than either he or I expected, I hucked my meat, made the full rotation and stomped out. Someone’s gaining a little more confidence in the air. I take a few more laps and land every 360 I attempt. Now, I’m ready to experiment on the airbag.

Getting my feet wet before diving headfirst, I throw another 360 on the bag. Noticing how big I’m going, Margetts asks me if I want to try a 720. Sure, why not? Straight lining the takeoff, I hit the jump, extend my hips and start to spin. I made it 540 degrees around, not bad for a first attempt. Crawling out of the inflatable cloud, Margetts and I take one look at each other and mutually decide it’s time to crank the send meter up to 11. It’s backflip time. Remembering what I learned at the water ramp yesterday, I hike the hill to the starting point, click into my skis, take a few deep breaths and point my tips toward the takeoff. As soon as my feet leave the snow, I extend my hips and start the inversion. Taking my eyes from the bag to the sky and back around to the bag, I land on my butt. I can hear the screaming from the audience below. Holy crap, I actually just did a backflip! My heart is racing, I’m a little sweaty and I feel like I might burst from the adrenaline rush. I’m hooked. For the rest of the day, I continue to throw my body backward in the air, stopping only when I realize I’m one of the last campers left on the glacier. Before taking my backflip attempt to the snow I need as much time as I can get on the bag to practice my timing and control. Tomorrow is a much-needed rest day but come day four on skis, I know what I’ll be working on all day.

Erin Spong getting inverted for the first time.
One of Momentum Camps’ diggers getting sendy after a long day of shaping the park.
Erin Spong’s stoke is at an all-time high after throwing her first backflip on the air bag.
Momentum Camps’ diggers work hard and play harder.
Erin Spong getting shifty on the dance floor.
Erin Spong sending it late into the day on the air bag.

Day 4

It’s day four on skis, the sun is shining and the temperature is perfect for more summer shredding. Coming back to the glacier after a very necessary rest day I’m feeling recharged, my bruises are starting to fade and I’m ready to throw my body in the air. Today my coach is Ottawa native and professional skier, Max Morello. Keeping tabs on my progress over the first three days on snow, Morello knows exactly where my head is at. Backflips. After a couple warm up laps together, Morello sends me over to the airbag as soon as it opens.

Without even taking a practice jump, I immediately get inverted. I got this. Executing one, two, three, four backflips on the bag with near-perfect form, Matt Margetts, Sandy Boville and Morello hype me up enough to take my attempt to the snow. I–along with my 10-man cheering squad–head back to the top of the lane to check out one of the mogul jumps for my first-ever on-snow attempt. I hit the jump straight to get a feel for the takeoff and gauge my speed. Hiking back up to where I started, I hit the jump once more, adding in a pop to measure how much airtime I’m going to need to avoid digging my tips or slapping my back. One more hike to the top and I feel as ready as I ever will be. With Boville standing next to me, Margetts on the takeoff to my left and Morello to my right all telling me I can do this, I’ve got an insane amount of positive energy coming my way. Their confidence in me fuels the confidence I have in myself. These guys would never let me try something I’m not ready for. It’s now or never. I click into my skis, give Boville one last knuckle pound and point my skis toward the takeoff. As soon as I leave the jump, I extend my hips for the pop, throw my arms over my head and begin the rotation. I watch my skis rise off the jump, swing to the sky and land back on the snow. Backflip, accomplished! Above my own screaming I can hear the guys yelling from the top of the jump. With my legs still shaking from the adrenaline the guys ask me if I want to do it again. To prove to myself I’m more than just a one-flip wonder, I take the T-bar back to the top. I set myself up at the same takeoff spot, tighten my booster straps on my boots, let out a deep breath and go for it. Landing on my feet again I’m met with high-fives and hugs from the coaches and other campers who were rooting for me. To think about where I started on the first day of camp–literally ground zero–and now I’m landing freakin’ backflips on day four is almost unfathomable. I would not be excelling like I am if it weren’t for Momentum’s incredibly talented coaching staff. With two more days left on skis, what else can I achieve? The sky’s the limit at Momentum Camps.

Erin Spong throwing her first ever backflip on snow.
A gorgeous day for greasing rails.
Don’t forget your sunscreen.
Shaping the park and laying out massive airs are all in a day’s work for Momentum’s diggers.
Effortless steaz.

Day 5

Another day, another few backflips. After landing both of my backflip attempts yesterday, Sandy Boville promotes me to a more experienced group to continue perfecting the art of inversion on skis. Lucky me, that means I get Matt Margetts for my coach again. Nearing the end of Adult Week, it’s the second-to-last day in the park and I’m feeling all of this week’s impacts in my shins. Achy and a little sluggish, I take a couple warm up laps with my new group to get the blood pumping and the wheels in my brain turning before we make a B-line for the airbag. The clouds are clearing, the playlist blasting through the speakers is on point and my adrenaline overtakes the pain and exhaustion. One after another, I throw five backies on the bag and just like that, I’m fired up to try it on snow again.

I head back to the top of the lane, grab a big swig of water and my squad of supporters and make my way down to the same jump I successfully hit yesterday. I take one straight air to remind myself how much speed and pop I need and then hike back up to the top for my first on-snow attempt of the day. My heart is racing, probably a mixture of nerves and the 100 yards I just walked uphill. With a few different cameras pointed at me, I wait for Margetts to give me the signal. His hand goes up and I point my skis downhill. Three, two, one, POP! As my head swings backward toward the ground I spot my landing and throw my feet back around to the snow. Landing in the backseat, I’m happy I made it but I know I can do better. So I take off my skis and hike back up. I’m hungry for a smooth, forward-leaning landing. Once I’m at the top again, I take a minute to slow down my breathing and visualize my next flip. Margetts gives me the thumbs up and I go for it. With near-perfect control I take off the jump, throw my body backwards and absolutely stomp the landing. That felt DAMN good. Can I land a third one? I hike for one last backie. Not nearly as smooth as my second attempt but I still land it, making that five successes for five attempts. My shins are screaming at me and I know I’ve got one more day left of camp so I call it a day a little early to give my body the rest it needs. As is tradition at Momentum Camps, the last day is a beach party so I’m going to need all of the energy I can muster up. Bikini backflip anyone?

Erin Spong perfecting the art of inversion on skis.
Momentum digger and Canadian National Team member, Etienne Geoffroy, getting kinky.
Adult Week is looking up for Erin Spong.

Day 6

As if Mother Nature knew our intentions, today’s weather is absolutely perfect for a beach party on the glacier. Decked out in Hawaiian shirts, hula skirts and swim shorts, our crew of 68 campers ascend Blackcomb mountain for our last day of Adult Week. At the top of Momentum’s lane it feels more like a tropical resort with palm trees, pool floaties and Jimmy Buffett blasting from the speakers.The vibes are through the roof.

Ending my week with Sandy Boville, who I began the week with, I take a few laps in the park with him and the rest of my group, greasing boxes and laying out 360s. My shins are still incredibly sore and I’m unsure if I have enough energy left for another backflip attempt. But, I’ve learned that when in doubt, it’s best to hit the airbag. After two perfect inversions on the bag I’m feeling better than I thought I would. So I let Boville know I’m ready to take it to the snow. I tell myself if I stomp the landing of my first jump I can be done for the day. But of course, after landing the first one almost perfectly–meaning no shin bang–it feels too good not to try again. Giving my legs and lungs a break, I take the T-bar up to the top instead of hiking. Gaining a few more audience members, I ski back down to the moguls jump I’ve been hitting all week for one last backie. Calming my nerves with a couple deep breaths, I set my stance and begin my takeoff. As soon as I pop off the jump I spot my landing and tuck my knees, as I come back around I open up and prepare for landing. STOMP. That brings my backie record to a perfect seven for seven—I’m batting 1.000.

I’m on the highest of highs, I grab myself a beer and bask in my self-satisfaction while watching the digging crew–all impressively talented skiers themselves–have their fun hitting the 65-footer in the center of the park. After a week of slamming my body into boxes and smashing my shins into my boots, I have a much deeper understanding and respect for the massive tricks these guys are pulling off. Grabbing my backpack and making one last descent to the T-bar, I’m leaving Adult Week black and blue and a backflipping queen. Coming into this week, I set a lofty goal for myself I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to achieve. The real MVPs of Momentum Camps are the coaches. Boville’s ability to break down the basics, Noah Morrison’s infectious enthusiasm, Max Morello’s unwavering patience and Matt Margett’s no-fear confidence each played a key role in helping me go from a terrain park zero to a backflippin’ hero.

Erin Spong is becoming a backflipping queen.
Adult Week culminates with a glacial beach party.
Sun’s out, babes are out.
Erin Spong leaves Momentum Camps with a perfect backflip landing record.

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